Blake Croft

November 11th, 2003

Mr. Marconen told me I should start journaling, that it might make me feel better, so here I am. I’ll introduce myself now, if that’s alright. If there’s anyone reading this. My name is Finn, I’m 15 years old, and I’m a hired hand at the Brookfield Zoo. More of a volunteer, really. They don’t exactly pay me, but the zoo staff trust me enough to let me stay after dark and watch over the Goldies. Goldies is what I call the Fool’s Gold Macaws. They’re an extremely rare species of macaw lined with gold on their wings, and nice blue bodies. But the bloodline didn’t last for long, since most of the population was captured and sold for their feathers or as house pets in the 90’s, so now there are only 10 left in the world. And the Brookfield Zoo has four of them.

I don’t know if there’s much else to say about me. What do people normally say in introductions? I go to Cook High School. I’m a freshman there. I make a lot of lists if that counts for anything. I list out my daily schedule, the best things in life, my friends, my classes, the food I eat, things to stay away from, ways to start conversations, places I want to visit, my favorite bible verses, and I guess now I’ve made a list about what lists I’ve made.

Mr. Marconen is my AP biology teacher at Cook. He’s not the best teacher, but I like him well enough. He’s been one of the chief animal assistants at Brookfield for almost 8 years now, so I visited to see what exactly he did. I had always been fond of birds. Since I was little, I guess. I had a birdfeeder in the shape of a mushroom house, and the Northern cardinals and Black-capped chickadees would come to get seed from its mushroom cap. I used to stand in my backyard for hours, watching them feed, not listening to anything happening inside my house. When Mr. Marconen brought me over to the Goldies for the first time, I guess it brought me back to that bird feeder, where everything else was drowned out.

That day, Mr. Marconen was speaking to me, telling me that these were Fool’s Gold Macaws, only 10 left in the world, they were hunted for their… I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t, really. My eyes traced the birds, in all their glory. Their forked claws, wrapping around the branches, holding them tight to the tree. I’m sure they could hang upside down and not fall with that tight of a grip. From the first feather above their feet, the cyan tint on their bodies was as rich as ever. It poured out over their neck and body, spilling over like the small waterfall behind the branches, before mixing delicately into their golden wings. I felt like I could taste the gold hue that enveloped their backs and down their tails, like citrus painted on their bodies. There were four of them, but they felt like one unified thing. The only distinguishing factor between each macaw was their heads. The one on the left had a mane of mostly white, with black drags of lightning forking across its nostrils. The two in the middle looked nearly identical, with the gold of their backs overflowing onto their scalps, but the leftmost of those two was missing a section of its beak. The bird on the right had on the top of its head a patch of lime green to complement the rest of its color scheme.

Mr. Marconen had walked away, left me with the birds to sit and watch. I sat down on the stone bench up against the cage walls. I am not sure how long I looked at the Goldies for. It could have been a few minutes. A few hours, maybe. But no matter how long I stayed, the birds always seemed to look back. Their pupils were a glossy black, and I felt almost as if I could see what they were seeing. Through a cage, a boy trapped on this bench, having nothing better to do than sit and watch some birds.

They didn’t give me a job, said I was too young to work. But Mr. Marconen invited me to return to the zoo whenever I wanted, since I liked the Goldies so much. And I did like them. Very much. And I did return to the zoo. Every day since that day, I’ve gone to the zoo, sat by the exhibit, and watched the Goldies. I watched them move, I watched them fly, I heard them squawk. When I wasn’t at the zoo, I was at home researching the birds. I learned what they ate, how they behaved, when they mated. I began to make a list of everything I needed to know about the Goldies. It wasn’t too long before I acted as the resident expert on the macaws when zoo visitors would come up to the exhibit, and I would explain everything there was to know about the Fool’s Gold Macaw. They let me feed the birds too. Eventually I started staying nights at the zoo, alone with the Goldies. The nights I spent at Brookfield were the only times I ever felt completely alone, but they were the nights I felt the safest. I was in good company with the Goldies.


