A Feath­ered Friend

FROM READER’S DI­GEST, MAY 1991

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Rd Vault - BY JO COUDERT

“I AM GO­ING NUTS HERE

by my­self,” Pat My­ers con­fessed to her daugh­ter, An­nie. Pat had been vir­tu­ally con­fined to her house for a year as she was treated for an in­flamed artery in her tem­ple that af­fected her vi­sion and stamina.

A widow with two adult chil­dren, Pat had been hap­pily run­ning a chain of dress shops. But now that she had to give up her busi­ness, her home be­gan to feel op­pres­sively silent and empty. Fi­nally, she ad­mit­ted to An­nie how lonely she was.

“Do you think I should ad­ver­tise for some­one to live with me?” Pat asked.

“That’s such a gam­ble,” An­nie said. “How about a pet?”

“I haven’t the strength to walk a dog,” Pat said. “I’m al­ler­gic to cats, and fish don’t have a whole lot to say.”

“Birds do,” said her daugh­ter. “Why not get a par­rot?”

And so it be­gan.

PAT AND AN­NIE

vis­ited a breeder of African Greys and were shown two lit­tle feath­er­less crea­tures hud­dled to­gether. Pat was doubt­ful, but An­nie per­suaded her to put a de­posit down on the bird with the bright eyes. When he was three months old and feath­ered out, he was de­liv­ered to his new owner, who named him Casey.

A few weeks later Pat told An­nie, “I didn’t re­al­ize I talked so much. Casey’s pick­ing up all kinds of words.”

“I told you.” Her daugh­ter smiled at the plea­sure in Pat’s voice.

The first sen­tence Casey learned was “Where’s my glasses?” fol­lowed by “Where’s my purse?”

When­ever Pat be­gan scan­ning table­tops and open­ing draw­ers, Casey chanted, “Where’s my glasses? Where’s my purse?” When she re­turned from an er­rand, he’d greet her with “Holy smokes, it’s cold out there” in a per­fect im­i­ta­tion of her voice.

Casey dis­liked be­ing caged, so Pat of­ten let him roam the house. “What fun it is to have him,” she told An­nie. “It makes the whole place feel bet­ter.”

“I think you’re be­gin­ning to feel bet­ter too,” said An­nie.

“Well, he gives me four or five laughs a day—they say laugh­ter’s good for you.”

Once, a plum­ber came to re­pair a leak un­der the kitchen sink. In the den, Casey cracked seeds in his cage and eyed the plum­ber through the open door. Sud­denly the par­rot broke the si­lence, recit­ing, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four.”

“What?” asked the plum­ber. “Don’t poo on the rug,” Casey or­dered, in Pat’s voice.

The plum­ber pushed him­self out from un­der the sink and marched to the liv­ing room. “If you’re go­ing to play games, lady, you can find your­self an­other plum­ber.” Pat looked at him blankly. The plum­ber hes­i­tated, “That was you, wasn’t it?”

She smiled. “What was me?”

“One potato, two potato—and don’t poo on the rug.”

“Oh dear,” said Pat. “Let me in­tro­duce you to Casey.”

Casey saw them com­ing. “What’s go­ing on around here?” he said.

At that moment, Pat sneezed. Casey im­me­di­ately mim­icked the sneeze, added a cou­ple of Pat’s coughs and fin­ished with her ver­sion of “Wow!” The plum­ber shook his head slowly and crawled back un­der the sink.

ONE MORN­ING

while Pat was read­ing the pa­per, the phone rang. She picked it up and got a dial tone. The next morn­ing it rang again, and again she got a dial tone. The third morn­ing she re­al­ized what was go­ing on: Casey had learned to mimic the phone fault­lessly.

Once, as Pat opened a soda can at the kitchen ta­ble, Casey wad­dled over and snatched at the can. It top­pled, send­ing a cas­cade of cola onto her lap and the floor. “*#@!” Pat said. Casey eyed her. “For­get you heard that,” she or­dered. “I didn’t say it. I never say it, and I wouldn’t have now if I hadn’t just mopped the floor.” Casey kept his beak shut.

Later, a real es­tate agent ar­rived to go over some busi­ness. She and Pat were deep in dis­cus­sion when Casey screamed from the den, “*#@!”

Both women acted as though they’d heard noth­ing.

Casey tried it again. “*#@!” he said. And again. “*#@!” “*#@!” “*#@!”

Pat put her hand on her guest’s arm. “He­len, it’s sweet of you to pre­tend, but I know you haven’t sud­denly gone deaf.” They both broke up laugh­ing.

“Oh you bad bird,” Pat scolded af­ter the agent left. “She’s go­ing to think I go around all day say­ing fourlet­ter words.”

