Saturday, September 20, 2008

Birds in her Freezer

A widow in my neighborhood--let's call her Marie--walks her miniature schnauzer twice a day. I made her acquaintance on the street when we were both walking our dogs. She is slightly bent by scoliosis, and the walking helps her. She probably knows more about this neighborhood than anyone else because she talks to people she sees on the street while walking with her dog. She knows the soap opera versions of our private lives and manages to discuss these intimacies with some discretion and taste.

Her husband, before he died, had been a first-rate yard man in addition to his job as curator at one of Houston's most important museums. Their house and lawn literally glowed with sculptured life. A particularly important chore that the husband had previously handled with great competence and sensitivity was the burying of dead birds.

Marie kept pet birds of the smaller sort, finches, lovebirds and such. Inevitably, some died. Recently, a finch died, and the chore that had been handled so competently and sensitively by her husband now fell to her. She simply was not up to the task, so she put the bird in the freezer to keep until she got up enough gumption to bury it properly. A few days later, she picked up an injured sparrow and, failing to nurse it back to health, put it in the freezer along with the finch.

Marie has been without electricity for over a week, and the birds are now decomposing in plastic bags on the porch. Her sister explained to her how dead animals release a gas that permeates plastic. That is why her freezer still reeks even after the birds' removal. Marie's 83-year-old mother had chickens in her deep freeze. The excrescence is still there, and she doesn't know what to do with it. They think she's going to have to throw out the entire freezer. It reminds me of something my wife had told me. The insurance companies, she says, now have an exclusion clause for refrigerators because, after Katrina, so many folks just duct-taped their Fridgidaires shut and put them by the street for pickup. Apparently, you can't clean the stench of rotten flesh out of a warm freezer.

Marie went to the store for baking soda to put in her freezer, and she thought that she might get some for her mother, as well. She was disappointed to find the baking soda shelf bare not only at that supermarket but also at the two others she checked. It seems that Ike's pathway, from Galveston to parts of Kentucky and Ohio, is now a sump of moldering flesh, held partially at bay with boxes of baking soda.

I discussed these things with Marie in the shared and awkward knowledge that I live in air conditioned comfort with Internet access while she hunkers in the dark trying to read by the failing light of what she describes as a Ray-O-Vac.

Update: my mother says coffee grinds are helpful with de-stinking a freezer.