November 23rd, 2003

The Goldies don’t like it when it rains. I guess that comes with the habitat. Usually, if they were in a rainforest, that’s sort of what you’d expect. Downpour just about every day. But in captivity, the birds aren’t used to bad weather conditions. They usually try to position themselves bundled together under the large palm leaves in their exhibit, sheltered from the deafening raindrops.

I don’t mind the rain so much. I suppose I don’t really have anyone to bundle up with, but it’s not so bad anyway. I wish I did. Have somebody to bundle up with. Anyone, really, wouldn’t be so bad. There’s a sophomore girl, Agatha, in my English class at Cook. I haven’t really spoken to her, but I do love the name Agatha. It’s exotic, not too plain or boring. Like Agatha Christie. I wonder if she reads mystery novels. Every time attendance is taken, I listen for her name and wonder what it would be like to bundle up with Agatha under a large palmetto leaf. I wonder if Agatha minds the rain…


December 5th, 2003

I finally named the Goldies. The zoo said they had names, but they weren’t given much thought. Things like Greenie and Chipbeak. I’m sure wouldn’t like to be called Chipbeak if I had a chip in my beak. I don’t think that’s particularly healthy for the animals. It’s like my freckles. They’re part of the way I can be identified in a crowd. That doesn’t mean I should be called Freckleface. Finn will do just fine. That’s why I gave the birds more thoughtful names. The male in the bunch, the one with the green feathers, I named Watson, after the Sherlock Holmes novels. Then there were Judy and Maya. And Chipbeak was renamed to be Elise. It meant “Oath of God”. I gave the names to Mr. Marconen and he came back and said the zoo staff didn’t care too much, and the names would just have to be changed on their paperwork.

I stayed overnight at the zoo then. My mom had been a little out of it for the past few days at home, so I thought it might be better to stay with the birds. The zoo staff didn’t mind all too much, and they told me the security guard would come check on me every now and again.

It was just getting cold in Brookfield. Real cold. The kind of cold that opens your jacket and wraps you in chills. The birds were cold too, I could tell. Macaws have adapted to tropical conditions, so having them here in Cook County wasn’t great for them. Judy and Maya had their wings spread and wrapped around Watson, the three of them keeping warm in a big bundle. It was a nice sight to see, the three of them keeping warm. But Elise wasn’t in the bundle. In fact, Elise wasn’t near the others at all. Elise sheltered herself under a branch in the far corner of the exhibit. She was hunched over and shivering, so that I could not see her eyes, or her chipped beak. Maya craned her head towards Elise, and let out a squawk, like a question. A question to which Elise had no reply. Instead, she held her head up, which seemed difficult for her to do, and gazed at the three birds in the corner keeping warm. Her gaze then shifted past the metal of the cage, and focused on me. Elise’s eyes held a twinge of sadness, and the black pupil had seemed to grow wide with… what was it? Doubt, maybe. As if that was all the energy she had left, she let her head hang down, her chipped beak almost touching the floor of the exhibit. Her fragile legs, coated in cyan feathers, seemed to stop fighting, and Elise collapsed onto a palmetto leaf.


December 6th, 2003

I don’t have much experience with death. I had a goldfish when I was young, his name was Richmond. He died after a day or two, and we had a funeral for him in the backyard. I have experience with people leaving, though. I didn’t really know him too well, my dad. My mom said he left because he “had his whole life left to live”. I’m not sure why he didn’t want to live it with me, though. But then again, I guess it doesn’t really matter why he left, just that he did. There were a lot of nights I prayed that my dad would come back. That he would want to live his life with me, even for a little while. I promised God I would forgive him, as God would forgive me. There were a lot of nights I prayed, and just as many left wanting.

I had told the security guard about Elise. He called the head veterinarian at the zoo, who was asleep, but woke up to come help. They said Elise had a tumor that the clinic had not seen, which caused a seizure. That’s how she died. It was strange, my eyes lingered on Elise’s body lying still on the leaf, and I didn’t move for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. All I could think was why don’t the other three move to help her? Maybe Watson and Maya and Judy knew it was too late for Elise. Maybe they thought her death was coming anyway.

