The parakeet story

Everybody has a true life story or two which need telling, if only as a soul-cleansing confession. Here’s mine:

Some years ago Carolann and I agreed to take care of a parakeet for our friends while they went on vacation.

I know what you’re thinking; I thought the same thing: who needs baby sitters for a bird? You clean the cage, leave plenty of food and water and then go on vacation without giving the bird a second thought, right? Of course I’m right.

The thing is, our friend Tim (not his real name) had inexplicably fallen head-over-tiny-little-claws in love with this bird. He taught it to sit on his shoulder and play with him and to take food from his lips. I’m pretty sure that Tim would have taken the bird to bed with him at night but for fear that his wife, Susan (not her real name,) would roll over and crush the little guy.

Tim loved that bird completely, selflessly and without qualification and for that reason we felt a huge weight of responsibility for its well-being, as much as if it had been a human child left in our care.

But, still — one small bird in a small cage. How much trouble could that be?

Well, I’ll tell you…

We had three cats at the time so we wisely put the parakeet cage in a spare bedroom with the door closed tightly. Or, so we thought.

One day we came home from someplace and discovered the spare room door open, the cage on the floor with its door open, and a few horrifying feathers scattered here and there.

No sign of the bird.

After some frenzied searching and to our indescribable relief we found the parakeet literally trembling on the floor in a corner. Miraculously he had survived by scurrying from the terrorizing lightning pursuit of one to three monstrous cat demons, each a hundred times larger than himself!

You can just imagine!

Making cooing, soothing noises and with words of quiet reassurance we further terrified the little creature by picking it up and gently putting it back in its cage. We gave it fresh food and water just to be sweet, closed the door and left it alone to cry into its pillow and gather its wits.

An hour later the bird was dead.

Heart attack brought on by residual stress, or so they tell us.

Carolann and I were mortified. Tim and Susan would be home within a day or two and we had just murdered their baby.

What should we do?? Think!

And of course we reached the only reasonable solution to the crisis:


We put the dead bird in a small paper bag and drove to a pet store. Honest to God, we did. Nerves jangling as if we were first-time shoplifters, we entered Jungleland and tried to act nonchalant.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“I hope so. Look…” (Opening the bag.) “We need a bird that looks exactly like this.”

I don’t remember if the girl looked at us quizzically or if she choked down a nostril-rattling guffaw. Maybe she did neither. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in pet stores, I don’t know. In any case, I didn’t ask and volunteered no explanation.

Miraculously, she found a dead ringer (so to speak) for our deceased charge. She netted it, we exchanged our lifeless bird-in-a-bag for the lively, but nervous, bird-in-a-box. We paid the cashier fifteen bucks plus tax and like Lucy and Ethel we hightailed it back home accompanied by a nervous laugh track and suspenseful bumper music.


Fade to commercial.

Tim and Susan returned from vacation happy, relaxed and refreshed but Tim was very anxious to hold his baby.

Carolann and I, shameful deceivers we had become, managed to hug them with warm smiles and, you should pardon the expression, give them the bird.

We held our breaths for about a week when Susan called on the phone and mentioned to Carolann, as if it were a passing thought, that the bird was acting peculiar. He didn’t seem as affectionate as he had before; seemed to have forgotten his tricks; wouldn’t sit on Tim’s shoulder; actually pecked at him!

We collapsed, Carolann confessed and we are both going to Hell.

Tim and Susan were stunned but held their disappointment as best they could. They didn’t chastise us and though it has never become a funny memory for us to laugh about over dinner and a glass of wine, they have continued to be our friends, albeit at some safe distance.

I think Godparenting their two sons is pretty much out of the question.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Author: Dave

Dave Williams is a radio news/talk personality originally from Sacramento, now living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Carolann. They have two sons and grandsons living in L.A.

6 thoughts on “The parakeet story”

  1. My first thought while reading was – no – they wouldn’t really buy a replacement and think Tim wouldn’t notice. Oh yes you did. I guess there was a slight chance he’d have accepted that maybehis baby got depressed in his absence and changed personalities. Don’t laugh. Sometimes magical thinking really does work.

  2. I love this story and it’s great that it leaves an internet footprint.

    The husband of a couple who live in your neck of the woods loves his parakeet, too. He, with agreement from wife, does have the parakeet sleep with them. No problem of rolling over him as he has a small metal cage shaped like a clutch purse that fits between their pillows. In my last visit, I found the husband was sad as wife got parakeet a partner so little parakeets can be made.

  3. Well my hubby is the best at telling stories as anyone can attest to, he neglected to tell you that we had no idea that the bird was trained until after we replaced it. We thought the bird was the ‘kids’ pet. and that they would never know the difference. It wasn’t until they received the replacement that we found out it was a pet of ‘Dad’s’ and not the kids, and that it was somewhat trained. They got rid of the bird that we bought and got themselves a cat instead. LOL “Susan” never liked cats so this came as a shock to me. We never babysat the cat either….

  4. Dave:

    I’ve heard variations of this same story from other folks, and it always causes me to … flinch-in-the-stomach. I can’t imagine having a friend or neighbor’s special pet end up taking his final dirt nap while on my watch. And exactly BECAUSE of that flinch-in-the-stomach thing – I’ve made it a hard, fast rule never to baby sit … grown elephants.

    Whaa …?

    ‘Ya see, it’s not so much I worry about something awful happening to him while under my care (there’s always a CHANCE), but if it DID manage to take that last walk over the Rainbow Bridge before the neighbors got back, I don’t know of a pet store in Elk Grove that sells full size pachyderms. Of course, I haven’t checked the new South Sac Yellow Pages yet. So, you never know.

    For now, I’ll just take my chances with small puppies and an occasional parrot. Besides, when you walk an elephant through our city park, you have to pack along two or three of those 90 gallon trash bags. And no one wants to see that.

  5. Morg,

    Better you should “flinch-in-the-stomach” than FINCH-in-the-stomach.

    All — My darling Carolann is absolutely correct, as almost always. Her memory for details is much better than mine. Just to be clear, I didn’t “neglect to tell you” that we had no idea that the bird was trained until after we replaced it. I simply forgot and I am greatly relieved to have it brought to my attention. It sort of explains how we figured we might get away with it.

    Deceiving children is somehow acceptable on some level. Thinking our adult friends are fools is contemptible.

    Fact of the matter is, “Tim” only noticed the bird’s changed behavior, not a difference in the bird’s appearance. So, the bird was a great body double.

    Someplace in Carmichael, California, there is a pet store employee who deserves a 10-dollar tip she didn’t receive fifteen or twenty years ago.


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