Rose Hunter

The Parrot Man

Two years ago, when the Parrot Man beat can­cer at the age of sev­en­ty-eight, he got a tat­too on his shoul­der say­ing “Wild Child.” This is the first and will be the…only…tattoo of my life, he told me, point­ing to it, while his eyes drift­ed some­where over my right shoul­der, then up and around—before find­ing their way back to my face. Sometimes it took a while for the Parrot Man to form the words to what he want­ed to say, but he was usu­al­ly good with com­pre­hend­ing, and also some­times he had no prob­lems speak­ing at all. He’d asked me to his house that day because he had a job he want­ed me to do for him, proof­read­ing doc­u­ments and orga­niz­ing emails. I thought it was a job I might be able to do since we’d had a few cof­fees togeth­er before and I’d enjoyed his com­pa­ny in these lim­it­ed dos­es and didn’t mind wait­ing for him to fin­ish sen­tences since I con­sid­ered him an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter, and also per­haps quite wise in the clichéd way the elder­ly are some­times con­sid­ered.

We were sit­ting on the Parrot Man’s deck, and he was telling me how his wife died, four years ago. On that bed…over there. He point­ed. Through the door­way was a king-sized bed with a black and grey bed­spread and old-fash­ioned head­board, fac­ing a mas­sive flatscreen TV. Apart from the TV, the room was dark, with old, dark, fur­ni­ture. He told me how his wife’s stom­ach and liv­er swelled up and how she turned yel­low and had trou­ble breath­ing and how she told him not to tell her what was wrong with her or if she was dying or not, and how he had to give the doc­tor instruc­tions not to tell her either, and how after she died he nev­er want­ed any­one else because she was the best, the very best.

All this talk from the Parrot Man was mak­ing me very sad and real­ly I was ready to leave, but I could not leave yet because it was rude to leave while the Parrot Man was telling me more about how his wife died, on that bed right there, and also how she was the one who found this beau­ti­ful old house, which seemed like noth­ing from the street, and he didn’t even want to look at it but she insist­ed, and of course it turned out to be this beau­ti­ful old house and they bought it and they lived here, and she was the best, the very best, but then she died, of stom­ach can­cer, on that bed over there.

I was aware of try­ing to look sym­pa­thet­ic. It wasn’t that I lacked com­pas­sion for the Parrot Man, but his sto­ry was mak­ing me very sad on a day on which I didn’t want to be very sad, and also I had already been in the Parrot Man’s house long enough and I want­ed to go home. I sensed what I thought was a nat­ur­al sum­ma­ry point in his sto­ry, mur­mured in a regret­ful yet (I hoped) con­clu­sive way, and reached for my purse which was on the table.

But do not go, the Parrot Man said. Enough of my sto­ry.… Tell me about your boyfriend? I said but I do not have a boyfriend; we broke up. The Parrot Man said to tell him that sto­ry. I did not want to tell the Parrot Man that sto­ry, but it was rude to leave when the Parrot Man had just made a direct request for infor­ma­tion. I thought for a moment, and then said but there is noth­ing to tell; we just broke up, which was true. It was also true that in that moment I felt as though I had no clear rec­ol­lec­tion as to what hap­pened. The Parrot Man leant for­ward and twitched his head from side to side like a swift eras­er, which sig­ni­fied that he did not under­stand what I just said. Broke up? We end­ed it, I explained. Hospital? he said. No, I said, noth­ing like that. We just broke up. Hospital? No.… He’s still here.… I didn’t know how else to say it in English so I tried some Spanish. Se rompío. Se acabó.…

It end­ed. It didn’t work out.… There were no oth­er ways I could think of to say it.

He leant for­ward, twitch­ing, eras­er-like. I can’t under­stand you.…

I gazed past the heavy ban­nis­ters to the palm trees, the moun­tains, the white hous­es with red roofs, the shim­mer­ing bay. There was no answer there. I looked back at him. Then felt a hot gush from behind my sun­glass­es spill out over my cheeks.

The Parrot Man sprang up, put his hand on my shoul­der. He was small and sur­pris­ing­ly quick, like the flick­er of a shad­ow. Then just as nim­bly, he sat back down. There, there, he said. It’s okay, let it out.

Phew, I said, after a moment, then start­ed laugh­ing. That was wild.… I do not cry in pub­lic and much less did I imag­ine myself burst­ing into tears in front of the Parrot Man. I said well then, now I should go; good­bye Parrot Man. I reached for my purse which was on the table.

The Parrot Man pushed out his bony claw, said stop. You need to let this stuff out he said; it is poi­son; it will poi­son you, and I am say­ing this because I am your friend who cares about you and prob­a­bly you are not used to that but it’s true, and I said yes Parrot Man okay then I will, but anoth­er time and he said I don’t believe you; you must get it out now. You are exact­ly like my daugh­ter, the Parrot Man said. And real­ly I need­ed to leave right now but I could not leave the Parrot Man who was telling me about his daugh­ter who was in a car acci­dent and then a coma and then brain dam­aged there­after and how peo­ple were very cru­el, yes, they were, and no one in this town knew this part but what hap­pened also to this daugh­ter of the Parrot Man was that she wouldn’t talk about any­thing, just like me, and what hap­pened after that was she got into drugs and com­mit­ted sui­cide.

