Canary Song

A cautionary tale of greed and conceit



I often visited a retirement complex to see my friend, Della. She would serve me cinnamon tea while we talked about religion and current events. An oil painting of a yellow canary hung on her living room wall.

As I admired several other works, she said, “I painted them all. That canary used to sing to me every day, perched on my porch banister. Drove my cat crazy trying to snag it. I heard it was doing the same for all my third floor neighbors with porches. But no longer,” she said with a tearful eye. She stirred her tea.

“What happened?”

Della wiped at her misty eyes. “Died at the hands of a witch named Joyce, who used to live in Apt 307. We third-floor ladies met once a week to chat about the delightful canary song, among other things. Most of us have a cat that keeps us company, but that canary was our inspiration. We competed to befriend the songbird, hoping it would stay longer.”

Della’s calico cat rubbed against my legs a few times. “Boots likes you,” she said.

“What did you do to attract the bird?”

“I got bird seed and a feeder. Didn’t work though; the canary visited me less and less. I later discovered why. That witch researched its special needs: honeyed drinking water, but unchlorinated; fresh cut apple, not oxidized brown. Other stuff…”

“Clever,” I said, sipping my tea.

“We each visited Joyce to discover what we could. The bird was always there. But she kept her secrets.”

“I’ll bet that changed things.”

“Yeah. She was avoiding me, or not saying hello like she used to. At some point in her obsession, she conjured a way to capture the bird.

“And did she?” I asked, leaning forward to hear better.

“Yup, and she later told me how, after I cornered her while she was packing to vacate.

“She had set out a baited cage on her porch, attached a pull string to its entry, and waited inside her apartment. Whenever she was distracted for a moment, the bird snatched the bait, then left in a flash. Frustrated her.”

“But she was determined to make it hers,” I said, pouring us both another hot cup of tea.

“It took a couple of weeks before it hopped in the cage. Joyce pulled her cord, the bird fluttered about, then settled down. After it finished feeding, it flurried about the cage until exhausted. She saw it lying still and got worried. What good was it to her dead?”

Boots leapt upon the table, as if to steal our attention. Della put it back on the floor.

“After the canary had rested awhile, it flew to a perch but refused to sing. The bird’s spirit waned. It wouldn’t perch on her fingers and pecked the hand that tried to feed it. It didn’t eat much and slipped into starvation mode. Its pooping stopped, and that was a bad sign. Meanwhile, we ladies began to miss it. None of us were aware that Joyce had stolen our canary song. Eager for praise, Joyce invited us to her apartment for an afternoon tea party. She uncovered her cage with a dramatic flourish, but to our mutual surprise, there lay our canary suffocated to death.”

“That must have been a shock to you all.”

“First we were appalled, then incensed. My anger surged like hot lava. There was hatred on the faces of the others. Elizabeth raised her cane to strike Joyce, but managed to control herself.”

“So Joyce left for good?”

“She vacated Apt. 307 the next day.”

“And you buried the canary?”

“With the epitaph: Here lies our inspiration, killed by selfish human greed and vain conceit (cf. Phil 2:3).”


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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