Or maybe they envied Elise. Trapped in a few feet of cage, with their whole life left to live inside. Maybe they would have preferred to be Elise.

Nobody was allowed to be near the exhibit that day, the vets were making sure none of the other birds had anything similar. I’m sure they were kicking themselves for not seeing a brain tumor earlier. I spent the day with the chimps instead. Watched them kick around their toys and fling rocks at each other. Mr. Marconen stopped by and brought me an ice cream cone and said he was sorry. I wasn’t really sure what he was sorry for. I mean, he didn’t give Elise the tumor. But then again, who did? I prayed every night to God to see my dad again. But now he’s taken Elise away too. It doesn’t make any sense. I looked up and saw Mr. Marconen had lingered, probably trying to talk to me. I didn’t really feel in the mood to talk, but I also didn’t feel in the mood to tell him to go away. “I’m really sorry about Chipbeak,” he said. “Elise,” I corrected. “Right. Sorry about that.” There was a long silence where I stared at the chimps and Mr. Marconen stared at me, before he finally spoke. “Look, Finn, just know that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent that. There was no way to know. Some things are just out of our control.” Another awkward silence, but I broke it this time. “It’s cold today.” “I’m sorry?” I turned to him now, finally looking him in the eyes. “You brought me a cold ice cream cone on a freezing cold day in December in Brookfield. Can you control that?” He looked surprised. “I- Well, I suppose-” I turned and walked back towards the gift shop, leaving Mr. Marconen behind. I threw the ice cream cone in the bin on the way.


December 7th, 2003

Maybe I was rough on Mr. Marconen. But that ice cream cone was a bad choice on a cold day. I thought about what he said. That some things are out of our control. I guess he’s right. I didn’t apologize, though. I decided to start on two new lists, which I wrote on the front and back pages of a pocket journal I got from a college visiting my school. The first list was things I can’t control.

  1. Death.
  2. Your father leaving you.
  3. God.

The second list was things I could control.

  1. Choosing snacks appropriate to the weather.
  2. Putting thought into names.

I thought back to Agatha and the roll call in my English class at Cook, then added:

  1. Who you love and how you treat them.


I closed the journal and pocketed it. Quite a nifty design for a journal.


December 8th, 2003

Hounds of Baskerville. A Study in Scarlet. And Then There Were None. Murder on the Orient Express. The Maltese Falcon. Not even Nancy Drew? You don’t get to be named Agatha and not like mystery novels. That you can control, I’m sure of it. You can control living up to your name. You can control not laughing when someone asks a simple question about your interests. You can control giving someone the time of day, even if it’s just to see what they’re all about. You can control that, I’m sure of it.

I paced in front of the Goldies’ exhibit, thinking thoughts as fast as they would come to me, faster even. The birds’ eyes followed me back and forth, like spectators watching a tennis match.

Was I wrong? Were those novels not how I remember them? Maybe they’re for children, maybe I’ll read them again and realize Agatha is right, they’re not so great after all. No, no, maybe Agatha is wrong. Maybe the novels are good, great even, and she just hasn’t read them. But why would she say that she doesn’t like mystery novels to me if she hasn’t read them? Maybe she just doesn’t like me. But she hasn’t read me either. She hasn’t given me a chance, hadn’t even spoken to me before I came up to her. Why would she tell herself she doesn’t like me then? Why would she laugh in front of her friends when I asked if she wanted to go get ice cream sometime, even if it was December? I told her it would be indoors, so it wouldn’t feel cold like it did outside. Or we could go get coffee or something else that’s warm. Whatever she wanted. Why would she laugh at that?

I stopped pacing and turned to the cage. The three birds still had their dark pupils locked on me. I looked at Watson in particular. I stared down the barrel of his jet black eyes, and could feel that he wanted desperately to speak to me. To say something, anything at all. He would have liked mystery novels. He would have lived up to the name Watson. I thought back to what Agatha had said to me. Or to her group of friends about me, more accurately. Something about how pretty girls like her don’t go for slow boys like me, but we try anyway. That was bad enough, but then she said, it’s inevitable. I took out my pocket journal, and flipped to the first page. Things I can’t control. I crossed out the title. Things I can’t control. Things that are inevitable.

