Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Birds Of A Feather
by Kathleen Mcclung
I've become very fond of a certain macaw. The only hitch is that it costs fifteen hundred dollars. It also flicks its food all over the floor beneath its perch. And, okay, the third drawback is that my cat would either kill the macaw or spend months sulking in my closet. I don't see cross-species harmony happening in the apartment anytime soon.
For now the macaw is staying put at the pet shop. I will not be its owner, merely an admirer of its unabashed flamboyance, its cartoon colors—-red, blue, green, yellow.
The bird refuses to talk. Sure, it looks like the kind of parrot that utters all the usual pleasantries about someone named Polly, crackers, and so forth. It looks like it would imitate with croaky enthusiasm all the usual outpourings of people's hearts. But, no. This bird doesn't go in for any of that. Despite all of the many interesting and important tales I've spun on my visits to the pet shop, it steadfastly refuses to mirror back any juicy tidbits whatsoever. Nothing about my breakup with the man I met at jury duty. Nothing about my guilt for watching "Entertainment Tonight" more regularly than I floss. Nothing about globalization or genetically engineered tomatoes. It just sits serenely on its perch, head cocked ever so slightly, taking in, taking in.
The employee who tends the macaw is a tall, skinny man with a graying ponytail dangling down his back. He wears tie-dyed shirts and a baseball cap with a marijuana leaf instead of a team insignia. He's the one who told me about the fifteen hundred dollars. He also told me that macaws live to be 85 years old, and that this one was born six months ago. It will probably outlive pretty much everyone I know, including me.
One day while I was stroking its head and murmuring tender bon mots, the macaw lifted its wing way up high. Here is where I really want to be touched, it said wordlessly. So I moved my hand to the exposed place beneath the wing, where I could see patches of skin under the sparse feathers. I smoothed this area for a long, long time while the macaw stayed perfectly still, its wing sticking high in the air above us both. Now, every time I come into the store, we both know the drill: a few strokes on the head, then wing up, then many more strokes in the special, hidden, preferred place.
Here is the truth of the matter: the macaw is my mentor. I, too, will be boldly, blazingly beautiful, sitting there by a window, watching with my head tilted gently. Passersby will pause and gaze at me, summoning the courage to come in and talk. I will refrain from betraying their confidences, whether truths or lies or something in between. And one day, maybe, I will master that one eloquent, silent gesture that signals, in no uncertain terms, exactly what it is I want.
Kathleen McClung lives in San Francisco and teaches writing at Skyline College and The Writing Salon. She's also worked as a book editor at small presses. Her writing has appeared in Spirituality & Health, The Rambler, Poetry Northwest, Hawaii Pacific Review, Hot Flashes, and elsewhere.
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