NDJ:8 “Paul and Ichabod” by Carola Chase
I’d like to recount a recent experience that dramatically altered my feelings about Paul. Since many parrots do in fact speak, you may wonder at my literary, as opposed to oratorical, efforts. Well, first, I’ve learned almost nothing about speaking the human language, for while Paul is hardly a lazy man, his teaching skills leave much to be desired. Second, writing allows me to reach a wider audience, which is critical, given my characteristic parrot traits — loveable, helpful, kind, and a tad vain at times; hence the occasional preening.
So, Paul and I met by chance about a year ago at the pet store in which I was, at that time,residing. He stumbled into the store, with no intention of purchasing anything, or anyone, merely to escape from the rain. It’s hard to explain, but I instinctively longed to take care of him, pluck a few stray hairs, pace back and forth between his shoulders. Unfortunately, he was preoccupied, feigning interest in some puppies and those wretched kittens. To get his attention I spoke, with the only words I knew. “Can I help you?” I tried for an urbane British accent and believe I hit the mark.
His deep throaty laugh intrigued me, although I remained outwardly cool. Despite being a private, fairly reticent sort of parrot, I did allow myself a chuckle unmistakably similar to his, a straightforward offer of friendship. To make the long and rather mundane story short, he bought me, took me home, provided me with food, treats, a nice spacious cage with a mirror, and a view of the courtyard, the sky, and so on. I diligently watched out for him; he kept me in treats. Good arrangement. No complaints.
When Paul was in the apartment we hung out together. When he went out, the place was definitely too quiet for me. I enjoy the sound of the human voice and had become particularly accustomed to Paul’s. Though from a different species, Paul treated me with kindness and respect. But after some initial attempts to increase my vocabulary, he gave up. (Parrots are remarkably intelligent, but we need some help learning an entirely new language!) I did my best to pick up words, such as his pet name for me, and his favorite word: “Fellini” — Paul’s a movie buff.
Our routines fell into a nice rhythm. I made sure, from my perch on the window sill, that he ate a good breakfast every morning, and I learned to appreciate Paul’s love for cinema. Hitchcock always struck me as a more intuitive director than Fellini, and certainly less pretentious. But I did not share these thoughts with Paul. We had a peaceful existence, Paul and I.
Then, without warning, Paul vanished for several weeks. His failure to apprise me of his whereabouts, plus the total silence of the apartment in his absence had a deleterious effect on my mood. His friend Gary came to feed me and change my cage, often shouting for me to “Speak, Ichabod! Speak!” What an idiot. I refused to utter a sound.
When Paul finally reappeared, he came to my cage, offering me a treat. Well, I’m no patsy to fall for the first peace-offering. I walked over to him, and bit him, hard. Right on his hairy arm. Paul yelped with pain. Me, I trotted back to my cage in my most nonchalant way, furious, but not wanting to hang around after my outburst to see how he’d react.
Paul walked over to my cage and spoke gently, though I’d turned my back to him: “You’re angry with me for going away. I wonder whether you thought I left because of something you did. Maybe you even worried that you’d be sent back to Pets Galore.” (Oh my God, that was exactly what I’d been thinking.) “I would never ever do that. I love you and don’t want you to be worried or sad. So the next time I go away, I promise to tell you before I go and will have Gwen stay right here with you.” (I liked Gwen, since she always tickled my beak.) As I’d kept my back to Paul this entire time, he finally went back to the couch.
I was struck by his words and tried to compose myself, realizing that I loved this man more than any treat in the world or the biggest mirror. He understood me as my own mother never had, not that she was the most empathetic parrot who ever lived. So, I figured he needed to know how lucky I felt to be his parrot. I sidled up behind him on the couch, ever so softly touched his neck with my beak, and said, “Ichapoo.” What can I tell you? He hadn’t given me a whole lot to work with.