“What a mess,” Casey said.

“You’re darned right,” Pat told him.

CASEY’S

favourite perch in the kitchen was on the faucet; his favourite oc­cu­pa­tion: try­ing to re­move the washer at the end of it. Once, to tease him, Pat sprin­kled a hand­ful of wa­ter over him. Casey ceased his at­tack on the washer and swiv­elled his head to­ward her. “What’s the mat­ter with you?” he de­manded.

If he left the kitchen and Pat heard him say “Oh you bad bird!” she knew to come run­ning. Casey was either peck­ing at her din­ing room chairs or the wall­pa­per in the foyer.

“Is it worth it?” her son, Bill, asked, look­ing at the dam­age in the front hall.

“Give me a choice be­tween a per­fect, lonely house and a tacky, happy one,” said Pat, “and I’ll take the tacky one any day.”

But Pat did de­cide to have Casey’s sharp talons clipped. To trim them with­out get­ting bit­ten, the vet wrapped Casey tightly in a towel, turned him on his back and handed him to an as­sis­tant to hold while he went to work. A help­less Casey looked at Pat and said, piteously, “Oh the poor baby.”

Pat of­ten won­dered if Casey knew what he was say­ing. Some­times his state­ments were so ap­pro­pri­ate she wasn’t sure, like the time a guest had lin­gered on and on talk­ing in the door­way and Casey fi­nally called out im­pa­tiently, “Night, night.”

Yet when­ever Pat wanted to teach him some­thing, Casey could be so mad­den­ing. Once, she car­ried him to the liv­ing room and set­tled into an easy chair as Casey si­dled up her arm and nes­tled his head against her chest. Pat dusted the tips of her fin­gers over his vel­vet-grey feath­ers and scar­let tail. “I love you,” she said. “Can you say, ‘I love you, Pat My­ers?’”

Casey cocked an eye at her. “I live on Mal­lard View,” he said.

“I know where you live, funny bird. Tell me you love me.”

PAT TRIED TO TEACH CASEY “JIN­GLE BELL ROCK.” “IT’LL

BE YOUR CON­TRI­BU­TION TO CHRIST­MAS,”

SHE SAID. “WHERE’S MY GLASSES?” HE REPLIED.

“Funny bird.”

An­other time, Pat was try­ing to teach Casey “Jin­gle Bell Rock” be­fore her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren ar­rived for Christ­mas din­ner. “It’ll be your con­tri­bu­tion,” she told him. “Where’s my glasses?”

“Never mind that. Just lis­ten to me sing.” But as Pat sang “Jin­gle bell, jin­gle bell, jin­gle bell rock” and danced around the kitchen, Casey sim­ply looked at her.

Fi­nally Pat gave up, and Casey was silent all through Christ­mas din­ner. When it came time for dessert, Pat ex­tin­guished the lights and touched a match to the plum pud­ding. As the brandy blazed up, Casey burst into “Jin­gle bell, jin­gle bell, jin­gle bell rock!”

PAT’S

health im­proved so much that she de­cided to go on a three-week va­ca­tion.

“You’ll be all right,” she told Casey. “You can stay with An­nie and the kids.”

The day her mother was due back, An­nie re­turned Casey to the apart­ment so he’d be there when Pat got home from the air­port.

“Hi, Casey!” Pat called as she un­locked the door. There was no an­swer. “Holy smokes, it’s cold out there!” she said. More si­lence. Pat dropped her coat and hur­ried into the den. Casey glared at her.

“Hey, aren’t you glad to see me?” The bird moved to the far side of the cage. “Come on, don’t be an­gry,” Pat said. She opened the door of the cage and held out her hand. Casey dropped to the bot­tom of the cage and hud­dled there.

In the morn­ing Pat tried again. Casey re­fused to speak. Later that day he con­sented to climb on her wrist and be car­ried to the liv­ing room. When she sat down, he shifted un­easily and seemed about to fly away. “Please, Casey,” Pat pleaded, “I know I was away a long time, but you’ve got to for­give me.”

He took a few ten­ta­tive steps up her arm, then moved back to her knee. “Were you afraid I was never go­ing to come back?” she said softly. “I would never do that.”

Casey cocked his head and slowly moved up her arm. Pat crooked her el­bow, and the bird nes­tled against her. She stroked his head, smooth­ing his feath­ers with her fore­fin­ger. Fi­nally, Casey spoke.

“I love you, Pat My­ers,” he said.

“WERE YOU AFRAID I WASN’T COM­ING BACK?” ASKED PAT. CASEY MOVED UP HER ARM. FI­NALLY, AF­TER

HIS LONG SI­LENCE, THE BIRD SPOKE.

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