Jealousy — the catalyst for many a crime story. Usually the characters are all human, though.
“Good morning, Polly,” the lady said as she walked into the room.
She flung open the drapes, illuminating the small office.
“Good morning,” the parrot said, bobbing its grey head, shuffling its feet back and forth on her perch.
“Polly want an apple?” the lady asked.
She opened the cage and offered the bird a slice of apple as the bird stepped into the door frame.
“Apple,” the bird said, reaching for the fruit, but nipping the woman’s finger.
The fruit fell to the floor.
“Bad bird,” the lady scolded, sucking her finger as she retrieved the apple.
“Cracker,” the bird squawked and retreated into the cage.
“Silly bird,” the lady said. “No crackers in the morning.”
“Cracker,” the bird mumbled and shuffled to the end of its perch, pressing itself against the wrought iron bars.
The bird’s pupils grew and shrank and it shook its head repeatedly. The woman frowned and stepped back from the cage.
“Fucking bird,” the man muttered from the doorway behind her.
“What’s that?” she asked, turning around.
The man was thin, unshaven.
“You care more about that fucking bird than you do me,” he said. “Have you made the coffee yet?”
“No,” she admitted reluctantly.
“Alright. Alright,” she said, leaving the room.
“Pretty bird,” the parrot said, shuffling towards towards the cage door.
The man lunged at the cage, startling the parrot, making it screech and beat its wings. The man cackled.
“What’s going on in there?” the lady called from another room.
The man glanced down the hallway.
“Bad bird,” the parrot said.
“Shut the fuck up, or I’ll make you shut up,” the man growled before leaving.
“Cracker,” the bird said, ruffling its feathers.
The parrot stood on its perch by the window.
“Pretty bird. Grape.” Whistle, cluck. “Good morning.” Cluck,cluck, whistle.
The lady walked into the room. “How are you doing, Polly?”
The parrot sidled across the perch to be closer to the lady. Whistle. “Pretty bird. How are you doing, Polly?”
The lady laughed. “I’m doing fine, thank you.”
She opened the drawer of her desk and the parrot cocked its head.
“Ready to work?” the lady asked.
“Work!” the parrot squawked, then made clicking sounds, rolling a bit of something in its beak.
“Good, Polly,” the lady said and pulled out a plastic box. “Ready?” she asked as she opened it.
The bird teetered on the very end of the perch.
“Bad bird,” the lady said. “No peeking,” she laughed again.
“Bad bird,” the parrot said and repeated the woman’s laugh.
The bird stepped back.
The woman held up an object. “What color is this?”
“Green,” the parrot said.
“Good, Polly,” the woman replied with a smile and held out a small slice of orange.
The bird took the orange with its beak, and ate while the woman typed something and then scrounged around in the box. She held up another object.
“What shape is this?” she asked.
The parrot turned its left eye to it and scratched its head with its foot. “Square,” it said.
“Good, Polly,” the woman said and this time held out two things. “Strawberry or banana?” she asked.
“Berry,” the bird said and took the strawberry from the woman.
The lady typed some more.
“Want some tunes?” she asked before turning on the music.
The bird clucked and whistled, bobbed, and wove its head. It made some new noises: POP! Bapapapapapap! SHRIEEEEEEEEEK! POP! BANG!
The woman turned around, her eyes large. “When did you learn that?” she asked, drawing her face closer to the bird and furrowing her brow. “Jared!” she called down the hall. “Jared! Have you been playing that stupid video game again?”
“What?” the man’s voice called back.
The woman stood and went to the doorway. The parrot quieted and cocked its head.
“Didn’t I ask you not to play that horrid game?” the woman demanded. “It’s violent and now Polly’s imitating gunfire and screams.”
Polly made the new sounds again and the woman frowned at it.
“What?” the man asked again as he walked up to the doorway.
The bird sidled closer to the window, clucking and grumbling softly.
“That video game – -“ the lady began.
“I told you, I gave Guns of Glory to Sid,” the man said to the lady, although he glanced at the parrot.
“Bad bird,” the parrot said and the man narrowed his eyes at it.
“Well, Polly’s making sounds from it and she wasn’t doing it last week,” the lady explained.
The man shrugged. “So the bird makes some noise. Maybe this is just the first time you heard it.”
“She understands,” the lady said.
She returned to her desk and held up two objects from the box. The bird slowly returned to the center of its perch.
“Which one’s purple, Polly?” the lady asked.
“Purple,” the bird said, using its beak to tug on the purple key.
