Bird of Paradise

by Victoria Large

Diana's new bird Oscar, a stunning blue Hyacinth Macaw, had begun to pull out each of his feathers, one by one. Diana was disconcerted. Oscar was different from the other birds: she bought the others, but she had inherited Oscar from an old woman who used to frequent her shop. Had he done this his entire life? Was he grieving? Could she stop him?

"I've seen this before," said Diana's friend Claudia. "Your bird is having problems with his self-image. He's in the midst of an emotional crisis, and you need to take him to see someone." Diana did this. She took Oscar to his usual vet, and then to a veterinary behaviorist ("an animal shrink," Claudia called him), but they struggled to find the root of the problem. The only comfort was that Oscar never seemed to run out of feathers. Diana would find her floors coated in feathers, fresh every day, but Oscar, who by all rights should have been plucked bare and vulnerable as a Thanksgiving turkey by now, was always fully clothed.

Unsure of what else to do, Diana started collecting the feathers. At her shop she sold wind chimes and incense and shapes made out of iridescent blown glass, and it was easy to find uses for Oscar's cast-off feathers. She started with quill pens, then began using them as accents for jewelry and hand-dyed cotton skirts. She made a set of blue angel wings with straps to slip over human shoulders, and she sold them to a nine-year-old girl from Pomona.

Diana began to find a rainbow of colors at her feet every morning— shades of red, purple, green, orange, yellow and, once, a very pale pink. Each day would find Oscar transformed—an entirely new color if not a new bird—and Diana watched him for signs of despair. An air of pensiveness, at least. The vet still didn't have answers. People began to come from several counties over to visit Diana's shop and buy coats trimmed with feathers, curtains made from feathers, loose feathers tied up in organza bags. "You're profiting from this," Claudia said when she visited, "Your art is thriving on this." Her expression didn't soften much when Diana responded that she hadn't asked for any of it. It had happened and she had done something.

Diana studied Oscar at night, the other birds asleep in covered cages. She watched him to see if he was looking out to the horizon, and she imagined that he was. She took him out to the backyard and held out her arm to encourage him to leave his perch and fly, and she didn't know if he would come back down again as he circled overhead, showering her with a rainbow of feathers that he'd loosed before taking flight.

 


Victoria Large's short fiction has appeared in The Bridge and Crossing Rivers into Twilight, and she is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College.