House of Birds
My backyard is never quiet. It is home to many animals and their cacophonous music. A house of birds, of creatures existing.
In my yard are four chickens, two ducks, and a few squirrels that beg for nuts in clicking chatter. Wild parrots whose origins to this town are a mystery, fly over my house in droves each night, sometimes stopping to gnaw on apples from my tree. They squawk, high-pitched and repetitive, loudly claiming their space in the sky.
I invite the noise, ask for it even. The hens cluck and rumble their way around the back, their sounds shifting throughout the day, loudest in the morning, softer in the nighttime.
The female duck has an impressive quack that could (might) wake the neighbors. The male is gentler, his whispers echoing his mate’s exclamations. Together, they complement each other.
Perhaps with all the noise, it would not be an ideal place to record music, host a dinner, or take an important phone call. The noise is not for everyone, but it keeps my home alive; I know what a quiet home means, or at least what it has meant.
The year my father’s cancer came back, our house was still. My brother, a senior in high school, and me, a sophomore. We stayed in the suburbs while my parents spent most nights in an apartment in the city next to Northwestern Memorial. Nothing was quieter than the radiation that became chemo, the uncertainty and the months it swallowed. That fall was a binaural hum, a near silence that almost stayed.
My mother and I slept side by side in her king-sized bed my last year of high school. Although the tv was often on, there was a frequency hanging in the air we didn’t speak of. Separated now, my parents had once filled our home with sound, too much, to later abandon it altogether. The silence now wasn’t silence but small talk, forks on plates, the growling of the garbage disposal. It wouldn’t last forever. Eventually they’d reunite. The sounds of 20 years would continue.
Abbey died the year I lived alone for the first time. I was 22 and finally comfortable being by myself. And then I wasn’t. Every creak of the hardwood floor reminded me of her roaring laughter, its contagious quality. My old home’s sounds spoke of our friendship and its end. I played music, but music was too much. Silence invited in thought, but sound invited memory. Which was worse to live with? I couldn’t decide. Eventually I would be 23, and the comfort would return in part, with therapy, medication, conversations with others. It would not be this quiet forever, something I wish I could have told her.
Because he betrayed me, and I still let him stay in my bed. Because I didn’t yet know how to form the vowels of end. A silence the size of tsunami. My 23rd year was muted. I didn’t leave him and the crickets knew. The junebugs taunted. There was noise I did not ask for, dull and monotonous. There was quiet that consumed. I didn’t know it then, but I was making my home the furthest thing from it.
I don’t want to live in a birdless home. I want their crackling sighs to come through the windows I leave open and liven the air. I listen as the ducks run on the patches of pavement, their webbed feet slapping the cement, rhythmic. I occasionally let the hens wander into the house, cawing their curiosity into the walls.
Feeding the yard squirrels is not cheap: walnuts are expensive. Caring for poultry is not always an easy task. On many occasions I have had to bathe them gently, sort through soiled feathers, easing the sickness out of them. They thank me in familiar sounds.
The birds, the bugs—all of it—remind me of my capacity for continuing.
I ask the crickets for their nightly music. I invite the wild birds to sing, mine to hum. I want a house with a yard full of life. To be reminded, daily, that there is more than me that lives here.
Danielle (she/her/hers) is an MFA alum and professor of disability/queer rhetoric at Chapman University. She has a fear of commitment in regard to novel writing and an affinity for wiener dogs. Her work has been published by Lunch Ticket, Vassar Review, Hobart, Split Lip, and Redivider and is forthcoming in The Florida Review and New Orleans Review.