The birds started with my Dad, he kept them first. He wasn't like me with the birds though, he only got them out occasionally and he only got a couple out at a time. Sometimes at a dinner party he'd get one out and show it to the guests, a Yellowhammer or a Green Woodpecker - something to impress or interest them.
I remember some days we'd go walking with the bigger ones, the ones which needed flying. We flew them across the damp beaches and the windy meadows near us. You couldn't talk to my dad when we flew the birds. He let them soar in the sky and they had to take up most of his attention. I found it hard to see what he was thinking right then, but sometimes you caught the smile on his face, so perhaps it was a happy time.
There were some birds he only got out in private. There was a time once when I caught him out with one. I was only little, but I was feeling anxious about something. When I felt anxious about stuff, lying in bed, my legs would ache, and I'd have to go downstairs to find some distraction. Usually I'd go down to watch some TV or get some water.
I remember clearly creeping down the last little flight of stairs, the one which turned a corner, in my pyjamas, in the dark. I heard soft music coming from the living room. I thought maybe someone had left the TV on or something. I went over and opened the door. It was warm and dimly-lit and sitting on the red sofa, facing the wooden coffee table, I saw my Dad. A glass of red wine was placed on the table, just a little of it drank. He had his hands cupped in a little goblet shape and sitting in his palms was a tiny shivering bluebird - and it's what was making the music I'd heard.
My Dad had his eyes fixed on it but he was staring right past it. His eyes were very wet but he wasn't crying. He couldn't do anything either. Even when he looked up and saw me and smiled, I could tell the bluebird had him and there was nothing he or I could do. The folds in the skin on his hands looked so awkward and old in comparison to the delicate blue feathers of the bird. I hated to see him so disabled. As a child I needed him. Even at that age I knew what this was, so I didn't ask. I went back up to bed and sat and listened to the music sang by the bluebird. It really was beautiful, sad and beautiful. That tiny little bird seemed so powerful. It wasn't sinister, but it wasn't harmless. I lay down with my head on my pillow and I plotted against it.