THURSDAY: Interspecies Communications

BY NANCY KAY CLARK

LISTEN TO THIS STORY as a podcast on Whistle Radio FM 102.7. Click on the April 15, 2014 “Off the Top” show.

Copyright is held by the author. Read the earlier adventure of Adam Doolittle, pest whisperer here.

MY NAME is Adam Doolittle. Last week, I had a conversation with a dying mourning dove on the roof of a house in Cabbagetown. Before he died, he said some things — things that I haven’t told anybody else — about being caged up and screaming for help — that bothered me. The next day, my father phoned.

“What are you doing Adam?”

“Googling a bird.”

“Oh, and what’re you doing after that?”

I was surfing the net trying to find more information on mourning doves. “Dad, do people keep mourning doves as pets?”

“No idea, but you could ask at the pet store at the Vaughan Mills mall.”

“What?”

“Well, I’m sure they have a pet store at Vaughan Mills.”

“I’m sure they do too, but why would I go all the way up there?”

“’Cause I want to go to the Bass Pro Store.”

“So go.”

“Well, there’s a slight issue with the car.”

“Mom took away your keys again, didn’t she?”  I knew his eyes were getting worse.

“Well, let’s just say I’m temporarily without transportation and I want to get some new fishing gear. Bernie’s invited me to his cottage next month, but, of course, if you’re too busy.”

“Oh all right. What time?”

I arranged to pick him up at his downtown condo at one o’clock. I Googled to see if the mall did indeed have a pet store. It did, but I wasn’t sure whether I would go in and ask. I loathe pet stores — far too noisy, far too many souls talking to me all at once.

My father was in a good mood. He got into the van and immediately started pulling up something on his Blackberry. He shoved the phone under my nose as I was driving. “Look at that, isn’t she a beauty?’ I glanced at the screen — on it was a picture of a sleek motorboat.

“I thought you were getting a new fishing rod?”

“Well, that too.” We both smiled at his joke.

We lapsed into silence and then, as I was turning north on the DVP, he blurted out: “Why are tables female in French?”

“What?”

“Tables. Why is it la table and not le table? Why is a table female? Or a chair for that matter? I mean an apple, I can understand, you know the Garden of Eden thing, but a fork? A spoon? Who decided these things are female?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Why are you talking about this?”

“Just wondering. We had our French class yesterday.” My parents have been taking language classes for years. “You see I thought if there was some logical reason — some grammar rule behind it all — I could remember the rule and know when to say le or la, but apparently there’s no rule — no logic. Basically, you’ve got to memorize the entire bloody dictionary. And who the hell’s going to do that? I mean you’re practically set up to fail.”

I didn’t say anything. I was getting a headache. But my father never notices my lack of talk.

“And just when you think there is some logic. La lune, le soleil. La forchette, but le couteau, right? You can see a knife being male, right? Phallically speaking? But then you come across a word that you think has just got to be female and it’s not. You know the word for vagina? It’s vaginle vagin. Or,” he said as if it had just occurred to him, “does it denote male ownership of the vagina?” When my father retired from the bank, he went back to school — to get another degree — a BA in — wait for it — Women’s Studies. He told me his goal was to finally understand women. I think he did it to surround himself with 20-year-old girls and piss my mom off at the same time.

I attempted to change the subject. “Why do you think Bernie invited you to his cottage? He’s never invited you before.” Bernie is my sister’s live-in.

“Your mum put him up to it. She wants me out of the house for a while. By the way, Bernie’s invited you as well.”

“No thanks.”

“I told your mom you wouldn’t go.”

“Why does mom want me to go?”

He shrugged. “Why not go?”

I didn’t answer. The truth is Bernie creeps me out. He hunts as well as fishes and his cottage on Manitoulin is full of stuffed, dead animals. Once, I caught him talking to his bear rug. I mean, he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between dead and alive.

I left my dad at the Pro Bass store — another place full of dead, stuffed animals, including a family of muskoxen. The whole store is done up in forest green and plaid, with a floatplane hanging from the ceiling.

I wandered out of the men’s zone and into the pastel-coloured mall, strolling by a blur of shoe stores and clothing boutiques and though I had no recollection of heading that way I found myself in front of the Pets Super Centre. When I looked up it was into the eyes of a kitten in a cage of kittens placed just outside the store entrance.

The kitten asked me whether I knew where his mother was. I shook my head and whispered sorry.

“Can you scratch me under the chin, then?”

“Here comes a kid. She’ll scratch you.” I quickly went past the cage and into the store. The din was unbelievable. The cashier was talking on his cell phone. Kids ran up and down, shouting, “Look at this, Dad, Dad. Cool! Look at this.” The grey macaw in the cage by the counter screeched insults at everyone. The ferrets fidgeted. The chinchillas snored. The puppies sniffed and poked each other and yapped away. The white rats were eating with rude gulps and belches. I tried to ignore all the animals’ questions and made a beeline for the birdcages behind glass.

I scrutinized the chattering birds — their conversations only slightly muffled by the glass. I saw parakeets, canaries, lovebirds, finches, but nothing that looked like my dead friend, whose body I had in my freezer.

