It dawned on me that I needed an animal story. But I couldn’t use just any animal.
Have you ever had a eureka moment when you were inspired by The Wall Street Journal with a new idea?
No, me either. At least, not until I saw this article: Octopus & Me: Animal Memoirs Move Beyond Cats and Dogs.
I knew I was onto something when the Wall Street Journal said writers were cranking out tales of hedgehogs, tarantulas, and tree kangaroos. Enough with the articles about how to live better, be better, overcome depression, succeed in three easy steps, avoid failure by doing these five things or become everything you ever wanted to be in one minute a day. According to the WSJ, the big thing is to write about animals.
I decided to hop on the bandwagon and crank out an animal story. Maybe you should, too. But here’s the caveat. The subject of your story can’t be an ordinary animal.
That’s way overdone. Even if your cat saved your life by licking your face until you woke from a coma or your dog dragged you from a burning building straight to your car, you CAN’T USE IT. The animal has to be exotic. “Books about a writer’s bond with a dog or cat aren’t going anywhere,” according Ellen Gamerman, author of the WSJ article. You could try writing about an octopus, a gerbil or a goat.
I cast back over decades of pets, discarding dogs and cats and even a pony as too mundane. Then my thoughts landed on Chuck, and I knew I had the subject of my tale.
Here it is…
Chuck was a cockatiel, purchased for my son on his birthday. But my daughter and I played a terrible trick and you’re going to think I’m an awful mother. My only excuse is, I come from a family of practical jokesters and couldn’t help myself.
When my daughter and I went to the pet store to buy the cockatiel, she spotted some baby ducklings in a cage. Actually they were close to being half-grown, past the cute, fuzzy stage and waddling around on big, webbed feet. But the pet store was offering them for FREE.
“Mom, these are sooo cute and they’re free! Can I have a duckling?” My daughter started in on me immediately.
“What are you going to do with a duck? You’re in college,” I said.
“I can take care of it. PLEASE. It’s FREE!”
So I got her the duck, bought the cockatiel, hid the cockatiel and presented the duck in a shoebox to my son. “Happy birthday! Here’s your cockatiel!” I said.
My son examined the duck in the shoe box. “Mom, that’s not a cockatiel. It’s a duck.”
“But the man in the pet store assured me it was a cockatiel.” I sounded sincere and my daughter stifled her giggles.
My son, looking perplexed, said “I’m sure that’s a duck.”
Then my daughter and I burst out laughing and gave him his cockatiel. Which he loved for five minutes until it pooped on his arm, and the bird was mine from then on.
Chuck hated my husband. “That bird hisses at me whenever I walk past his cage,” my husband complained.
“You emanate hostility. He can feel it,” I said. “Try to emanate love and kindness.”
“I can’t,” my husband said. He scatters seed everywhere and tries to bite me whenever I stick my finger near his cage.”
I felt sorry for Chuck because my husband hated him, my son ignored him and he was stuck in a cage, so I began letting him out for brief flights around the house and porch. He always flew back to my outstretched arm when I called him, and eventually I was letting him fly around outside. I loved seeing this bright, yellow exotic bird fluttering toward the highest treetops, enjoying his freedom, and then returning to my arm when I called his name.
My exotic animal story would probably be good if it ended here. The Wall Street Journal emphasized the importance of making these stories sentimental.
One example cited in the newspaper was a story about Ninna the baby hedgehog. Ninna’s owner fell in love with her after examining her little nose, which “looked like a piece of licorice. Perfect. With those tiny nostrils so clearly defined, it was as if the able hand of a master miniaturist had painted them.” (from How a Prickly Creature Softened a Prickly Heart)
But my story does not have a happy ending. One morning I walked to the mailbox with Chuck on my shoulder. He unfurled his little wings and soared heavenward, free and joyful, leaving the confines of his cage behind. I called to him and he began his descent. So far so good. He had almost reached the safety of my outstretched arm when a flock of crows, giant squawking creatures, swooped down and chased Chuck away. The last I saw of him, he was disappearing in the distance with those crows fast on his heels.
You see how this ending can never compare to Ninna’s: “In one scene, Mr. Vacchetta (Ninnas owner)takes Ninna on a trip to the ocean, trying to calm her during the journey by letting her sit on his girlfriend’s lap. When his driving makes the critter vomit, Mr. Vacchetta feels guilty for putting Ninna through the ordeal. That night, eager to redeem himself, he brings the hedgehog to the water’s edge under a starry sky. ‘This is the sea,’ he whispers. Without me, you never would have seen it.’”
Even the duck story doesn’t have a happy ending. We dragged our protesting daughter away from the duck that summer to take her on a vacation to Europe.
“I can’t leave my duck! Why are you doing this to me?” She protested.
What she really meant was, “I don’t want to leave my boyfriend. Why are you dragging me away from him to go on a vacation with my PARENTS!”
She left the duck in the care of her boyfriend, whose Jack Russell got hold of it. So she was mad at us instead of the boyfriend, because we were the ones who took her to Europe.
So much for my sentimental animal stories. Maybe you can do better.