The floor of the foyer is a warm maple, the wallpaper a soft cream that matches the newel post of the sage stained stairs that lead to the second floor hallway. The rainfall of carpet that covers the stairs mutes your steps as you climb to the second story. The hallway is lined with cream coloured doors accented by black iron square locks and knobs. Several of the doors have brass knockers too small to really be of any use but picturesque nonetheless. There is a door two thirds of the way down the hallway that divides the front and the back of the house. Behind that door is a small bedroom, a white and black hex tiled bathroom and another set of stairs that lead to the kitchen below.
At one time the bedroom might have been home to the household help but today it is the private fortress of my long suffering stepdaughter. An occasional resident, when here, she spends most of her days in the role of Janet Leigh of Psycho fame as her brother and stepbrother take great delight in trying to scare her half to death. Some of their more intricate escapades have included fake figures made out of pillows under blankets, plastic swords, remote control helicopters and double attacks from inside and outside of the room simultaneously.
Janet Leigh, as we’ll continue to call her, does not sleep alone in her room. Her space is also occupied by a grey and orange zebra finch called Petry. Of all the things in that room that one might find frightening, Petry gives me the most cause for concern.
Petry seems quite content in his solitude and is living far beyond the time predicted by the pet store experts. Oddly, he is vocal only when alone. On the occasion of another presence in the room he is still and eerily quiet.
Petry has not always been a lone bird. When he first came to live with us he had a companion that shared his cage. This is a common practice as zebra finches are said to be communal birds and will live longer when paired with a companion. There was trouble right from the start. Petria was white with the very smallest brush of grey across her wings and the same bright orange beak as Petry. That is where the similarities ended. The two couldn’t be more different in temperament. Petria was loud and aggressive where Petry was quiet and meek. At first it was just small squabbles between the two. Nothing too serious, some wing flapping and twittering. Night would find the two finches huddled together asleep. Time passed and we began to notice that Petry was beginning to look a bit ragged. The squabbles began to turn into fights and Petry seemed to be on the losing end as bald patches could be seen growing on the back of his head.
The pet store advised us that the best course of action would be to divide the birds for several days and then slowly reintroduce them to each other. It seemed to work. The two birds sat side by side in separate cages for several days. We moved the cages closer to each other until they touched. Finally we open the doors between the two cages and the birds were together again. Peace, so we thought, had been restored.
Zebra finches are rarely silent and greet the day with great volume at a great volume. An eerie silence greeted me the next morning as I approached the birdcage. Petry sat huddled up on the wooden perch. He was in the grip of some strong emotion, shaking with the intensity of it. I thought at the time that he seemed terrified. A bright white patch that had somehow appeared over night now marred his once smooth grey head. It was so quiet in the room. Where was Petria? I stepped closer to the cage and then I saw her. Birds have a very quick metabolism and illness has been known to overtake them in a matter of days but last night she had been fine. There was not a mark on her, no indication of any reason she should be lying so still on the bottom of the cage.
I looked at Petry and I swear he looked right back at me. His body was shaking but his gaze was steady. I opened the door of the cage and carefully lifted Petria’s body out. Normally a hand in the cage would cause Petry to flutter about energetically, that morning he didn’t even move.
I gave Petria the burial that all birds get in the winter. The garbage man never even knew she was in the bag. I checked on Petry after I was done and he seemed fine, perky even. The pet store didn’t expect him to last much longer given the loss of his companion but obviously he’s still here and frankly he has lived an abnormally long time.
I can hear Petry singing as I come up the back stairs. Silence falls as I enter the room. It’s always this way now, ever since that day. Sometimes when I’m moving through the room I feel him watching me, his eyes black and bright under that strange white patch. I’m not sure if it’s his longevity or that silent speculative look that makes me reconsider but I have a growing conviction that I was mistaken so many years ago. You see lately I’ve begun to think that maybe it wasn’t fear that whitened Petry’s head and shook him to his core. Maybe, just maybe, it was a murderous rage. You probably think that seems silly. I know it sounds strange but something in that heavy silence, present since Petria’s death, speaks to me… Something in those eyes makes me think that Petry’s not afraid of anything anymore. You know, Hitchcock might have been onto something. Maybe I should stop calling my stepdaughter Janet Leigh. The weighty silence in her room makes me think that I should change that to Tippi Hedren instead.