He was a mess—roasting in the hot summer sun, completely helpless, and alone. He had come from the sky like a fallen angel, and he lay there, on the hot sidewalk, waiting for death to come take him. There were others like him that were even less fortunate than he, the light had gone from their eyes already. People had been passing him all day; people too busy with their mundane lives to pay him any more attention than “how sad” or “poor thing” before they went along their busy way. He had fallen from his home and was in a foreign land with no mother, no knowledge of this new world, and no chance of ever making it home on his own.
She was an animal lover by nature (maybe that’s why her mother didn’t try to reason with her or tell her “no”). She was on her way back to the car, ready to leave her horse at the fair for the night—satisfied with the water level, bedding, and animal's happiness. One last kiss to Cricket’s velvety nose and she was out the door, and down the walk, heading for her mom’s silver van. The plastic werewolf (dubbed ‘wolfman’) from a Taco Bell kid’s meal eaten over a year ago was still there, taped to the antenna—right where Katie had originally put it, a failed practical joke. As she got closer she could see it come into focus: light brown with tattered black pants and no shirt—like the incredible Hulk. That was when they met.
“There’s a baby bird!”
“It fell out of its nest….. What do we do?”
Lynda knew her daughter well enough to understand that they did have to do something—Katie would never leave something like this entirely to the fates to determine an outcome. Over the span of her relatively short life, their house has been a foster home to bunnies, snakes, turtles, tadpoles, quail, ducks, butterflies, and anything else she could catch.
Less than an hour later this stranger to our world had a new home, a family, and a name.
Max, like any baby, needed attention and care. The internet provided Katie with a list of needed ingredients to make food for a baby bird, and a digital alarm clock provided her with a regulated feeding schedule. Not one to ever get up before the sun, Katie found herself up just hours after midnight to feed Max. I guess there is logic behind the saying “up with the birds” she thought to herself one morning as she cut the tip off of a McDonalds straw to make a small spoon to feed her pet. “Peep, peep, peep?” Max would ask, his yellow beak wide open and his bald head back. He looked exactly like the Starvin’ Marvin toy Katie and her sister Christine had played with as kids. “PEEP, PEEP!” he continued as soon as he saw food was coming. That was the routine, ever couple hours for days on end. Max would cry, and Katie would get up to tend to him. His home (a spare storage bin that was missing its top and had been fitted with a heat lamp, blanket, makeshift grass nest, and sticks) had to be cleaned weekly, his water changed daily. The cat had to be kept as a safe distance and her bedroom door had to be kept shut.
Max grew fast, and came everywhere as an honorary member of the Fleming family, including weekend trips to the family cabin. One weekend in particular happened to coincide perfectly with the day max learned to fly. Between strings around yellow legs to keep Max from flying away, first baths in Frisbees, and clumsily trying to convince bugs to leap into his gaping mouth, it was a weekend of growth and memories.
From then on Max was making changes and progress daily. Within a few days he could fly well enough that the spiteful housecat was getting to be a hazard. When Max went fully aerial, he was relocated to the back yard. The front door had to be carefully monitored for the sake of visitors unaccustomed to a wild bird landing on their head upon reaching the front steps. Katie was out the door before the guest were out of their cars, gathering Max from various heads, shoulders, and backs. “Don’t hurt him! He’s mine!” Hers, and he was; He belonged to her, and she to him. They shared a special bond of love and respect toward each other.
The day Max stopped coming home altogether was a heavy one. Katie searched all the trees in her yard and the neighbors’. “Max!” She called for him, but he never came. “Max!!” No answer, no peep, no sounds of wings. Katie stayed outside for a long while looking at the sky. She wasn’t looking for him anymore, just at where he was. She understood that Max had flown home.