Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Down the Tube

Ruby, a pup who needs a home

On Friday evening a bird descended our stovepipe, scratching and flapping. 
It was trapped.
For about five minutes the cats were rapt. They soon joined the dogs in not giving a damn.
We thought, “Stupid bird got in there, he can get himself out.”
We had people in and out all weekend, phone calls, the final guitar concert, the winding-up of our long summer. We ignored the bird, we hoped it would just go away. It didn´t.
By Monday I decided to do something. I climbed up a ladder outside, alongside the tall silver pipe. I took a length of heavy chain with bolts stuck on the end, and clipped it to a dog-leash, which I clipped to another dog leash. I removed the little hat that tops the chimney, then lowered the chain, bolts first, down the pipe. I intended to scare the bird into dropping down into the stove itself. From there I could open the little glass door, snatch him up and set him free outside.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The chain went down, down, down. The bird flapped and squawked for a second. Good. I pulled up on the dog leash to retrieve the chain. Up, up it came. And then it stopped.
It was stuck. About six feet down, in an elbow against the house, it snagged on something inside the pipe. I jiggled it, I twisted it, I said bad words, I said prayers. I pulled and jerked it hard as I could, but it was no good.
A bird was stuck in our flue, and now a chain was stuck down there, too.
At least I still had hold of one end of it. I tied it off and climbed down the ladder.
I gathered up a dozen fresh hen´s eggs and put them in a box. I headed over to the albergue and asked Bruno to please help me out.
And so he did.
He climbed the ladder and stood over the chimney-pot and grabbed hold of the dog-lead and gave several whole-body pulls on it. And out it came. I have to admit, sometimes that male upper-body strength thing is for real.
Bruno looked at the chain-and-leash contraption and said nothing, wise man that he is.
“I know, it was a crazy idea,” I said.
“Chains were good. The bolts, too long,” he said. “The bolt, it catches in the curve.”
I shrugged. I am in the midst of a long streak of hard luck where machines are concerned. 
“So that is problem number one solved,” Bruno said, encouragingly. 
“Now indoors, for the number two problem.”
Inside, we took apart the chimney-pipe that attaches the stove to the chimney outside. A brief shower of sandy black soot flowed out, past the walls painted white and yellow onto the floor below. We turned it and cradled it, wrapping both ends in old shirts to keep the stuff inside the pipe inside the pipe. Between us we walked out the front doors, down the patio, through the gate and up to the wilderness beyond the rosemary hedge. I opened one end, and out flowed a year´s worth of soot and the blackened body of the grackle bird.
I probably did him in. I brained him with that chain. Karma, I thought.
“Pobrecito,” Bruno said.
We vacuumed-out the innards of the stove and put it back together. Bruno packed up his neat kit of tools and headed back to his pilgrims. He wasn´t even dusty.
I sat down for a minute.
Our living room was trashed, the sofa pulled away from the wall, the jute rug folded back. All the dirt and dead spiders that hide behind and beneath were suddenly on display.
Paddy looked up from his computer. “Look at that,” Paddy said. “It´s a mess.”
Paddy is rarely disturbed by disorder. I am sure he could live happily in a bombed-out ruin and never notice unless the wifi didn´t work. For him to notice a mess means it´s nothing short of catastrophic.
“Help me out,” I said. And he did.
We vacuumed the rug on both sides, and the sandy floor beneath it, the dusty sofa, the cat-hairy cushions, the unspeakable dog beds. I found the big spiders I thought I´d imagined this summer were real. Their spiky carcasses disappeared into the vacuum.
Paddy mopped the floors, all of them. We put back the rug, re-arranged the furniture, wiped the last bits of soot off the walls. I washed the dogs, who were smelly. (The cats had vanished soon as the vacuum arrived on the scene.) 
Paddy and I each took a shower, because we were smelly by then, too.
Then we were tired. We had tea out in the patio, away from the dust and indignant dogs.
On the patio table was the chimney-cap. One last job to do.
Paddy took a roll of chicken wire from the barn, and we clipped off a length of it, folded it long-ways and twisted it around the chimney-cap, to keep the birds forever out.
I climbed up the ladder. Paddy handed the shiny silver chimney-top up to me. I shivvied it into place, clipped it securely down.
I came down again. We carried the ladder between us to the barn and put it away. We shut the gates and doors, fed the hungry dogs, and laid ourselves down for a nap. 

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