I took a gulp of air and found a sales clerk. “I’m sorry. Do you sell mourning doves?”

“Mourning doves?” He walked me back to the bird section and scanned the labels stuck on the glass — like I hadn’t already done that myself. “Mourning doves? No, no, we don’t have any here. I can look on the computer for you — maybe we’re getting some in.”

We went to the counter. The cashier was still talking on his cell phone and the line of customers waiting to be rung up was growing.

“Stupid little shit!” said the macaw as I approached. “Stupid little shit! Stick your fingers in one more time and I’ll bite them off. Stupid little shit!” Who he was talking to I don’t know, but I kept my distance.

The sales clerk went around the counter and began tapping away at the computer’s keyboard. “Okay, so mourning dove was it? So it only comes out in the morning?”

“No, mourning as in grieving. M-o-u-r-n-i-n-g.”

“M-o-u…”

“R-n,” I repeated.

The macaw was still squawking. “Will you bloody stop poking me! They’re always poking me. And if they’re not poking me, they’re staring at me!” He rocked back and forth, biting the metal bars on his cage.

“Hey Rob, Rob,” said my sales clerk, poking his colleague in the ribs. The cashier — finally off the phone — grunted. “This guy…uh…customer…wants to buy a mourning dove. Do we carry mourning doves? I can’t find them in the system.”

“That’s a wild bird. We don’t sell wild birds here,” the cashier explained, looking at us as if we were children.

“Yeah, but people do sell them, right?” I asked.

“But not here, Sir, that would be illegal.”  Rob smiled patiently.

“Okay, but do you know where I can get one?”

“No Sir, I told you, it’s illegal.”

Everybody in the line up was looking at us, everybody in the store, even the macaw, who scooted over to the side of his perch closest to me and started bobbing his head, rippling his neck feathers. He winked — at least I think he winked — and screeched: “What an idiot! This guy’s an idiot, and I should know. Scratch his eyes out, Adam!”

I ignored him and turned back to the cashier. “Look, I know you don’t sell them here, I got that. I was just wondering, say if you wanted to buy a wild animal as a pet — how would you go about doing that?”

The cashier’s smile slipped and he started to slow his speech down and gesture with his hands — he did look like an idiot. “I don’t know Sir, so if you’ll excuse us, we have other customers.”

The macaw snorted: “Go ahead! Go ahead! Scratch his eyes out! Bite his nose off!”

“What I mean is how do you tap into the black market for wild animals….like is it on the Web, do you think?”

“I really don’t know Sir…and I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store now.”

“Look at his ugly nose! Look at those fat fingers! Ooooooo, bite them off! Bite them off, Adam!”

Clearly, this Rob character has trouble understanding basic English. “Look, let me explain. I don’t want to buy a wild animal myself. It’s just that there was this dying bird….”

The macaw was chanting in my ear, “Bite him! Bite him! Bite him!”

“Sir, I’ve asked you politely. Now I’m telling you, please leave….”

“Bite him! Bite him! Bite him!”

“SHUT UP!” I screeched at the macaw. The people around us sucked in their breath.

“Call security,” said the cashier to the sales clerk.

“No, no, no…,” I said, trying to reach across the counter to grab the phone. “I wasn’t talking to you ….I was talking to the bird….”

“That’s it!” The cashier spat — dropping all semblance of his cheerful customer service face. “Get out!”  He pointed toward the door.

As his index finger passed close to the birdcage, the macaw reached through the bars and bit down hard.

“FUCK!”  The cashier screamed. Everyone around us, the moms and dads and kids and teenagers, me and the sales clerk, the young girl cleaning out the puppy stalls in the back, the gerbils and hamsters, geckos and Japanese fighting fish in their tanks all froze in shock. Then people rushed forward to help and everyone started talking at once. It was such a cacophony, such an unholy din, that I had to get out of there. The macaw was laughing hysterically; the cashier slumped on the counter, his face pale, cradling his bloody finger against his shirt. The sales clerk was in a panic trying to get help on the phone. People were backing their kids away from the birdcage and I squirmed my way through them and got the hell out of there. I ran all the way back to the Pro Bass store where the animals are stuffed and silent.

9 comments

  1. Frank Sikora

    Thoroughly enjoyable: I am curious. Are these stories part of a larger collection? A completed book?

  2. Moira Garland

    Keep going – I like the idea or serialisations. Just a small thing (and maybe this is because I’m in the UK and don’t understand Canadian retail practices) – I don’t understand this sentence: “The line of customers waiting to be rung up was growing”

  3. Moira Garland

    Sorry Nancy – did you mean “rung up” as in using the cashier’s till? In British English “rung up” would imply using the telephone! Divided by a common language … :-!

  4. Nancy Kay

    Hi Moira,

    Yes. The sentence means The queue of customers waiting to purchase items at the cashier. Line and queue are used interchangeably in Canada. But we don’t use the expression “rung up” in terms of telephoning. We just say “phoned”

  5. Charlene Jones

    Again, a really interesting tale, and this time, I especially enjoyed the humour implied in the description of Adam’s relationship with his Dad and his thoughts about Bernie.

  6. Pingback: THURSDAY: Adam Meets Evie |

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