It was quite a large bird, about the size of a human toddler, and stark naked with closed-over eyes. A hatchling, then. She looked for a nest, since the nest that held this sort of massive chick would have to be huge and easily noticeable. There wasn’t one, though, and there hadn’t been a few days prior, so there was no place to put the baby back.
Cheeping, blind, helpless, it jerked its wing nubs and gaped its beak, begging for food. She picked the baby up and took it to her bathroom. She ran the shower on hot, filling the air with steam, and wrapped the chick up in the softest towels she could find. She built a nest of pillows for it, and, sure it would be safe and warm, scrounged for something to tide it over.
It looked to be some sort of songbird. She was pretty sure they ate bugs. She was also pretty sure those bugs had to be vomited into its mouth. She wasn’t ready to make that sort of commitment, and she didn’t have a throat-pouch anyway. The acid would probably hurt the poor thing.
She caught some crickets and put them in her food processor. There wasn’t much, but it would have to do. The baby eagerly horked it down anyway, and seemed to settle for the moment. She turned off the shower, blocked the door with a towel to keep as much heat in as possible, and went to the pet store.
“Give me all your crickets,” she said.
The man opened his mouth, and she held her hand up.
“Not to get all pop culture reference-y, but I know what you think I just said. You think I said ‘give me a lot of crickets.’ That is wrong. I need every single cricket.”
“How many lizards you got, lady?”
In the end, she went home with lot more crickets than she’d known existed, and a lot less money than she did before. She ground up another serving of crickets for her new baby, and, while it was sleeping, spent some time looking up how often babies needed to be fed.
The answer was ‘lots.’ She was gonna need way more crickets.
She got a big wicker basket from her closet and lined it with a blanket, so she could keep the baby with her. Aside from being outrageously noisy, it was a good baby. It pooped over the side of the basket, too, so all she had to do was wipe it up. Good God, it ate a lot of crickets, though.
She kept it in the bed with her, under heated blankets. It rested its head next to hers, and touched her with its downy little wing nub. She cried, a wave of maternal instincts she’d never felt slamming her in the gut. Oh God. Her little baby bird.
Watching a bird develop in real time was amazing. She’d never been able to see it. The development of the wing feathers was particularly interesting, a sheath forming around each individual feather before being shed once the feather was done. It was a beautiful bird, with iridescent black pinions. Its eyes opened, too, gorgeous and glittering and full of life. Now, it cheeped whenever it saw her, and demanded she stay close with it.
It seemed to love being stroked and preened, and liked to hop out of its basket to lean against her while she was laying in bed.
Her boss told her she was fired, and she told her boss that she didn’t care. She had bigger, more important things to worry about. She’d never really liked her job, anyway. Nobody was ever grateful. But the baby bird loved her, and she loved it. She was finally doing something with her life. Finally bringing something up, finally doing some good. It would have died without her. She was as good as–no, better than its real mother.
The chick was now about her size. She’d been to every pet store in town, even the weird ones, and her house reeked of crickets and bird. It was also starting to like mealworms, so she had tanks of those, too. And bag upon bag of birdseed.
Getting fired was a problem, but she’d had a savings account just for emergencies like this. She thought about starting a kickstarter, but then people would know about the baby. Scientists might come and take it away. They didn’t understand it, not like her. She was its Mommy, it needed her. The scientists just wouldn’t understand. And she’d be inundated with media people! They’d distress it!
It needed to be happy and healthy. It needed to stay with Mommy.
Her baby was growing a lovely crest of red feathers on its head, and white tips to its wings. It was growing a bit of a wattle, like a chicken, but it still sang like a songbird. It perched on her sofa, on the chairs, and watched her look for internet work.
“Don’t you worry about a thing. Mommy will figure this out, okay? You just concentrate on getting big and strong. You need a name, don’t you?”
It rustled its beak through her hair.
“Hm. I guess not. Birds don’t have names in nature. Well, if you change your mind, we’ll think of something.”
It was about three weeks in when her friend came to visit. She glowered at him through the gap in her door.
“Oh, my God, you look horrible,” he said.
“Fuck you too, then.”
“When’s the last time you bathed–it smells awful in there! Why do you have all those crickets?”
Her baby cheeped.
“What was that?”
“I’m really busy right now, okay? When I’m done, we’ll talk. But I have to do this. You’re disturbing me. Come back later.”
He didn’t like the sound of that. He stayed hammering on her door for thirty whole minutes afterwards. But he couldn’t see her. She’d stapled sheets over all her windows, just in case someone saw her baby and decided they wanted to call the cops or the media people.
In the dead of night, she took her baby out into the country, so it could practice flying. It was hard to find a tree tall enough, harder still to cut the fence, and even harder than that to climb up the tree with her baby clinging to her back.
Thank God it managed to get it on its first try. How many other fledglings could claim that? Her baby was so special, so smart, so good. She clapped for it, and that ended up being a big, big mistake.
“Hey! Who is that?!”
The owner of the pasture they were in came running, shining a bright flashlight on her face. She winced. The kid next to him had a shotgun.
“You’re on private property! Hey–did you cut my fence, you bitch?!”
She was too frightened to respond. She clung to the tree trunk, and watched as the shotgun was aimed at her.
“You got to the count of three to start coming down, lady! Or you’re gonna get a warning shot directly to–”
He didn’t finish that. Her baby squealed, more like an eagle than a songbird, and dived. Its little perching foot crushed the man’s head like a grape, and its wing sent the kid flying. The shotgun flew off too, somewhere into the darkness.
They drove home quickly after that. With the owner out of commission and the kid unconscious, she was brave enough to come down.
“You’re about ready to go off on your own, if you can fly,” she told her baby.
“I… I’ll miss you… but I’m proud of you. Mommy is so proud of you, okay?”
After a few days, it finally took wing. It let her give it one final kiss to the top of its head, and circled her house a few times before shooting off for parts unknown. It was broad daylight, but now it was free, and she didn’t care who saw it.
She took a long, hot bath. The scalding water was nowhere near as hot as her tears, and she went to bed hoarse and stuffy. But when she woke up, she felt much better.
She went out for lunch with her friend. She put her resume out. Things seemed like they’d get back on track. Still, the empty nest was distressing. Did all parents feel this way?
A month passed. No returns on her resume, but her friend was helping her out. She was selling off some of the crickets to pet owners in the city, making some of the money back.
One morning, she opened her door, and her baby was back. She ran to it and wrapped it up in her arms. It sang its beautiful song for her.
Then, she noticed the bird next to it.
She let them in. What else could she do? Turn her baby and its mate out into the weather? She made a nest. She bought more crickets.
A week later, her grandchildren were born.