This is the sixth episode of the continuing story of Adam Doolittle, pest whisperer and communicator to flora and fauna. Links to the earlier episodes are listed on Nancy’s contributor page. Copyright is held by the author.
EVIE KEEPS taking me out to weird vegetarian restaurants. I’ve seen her every night since Saturday and every night she wants to try a new place. And every night she updates me on news about my dead friend. At the raw food place in Kensington Market, she told me that her father — a bigwig in the Toronto Field Naturalists — sent the picture to someone at Birds Studies Canada, who couldn’t identify it either, sent it on to the Bird Lab at Cornell. The next night she took me to a vegan pizzeria in the Beach and told me that the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford in England had weighed in on identification and concluded that the whole thing was a hoax.
“What? Why?” I asked, nearly choking on my gluten-free thin crust with soy cheese and leeks.
“Because they say it’s obviously an old stuffed passenger pigeon from the last century.”
“Well, because the passenger pigeon is extinct.”
“Yeah, I know that…but they’re wrong. He couldn’t have been a passenger pigeon — he was alive two weeks ago.”
She looked at me with a gleam in her eye and took out her cell. “Let’s get a another opinion,” she said, sending the picture back out into the ether.
The next night at a place on Dupont called Fruity’s, which served you — well — fruit for all three courses, Evie explained that she was still waiting to hear from ornithological institutes in Japan and Mexico, but meanwhile she had contacted a friend of hers who writes a blog called, “T.dot Odd” and he had posted the pic. The blogosphere, Evie told me, was hopping with the story of the extinct bird come back to life — it was rampaging through the birder chat rooms and twitter feeds and strange people wearing Tilley hats had been reported in Cabbagetown — where I had met my passenger pigeon.
“It’s not my passenger pigeon,” I said, grimacing as I tried to force down my lemon and lime lasagne. Frankly, at this point I had had enough of the damn bird and was wondering if I had completely misinterpreted what Evie had said in my bedroom. In all this time, in all these nights out, Evie had treated me like nothing more than a friend — and seemed more excited about the bird than being with me. Was she waiting for a signal? Was I supposed to prove myself or something — make my interest plain? I was eating fruit, wasn’t I? What more could I do?
“You’re right, he’s not your pigeon,” she said, amusement lighting up her face, “Let’s give him a name.”
“How about Zeke? Dillon? Kieren? No, no — too 21st century. It’s got to be more stuffy,” and she laughed at her own joke. “Uh, uh, Percival, Reginald…no..no… I’ve got it… Lazarus…it’s got to be Lazarus!”
“NO! They don’t like it when we give them human names.” Oh my God, was that out loud? She was looking at me strangely — I suppose everyone in the restaurant was as well. I quieted my voice, tried to make it into a joke: “I expect he had his own name.”
Evie leaned toward me: “Okay, I’ll bite. So what was his name? Anyway, how do you know he was a male?”
“Of course he was a male.”
“But how do you know? I saw no penis in the picture.”
“The males of most bird species don’t have penises. Trust me, he was a male.”
“Okay, so did he tell you what his name was?”
“You know, it’s hard to translate Pidgen into modern English,” — which was true — “It’s hard even to pronounce half the sounds they make,” — which was also true.
Evie cracked up. “You are truly weird, Adam.”
The next night she brought me to a restaurant called Ovo-Lacto on College, just
around the corner from her apartment. It specialized in dairy and egg dishes — organic, free-range, locally produced, blah, blah, blah.
For once the topic was not the dead bird. “They are so right about these eggs.”
“So right about what?” I said, picking at my omelette.
“About fertilized eggs tasting better.”
“These are fertilized eggs?”
She smiled and nodded her head. “Must be something about the sperm that makes them so tasty.”
She chuckled at my discomfort. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like them?”
“I like them just fine. But tomorrow, Evie, can we go to a regular restaurant and have a burger or something?”
“Adam, how can you eat meat? Honestly, how can you profess to love animals and still eat meat?” She was laughing.
And as she said this, she reached across the table and fussed with my hair, and then trailed her fingers with their perfect red nails down my shoulder and arm — leaving goosebumps behind. I liked how she laid claim to my body, as if she were marking her territory. I wanted to be claimed.
I laughed back. “I’ve got to eat something. How can you eat chicken embryos?”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“Doesn’t life begin at conception?”
“I’m not getting into that argument,” she said, pointing a red nail at me. “Besides you haven’t answered my question: how can you be an animal lover and eat animals?”
“The same way I can be an animal lover and be an exterminator.”
“That’s roaches! I’m talking about beautiful cows, with long eyelashes and soulful brown eyes. How can you eat them knowing that they were killed ruthlessly.”