I looked back to Watson, and for a brief moment, I thought I might’ve understood what he was trying to say.

It was late. Midnight. Later. Most everyone had gone home. I went around the back of the cage, and opened the door. I stepped inside, my shoes crunching the palm leaves and pebbles on the floor of the exhibit. Maya and Judy did not seem to mind or pay any attention to my presence. But Watson’s eyes were glued to mine. I approached the large branch Watson perched on, and carefully scooped him into my arms. He did not flinch or struggle. This was the first time I had touched him, but I knew how he felt. I knew his weight in my arms, how his feathers felt against my jacket, how his body shook in the cold. His eyes pierced through the chill of the wind, and at this distance, I was afraid he could see I had been crying. Watson was brave. Proud. He knew some things were inevitable. Like being laughed at for being different. Like how some people would never like mystery novels. Like how all things have to die. I could feel his breath and his heart as his eyes filled my vision. He understood. He understood like Agatha could not. He understood like my father could not. He understood that to know whether you want to live your life with someone, you have to spend time with them. You have to read the novel to like it. But there are some things that are inevitable. Tears welled in my eyes and froze on my cheek. I reached one hand up to Watson’s head, and shut his intrusive eyes. I stroked the green feathers on top of his head, before grabbing him around the neck. And twisting. I felt his weight become heavier in my arms. His feathers felt dry on my jacket. His body stopped shaking from the cold. I set his cold body down on a palmetto leaf, which had fallen from the highest limb in the exhibit. I stepped out and closed the cage behind me. I knew the security guard would be making his rounds, so I left. I left Watson behind, and did not turn to look at the exhibit.


December 9th, 2003

Mr. Marconen apologized again the next day. Said I couldn’t have controlled this. The zoo chalked it up to a wild animal that had gotten into the exhibit and gotten to Watson. But there was no blood, no teeth marks, no sign of struggle, no forced entry into the cage. Watson might’ve figured that out. He wouldn’t have given up on it that easy. The zoo staff had a few questions for me, which I answered as truthfully as possible. No, I didn’t see signs of Watson being sick. No, no wild animal had broken into the cage by the time I had left last night. Of course, I left out the part about me entering the cage. They said it would take a few days to determine the cause of death, but for now, nobody was allowed to be in the zoo past closing hours. Including me.

I didn’t watch any of the animals that day. Didn’t feel like I could. It felt like everyone, every chimp, every bird, every zookeeper, knew what I had done. Knew that I had tried to control the inevitable. I sat on a stone bench outside the gift shop, mostly staring at the ground. Mr. Marconen stopped by to check on me. He said the zoo was worried about the fate of the birds without a male to mate with. There were only 8 of the Fools’ Gold Macaws left in the world now, as far as anyone could tell, and the two Brookfield had were female. He said the zoo would most likely have to send the birds to an endangered species protection facility in Arizona. There was another one of those silences, where he expected me to say something, anything really. I stayed silent and still, though. Mr. Marconen got up and left me alone. I didn’t like the idea of sending Maya and Judy to Arizona. Who knows if the keepers would take care of them? Maybe they’ll rename them things like Crooked Wing and Zig Zag. Maybe they’d be cruel to them, and keep them in tiny cages, where they can’t spread their wings. I added another entry to my list:

Things that are inevitable:

  1. How others can mistreat the things you love.


I prayed again that night. It was the first time in a while that I didn’t pray for my dad to come back. That didn’t matter to me. He had the rest of his life to live, and he didn’t want to live it with me. I prayed instead for Elise. And Watson. I prayed to God that He would forgive them for anything they had done. I told Him that they were his children, too. I told Him that they should be able to spread their wings and fly freely in their own version of Heaven. I asked Him why death was inevitable. Why nobody would read the novel before their judgement. He did not answer.


