Literature selection: 'Mackey'

Editor’s note: Mary Lou, who loves to read, has neglected that passion to work on her book of Rockford’s “old” downtown. This endeavor, in turn, was fueled by hundreds of postcards from the early 1900s, saved by her mother. Her story, she hopes, will evoke memories of a time and place memorable to many and newly enlightening to those too young to remember “the way it was.”

Mackey came to live with Susan when he was less than a year old. This bright, perky parakeet and his 10-year old mistress soon became fast friends. He was a People Parakeet and really did not realize he was a bird and could not understand why his large, clumsy friends could not do what he could do so easily—FLY.

Perched on the mantel were 10 “Freakies”—tiny little trolls that came in cereal boxes. (Susan and her family grew to hate that brand of cereal, but collect them all they must.) Mackey soon discovered these figures and carefully paced behind them, assiduously examining each one. Then he proceeded, one by one, to push each one over the edge, seemingly urging the troll to “Fly, Fly, flap your whatever!” And watched in evident dismay as each one, inevitably, plunged to the brick hearth below. One troll, however, became his favorite…or least favorite. At random, he would make his selection as to his next pupil, but always, even if it meant circling around one or two, he would leave one certain one to be last. This one he even would follow down, desperately flapping his wings, urging his protegé to follow his example. Was it the color, the shape, or some indefinable aura of this last one that encouraged Mackey to save him for last—only Mackey knew.

Mackey spent his summers at a cottage in southern Wisconsin. Here there was no mantel but there were many windows looking out over a nearby woods. One day while Mackey was flying free in the house, Susan’s mother, unthinkingly, opened the door onto the balcony. Mackey seized the moment to fly out the door and zoom into the woods. Mackey, who usually would fly to Susan and land on her bright, blonde hair, was so exhilarated with his freedom, he would not heed the cries of “Mackey, come home, Mackey, where are you?” It was a gusty, rainy night, and Susan spent most of it sitting on a chair in the woods with an umbrella and flashlight, calling to her friend. To no avail.

Weeks passed with no word of Mackey. And then one day, while talking to a neighbor, Susan’s mother mentioned the missing Mackey. Lynn, her neighbor, said, “Oh, could it be? A friend of mine who lives near the school is keeping a parakeet—it landed on her daughter’s head one day as she was coming home from school. And yes, her daughter has blonde hair.”

Without mentioning her destination, Susan’s mom persuaded Susan to accompany her to “the store.” On the way, she pulled into a strange driveway, saying she “just had to stop a moment…why don’t you come with me, Sue?” What a reunion—at least on Susan’s part. An unrepentant Mackey calmly greeted his mistress, almost as if she were the one who had “flown the coop.”

For the rest of that summer, no one opened a cottage door without making sure Mackey was in his cage and not flying about. In the fall, once again back in Rockford, he rediscoverd the mantel and his Freakies. His enthusiasm seemed to have waned, however; maybe he realized that despite his best efforts, those darned guys just weren’t going to fly. More and more, he seemed content to stay in his cage, only coming out to alight on Susan’s head, to accept a treat from her open hand, or occasionally perch on the faucet to elicit a drop of water, evidently more to his taste than that in his water dish.

A hurried visit to the vet with Mackey didn’t solve the puzzle of his strange behavior. With instructions to keep him warm, Mackey returned home. One morning as Susan took off the cloth that covered his cage at night, she realized she hadn’t heard his morning greeting, “Cheep, cheep.”

Mackey lay still and silent on the bottom of his cage. He would never again leave his cage, try to teach his Freakies, or seek the freedom of the woods. Susan’s little friend is buried in a tiny wooden casket…with his favorite Freakie, the little troll he always left for last. No doubt, he once again is tirelessly trying to teach his Freakie to fly. Who knows? By now they may both be flying free.

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