September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

It was the height of July and the hummingbirds had zipped back into their old haunts of our small summer paradise home to raise their families and take advantage of the multitude of bright red feeders my mother set out every year. Three-feathers, a hummingbird named the summer before for the three jewel-red feathers that shimmered on his throat, returned to raise his own family and we watched from the kitchen window as he taught them how to drink the sugar water. It’s not often a child of the suburbs has a chance to watch two generations of a hummingbird family grow up in her own backyard, but looking back, it’s plain my brother and I weren’t just children of the suburbs. Embraced by our mother’s brainchild, a small, colorful wonderland of native plants and labyrinthine pathways through greenery, we grew up in a bubble of trees, flowers, and hidden corners under bushes where we’d share the dried fruit and nuts I would swipe from the old white refrigerator. Some days, when the hummingbird feeders were low, Mom would set the sugar water boiling on the stove and I’d have a chance to swipe that, too. Occasionally I felt guilty, stealing food from the jeweled birds I loved so much, but the sugar-free candies and bowls of damp carrots were never quite enough for growing children. We stole sugar whenever we could, even eating it raw in the forts we made of couch cushions. But when the sugar in the jar got low and we couldn’t steal anymore without coming under suspicion, we would wait impatiently until mother went grocery shopping, which was less often than we would have liked. I fancied myself a strong-minded child and figured I’d survive these short separations from sugar, but my brother, on the other hand, was a small addict, destined to hit rock bottom sooner rather than later. That sooner came on a particularly hot Tuesday, I remember, and we’d been fighting all day. I’d lost each battle decisively, my words or my fists always too small against his two extra years of experience in the rough world. Frustrated and repressed, I trudged moodily around the house, racking my brain for a sneakier way to exact revenge. I was sitting in the living room, sulking over my favorite Eyewitness guide (one about hummingbirds, naturally) when I happened to look out the front window and see my brother, standing on the tips of his toes and tilting the hummingbird feeder until a steady stream of sugar water poured out and into his mouth. I watched, gaping, for a good five minutes, as the feeder quickly drained and he stood there, sticky and pleased. Like any loyal sister would do, I ran to my mother, visions of revenge and timeouts dancing the tango in the back of my eyes. After running through the entire house without finding my mother, I began to deflate. What if she’d left? I spun in a quick circle and directed my body towards the back door, on a beeline for the vegetable garden. I found her alternating between pulling up mosquito grass and slapping loudly at the mosquitoes settling cloud-like on her darkened skin.

Um. Mom. I shuffle my feet, as if to suggest this is a difficult thing for me to tell. But I must do it, for the good of the hummingbirds, and my brother’s dental hygiene. Mom. The hummingbird feeder is empty.

I filled it this morning. She doesn’t look up, but keeps pulling weeds and slapping at mosquitoes. The high pitched whine sounds off in my ear and I slap foolishly at it, missing the mosquito and successfully disabling my left ear for the time being. Perhaps revenge isn’t worth getting eaten alive, I decide. But I give it one more try.

Well, I saw a really huge hummingbird drinking from it, I say. He was really big. Probably the same size as Kody. Looked a lot like Kody, actually. She looks, then. Quizzically. I see the realization hit her and follow her triumphantly as she marches into the house, snatches Kody by the shirt front, and demands to know the truth. Gleefully, I watched him shrink in her grip, nodding his head miserably. Grounded for two weeks, with extra yard chores. She walked away, shaking her head. Once her back was turned, I did a small, gloating dance in his doorway before scampering off to revel in my genius. He didn’t speak to me for a solid two weeks and I felt powerful. He may have been stronger in words and in fists, but I was small and malicious, weaseling my way into good graces and using them for all they were worth.

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