After a while, we’d pretty much resigned ourselves to Balto being lost. My wife phoned the next door neighbors in case he’d shown up at their feeder, and I turned his pictures or tore them up.

The crow noticed how mopey I was and helpfully vomited a capsule of recent pickings from his antelingual pouch directly into my mouth.
“Pfwanks, Kwow” I said, spitting it out.

The next several days I spent noticing the similarities between the call of several native birds and Balto’s distress call. I figured the best medicine would be to take the digging bar and clamshell diggers across the road and begin anew the process of repairing the fence we paid some hapless idiots to construct a few years ago. Every time I go over there and view their handiwork my mind is thoroughly clouded by hate, and the knowledge that if any country bigger than El Salvador invades the US, we’re absolutely dicked. For all the rebel flag beltbuckle and deerhunting lardass swagger, nobody around here knows how to staple a fucking wire to a post, or exert themselves to do anything more than climb in and out of a truck wallpapered with bullshit stickers subliminally advertising the driver’s lack of a functional penis.

I hated and dug, hated and dug.

Shortly the hate gave way to a species of referred pain that meandered from the general area of my right kidney, around my ass, looping under my crotch and terminated in my right testicle. Inguinal hernia, I thought. Requires a.) studied inactivity, or b.) surgery.

I just kept going, because fuck lying around and thinking about some jerk seeing him and shooting him for the hell of it, in the “Look! It’s a thing!” way the killhappy settlers to this region mowed down all the native psittacids.

My wife had just gotten off the phone notifying the local veterinary offices and our excuse for a department of animal control when the next door neighbors rang up.

Some kids had found Balto in a tree, and having no inguinal hernias to speak of, shimmied up and retrieved him. Once they got him indoors, he gratefully permitted them to hold and play with him.

Their father told them “That’s somebody’s baby. We’ll be getting a call for him.”

They had a parrot of their own, who didn’t care to be handled much, and when we came to pick Balto up, he was enjoying the attention they were lavishing upon him. A girl of about twelve was holding him to her face while he made kissing noises.

The look she gave me when I walked in was one of undistilled preadolescent hatred; the kind that does not brook intrusion upon the orderly, safe confines of its world.

“He’s very old” I said, trying to work in the subtext he will break your heart.

We thanked them for returning him, and decided the kids deserved some kind of reward for giving him up.
Being a shallow git, my first thought was
“Cash.
I like cash.
They’ll like cash.”

My wife ordered them a “Stokes Guide to The Birds of North America”, and I ghostwrote an inscription from Balto:
Thank you for returning me to my slaves. I honestly don’t know what they’d do with themselves without me here eating their walls and furnishings. Here is a book describing some of the birds I encountered during my vacation.

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