“Because I don’t hear the killing. I buy my food already dead and silent, wrapped in cellophane at grocery stores.”
She tapped her nails on the table. “That’s so hypocritical!”
But I wasn’t letting her get away with that — you see I’ve had this argument countless times. And before I could stop myself I launched into my standard defense. “Cows are just as hypocritical because blades of grass torn and ripped and eaten scream just as much as the cows do in the slaughterhouse. But cows never admit that. They swear up and down with a straight face that grass does not scream and cannot possibly feel pain like they do. I mean talk about selective hearing! It’s just one big rationalization after another with cows!”
And that bit of weirdness — which would have driven most women out the door — seem to clinch the deal with Evie. We paid the bill quickly, and she dragged me to her apartment. The next morning I shooed the roaches and mice off the bed before she woke up. I flexed my shoulders, reveling in the sting from the scratches her nails had made.
Let me tell you about how my dad met my mom. My dad’s name is Adam as well — but as soon as he left home he switched to his middle name Joseph and he’s been Joe ever since. The only one who ever called him Adam was my Gran, who would regale us at every family occasion with stories of “little Adam Joseph.” My favourite was when my Dad was 10. He had a big fight with my grandfather over mucking out the pig stalls or feeding the chickens or something — my grandparents were farmers up near Alliston. Anyway, little Adam Joseph decided to run away from home. That night he stole the tractor and drove it down the highway toward Toronto. Well my grandfather caught up to him fairly quickly in the family pickup and forced him to turn around.
I asked my Dad once why he took the tractor and not the pickup, which he also knew how to drive. He said he liked the tractor — he liked its noise. My dad has always had a thing for noise — it calms him, he says, he can’t think when its too quiet. Eventually, my grandparents resigned themselves to the fact that Adam Joseph was not destined to be a farmer. In his mid-teens, my father started going farther a field for summer jobs — midways and carnivals — working the concession stands or selling tickets at motor cross events. When he was 17, he spent one memorable summer in Wasaga Beach working at a pinball arcade. He met Lila there— she was 19 — an older woman from Toronto. She was part of a group of teens that just seemed to be hanging around, playing her acoustic guitar for change, smoking pot, drinking cheap beer at the bar at the Sunset Hotel. At the end of the summer, when the group left to go back to the city, my Dad went with them.
He never lived on the farm again. In the city, he worked shit jobs during the day and went to school at night and flopped at Lilah’s apartment. He was enamoured by the bank towers and the sound of the subway and the streetcars. He liked to go to go the Gardens for Leaf games and hear the crowds roar. He looked forward to the annual air show at the CNE. Eventually, Lilah got pregnant with Deb; my dad got a job as a bank teller; they got married; I came along; they settled in Parkdale and when my grandparents died the farm passed to dad’s brother Matt. And that’s it. That’s it, really — that’s all my dad will ever tell me. Nothing else of significance happened. That’s his life. He won’t tell me — and believe me I’ve asked — why the hell, if he hated the name Adam so much he named me that. He just shrugs and mutters something about a family tradition.
Family fucking tradition! He never, ever talks about the biggest family tradition. For the longest time, for years and years, I thought I was this freak of nature — until I visited my Gramps in the hospital after his last heart attack and found a line of house sparrows outside on the windowsill. Gramps whispered to me to let them in — that they wanted to speak to him.
At his funeral, my Dad wanted everything to happen indoors — wanted his father cremated — not buried; wanted the urn kept on the living-room mantle — but my Gran put her foot down: “Adam Joseph. your father spent all his life outdoors with his animals — and that’s where he belongs.” And on the August afternoon that we gathered at the farm, so that Gran could — illegally as it turns out — scatter her husband’s ashes in her rose garden, every animal who lived in the vicinity showed up to pay their respects. It was noticeable — on every branch of every tree — on every power line — the birds were perched. The garden, whose flowers had opened brightly for the occasion — buzzed with cicadas. There were butterflies and bees and ants and mice and snakes. Raccoons waddled in. Rabbits hid underneath the cabbage leaves. The cows in the field came in as close as the fences allowed. The chickens pressed their faces up against the wire in their coop. Even the coyotes and foxes showed up — they hung back in the bushes or in amongst the tall corn stalks — but they showed up. And still my father said nothing. My mother was completely freaked out.“It’s something like out of ‘The Birds!’” she kept saying.
And that’s when it hit me — he hadn’t told her. My Dad had lived with my mother for decades — and never told her that certain family members can talk to animals.
How she had not picked up on this is another question. But how could he not tell her?
And I’m wondering this right now because of Evie, of course. Yes, we’ve only been together for a week or so. But everyday I ask myself, how do I tell her? When do I tell her? Do I tell her at all? How can I not tell her? I just don’t know.