“Voila,” the woman said to the man.
The man folded his arms across his chest. “It’s just associating words to specific objects,” he said. “It’s not like it knows what those words mean.”
“Isn’t that how language begins?” the woman asked.
The bird shuffled impatiently on its perch. “Pretty bird,” the parrot said.
“Yes, you’re a pretty bird, Polly,” the woman sighed, turning back to the bird. “Banana or strawberry?”
The man raised a finger at the bird.
“Cracker,” the bird said.
“Fucking pigeon,” the man muttered as he left. “I’ll get you.”
The room flashed blue and red. The parrot flapped its wings, uncomfortable in the dark. Two men carried lights on large sticks.
“Any word from the neighbors?” the taller man in black said to the other man in black.
The bird cocked its head as the light outside caught on the shiny objects, like mirrors on the men’s chests. Something else shiny dangled from their waists.
“Nobody heard anything,” the shorter man said. “The back window’s busted, but this room’s the only one trashed.”
Both men shined their lights onto the scattered paper and the lady on the floor. Her eyes didn’t shine in the light.
“What’s going on here?” the unshaven man said as he came rushing into the room then stopped abruptly. “Oh, shit …”
The parrot squawked and beat its wings wildly, stirring up paper and other detritus.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” the men in black cried out at the bird. “Settle down, now!”
The bird stopped beating its wings and let them droop while it panted and eyed the man.
“I’m her boyfriend, officers,” the man said motioning to the lady, then buried his hands in his hair. “Oh, shit. Ohshitohshitohshit.”
“Cracker,” the bird said.
The man dropped his hands and glared at the parrot. He waved his arms at it, making it flap its wings again. “Fuck you,” he said.
“Enough, o.k.?” the shorter man said, placing himself between the bird and the unshaven man.
The man nodded and ran a hand through his hair again. The taller man in black pulled out a pen and paper from his pocket.
“Where were you before you came here?” the taller man said.
“At school,” the man unshaven man replied, then glanced at the woman and wiped his mouth. “Oh, shit, she’s dead, isn’t she?”
“Seems like it,” the tall man muttered as he wrote.
The parrot tilted its head and looked at the figure on the floor. “I’ll get you,” the parrot said, imitating the man’s voice.
“What’s that?” the shorter man in black said, looking at the unshaven man first and then the bird.
“Fucking parrot,” the unshaven man said with a shrug and nervous laugh.
“So, you were at school?” the other man in black continued.
“Yeah, the university. I – -“
“Shut the fuck up, or I’ll make you shut up,” the bird said using the man’s voice again.
The men in black looked at the bird and frowned.
“It’s just a bird,” the unshaven man said.
The bird used the new noises, the ones the lady didn’t like, the banging and popping and shrieking.
“Is that gunshot the bird’s doing?” the shorter man in black asked his companion.
“Sounds like it,” the taller man in black said and shined his light on the red splotch on the lady’s chest.
The men in black looked at the other man.
“Bad bird,” the parrot clucked and shook its head. “Bad bird.”
“It’s just a fucking bird,” the unshaven man said to the men in black, his voice higher-pitched.
“I’ll get you,” the bird said in the man’s voice then started to squawk and beat its wings once more.
“Holy crap,” the shorter man in black gasped, his mouth dropping open. “Do you think that parrot is actually trying to tell us something?”
The unshaven man’s eyes grew wide. “It’s a bird! A fucking bird, goddammit!”
“Shut the fuck up, or I’ll make you shut up,” the bird screamed in the man’s voice. “I’ll get you! I’ll get you!”
The men in black exchanged glances.
“You’re going to have to come with us, sir,” the taller one said, putting the shiny objects that dangled from his waist onto the unshaven man’s wrists.
They made a clicking sound which the parrot copied.
“Are you kidding me?” the unshaven man said in dismay. “You’re arresting me because of what a bird said?”
“Well, you are the boyfriend,” the shorter man acknowledged. “So that would make you a person of interest anyway.”
“You believe that bird?” the man said as they dragged him out of the room. “You believe a fucking pigeon?”
“Cracker,” the parrot said and imitated the lady’s laugh.
Kou K. Nelson is a writer, animal trainer and former teacher. Her short story Safe Upon the Shore was published in the anthology Specter Spectacular: Thirteen Ghostly Tales and made Tangent Online’s Must Read List in 2013. She has also published in The Again and Tales of Blood and Roses and is currently a finalist in the Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable Short Story Award 2013 contest.
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