December 11th, 2003

My mom had heard on the news about the birds that had died at Brookfield. She said I couldn’t go back there again. I begged and pleaded and told her that they were going to send Maya and Judy away if I didn’t do something about it. She didn’t seem to care all too much about any of that.


But I had to see them again. I had to see Judy and Maya before they were shipped off to Arizona. Before they were mistreated. Because I loved them. Over the past few months, I had grown to love the Goldies more than I had loved anything ever before. I loved them more than my mother, more than Agatha. I loved them more than God or life or Mr. Marconen or mystery novels or my father who didn’t want to live his life with me or hot snacks on a cold day or lists or my goldfish Richmond or the feeling of bundling up in the rain.

I waited until dark, until after zoo hours, and after my mom had gone to bed. I snuck out and creeped over the back gate of the zoo, where I knew nobody bothered patrolling. I quietly stepped over to the bird exhibit, where Judy and Maya were perched, waiting for my arrival. They were beautiful. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time, that day with Mr. Marconen. Their brilliant blue bodies flowed into feathery gold, and swirled into the whites of their heads. They sat expectantly on the same branch, staring at me. They were not angry at me, as I was afraid they would be. I sat and stared at them, remembering the hours I had spent at the stone bench in front of their cage, wondering what they would say to me if they were to speak. I couldn’t think of much to say myself, but I eventually croaked out “I’m sorry.” Judy craned her head to the side, questioning. “It wasn’t my fault. It was inevitable.” The two of them sat motionless on the branch, judging my guilt. “I said I’m sorry!” I wondered what they thought of me now. “How long have I sat outside this cage, tending to you? Making sure you were alright? Making sure you had food and that you had leaves to bundle up under?” I caught a glimpse of something strange in Maya’s eyes. It seemed to be another cage. I realized it was my own reflection, outside the exhibit. I could feel the tears start to well up in my eyes once again, and I could not keep myself quiet. “How long have I sat here and lived my life with you? I didn’t have to! I didn’t even have to read the book! I could have walked away from the first moment I saw you, but I LIVED MY LIFE WITH YOU!” I picked up a rock off the ground. I didn’t feel myself do it, it just happened. “SAY THAT IT’S ALRIGHT! SAY THAT YOU WON’T FLY OFF TO ARIZONA TO BE MISTREATED AND KEPT IN A CAGE! SAY IT!” The two Goldies looked calm and tranquil. Their eyes stayed on mine, not straying for even a moment. But they did not respond. The tears streamed down my face, and my breath was rapid and short. “Please say it- please don’t- please don’t make me.” My whole body shivered. “It doesn’t have to be inevitable.” Their eyes pleaded with me. They begged for release. I know they did. They could not stand to be trapped in this cage any longer. To have no control over who they love or who they live the rest of their life with. They begged for Elise and Watson. They begged for me. I threw the rock before I could stop myself. Its jagged edge caught Maya on the wing, knocking her off the branch. I picked up another, and threw it. The tears never stopped. I began to throw more and more rocks into the exhibit, hurling them as hard as I could, unable to control myself. I screamed into the cage, “I LOVED YOU! I LOVED YOU MORE THAN I LOVED LIFE!”

A few minutes passed. The cage was littered with stones, some of them red with blood. The forms of Maya and Judy lay still on the floor of the exhibit, stained a permanent crimson. The stone around their figures held ribbons of scarlet tracing their bodies, pooling up together. I did not flee this time. It began to rain. I half expected the birds to get up and bundle together. They didn’t. I didn’t mind the rain so much, though. I stayed there, frozen, for hours. The sun rose in the morning, and Mr. Marconen found me at the exhibit. The rain had cleaned the bodies of the birds, but the blood did not come out of the stone. Mr. Marconen tried to pull me away from the exhibit, but all I could see was scarlet filling my vision. It filled my eyes and my mind, and left a stain that the rain could not wash away.

Blake Croft is a sophomore studying theatre. You will probably see him dancing alone out in public. If you do, please join him. He needs it so bad.