I won­dered if the Parrot Man knew that I was in Narcotics Anonymous, since noth­ing in this town is real­ly anony­mous. Then I thought prob­a­bly not, since he had seen me drink­ing vod­ka, which you’re not sup­posed to do in NA.

The Parrot Man said he thought I was wast­ing my life and I need­ed to get this out, about the hos­pi­tal. I said but Parrot Man there was no hos­pi­tal, and my ex-boyfriend is fine as far as I know; fit as a fid­dle. The Parrot Man leant for­ward, twitch­ing. I must get it out, he said, all about the hos­pi­tal, and it was no good to stay in bed all day like I did.

But Parrot Man I do not stay in bed all day! I said.

The Parrot Man said he was try­ing to help me so I did not com­mit sui­cide like his daugh­ter but from what he could see I was well on my way since stay­ing in bed all day was bare­ly liv­ing at all. The Parrot Man was sud­den­ly free-flow­ing in his speech where­as an hour ear­li­er and in try­ing to explain the proof­read­ing and orga­niz­ing of emails job he had been tak­ing a long time to con­struct a sen­tence. I’d start­ed cry­ing again while the Parrot Man told me more about his daugh­ter and how she was before she killed her­self. I want­ed to leave but it seemed wrong to leave while the Parrot Man was talk­ing about his dead daugh­ter and trans­mit­ting an impor­tant and com­pas­sion­ate mes­sage also because, as he said, he cared about me.

The Parrot Man was not angry at all, he assured me, that I would not, as it turned out, do this proof­read­ing and orga­niz­ing of emails job for him. He was not a per­son who would try to force anoth­er per­son into doing some­thing they didn’t want to do. Oh I know, Parrot Man, I said, of course not.… He had not a mean bone in his body, even if the proof­read­ing and orga­niz­ing of emails job was in order for him launch an attack web­site against a local estate agency who had with­held the title of his house for many years. He was in any case, with regards to that action, entire­ly jus­ti­fied. Still, I did not under­stand why the Parrot Man was inter­est­ed in such an action con­sid­er­ing it was the sort of action that not infre­quent­ly got grin­gos killed down here, and also the Parrot Man hah had the title for years in fact, and had just last week even sold the house, so what did it mat­ter now? I paused to be dis­ap­point­ed that a per­son who I had pre­vi­ous­ly con­sid­ered to be quite wise in var­i­ous respects—perhaps in the clichéd way the elder­ly are some­times considered—would occu­py his remain­ing time on earth with such pet­ti­ness. I did not know how to say that part of it to the Parrot Man with­out offend­ing him though, so I sim­ply expressed ambiva­lence towards the poten­tial val­ue of the enter­prise, which he may or may not have detect­ed, and said I didn’t want to get killed.

The Parrot Man said no way was any­one going to kill a proof­read­er and email orga­niz­er. He asked me what was the real rea­son I wouldn’t do the job, and I said this was the real rea­son, but also that I was “over­whelmed,” and didn’t believe I could do the job well since I didn’t know any­thing about real estate and didn’t under­stand half the legal terms.

The Parrot Man point­ed out that I did not need to under­stand half the legal terms and told me he was one hun­dred per­cent con­fi­dent that I could do the job and do it well. The Parrot Man told me I lacked con­fi­dence and where­as I was this capa­ble and intel­li­gent woman with a lot going for me if it wasn’t for the fact that I stayed in bed all day and and did not deal with what had hap­pened at the hos­pi­tal. I start­ed sob­bing again, through sheer frus­tra­tion I believed, at being unable to com­mu­ni­cate to the Parrot Man that there was no hos­pi­tal, and what’s more, I did not stay in bed all day, but I could not form the words, and the Parrot Man was whis­per­ing “hos­pi­tal,” and I want­ed to leave, but it seemed rude to leave while the Parrot Man was trans­mit­ting some impor­tant insight he had into how I would almost cer­tain­ly end up like his daugh­ter, blow­ing her brains out, although he did not use those words exact­ly, and the Parrot Man did not tell me the exact method by which the Parrot Man’s daugh­ter com­mit­ted sui­cide, I do not believe.

I want­ed to leave but the Parrot Man said wait, and told me the rea­son he want­ed to launch this attack web­site was because of how it affect­ed his wife when she was alive, not hav­ing the title to the house. They were still able to live in the house, he clar­i­fied; it was no prob­lem in that way, but not hav­ing the title caused the Parrot Man’s wife pain. It made her feel inse­cure. There had been argu­ments, over this title issue. And where­as she was the best, the very best.… The Parrot Man gazed into the dis­tance. I should help the Parrot Man because I was this capa­ble and intel­li­gent woman with a lot going for me and it wasn’t cor­rect to waste my life like I was doing, and we have seen where that sort of thing leads, through the exam­ple of his daugh­ter.

The Parrot Man had a par­rot of course, which was how he had got­ten the name “The Parrot Man.” The Parrot Man’s par­rot was next to us on the deck. It had gun­metal grey feath­ers with red-tipped wings. “Shitbird,” it said, twitch­ing back and forth. “Shitbird.”

I taught him that, the Parrot Man said.

I mopped up my face and my eyes behind my sun­glass­es and took a deep breath. Okay then, I said. Parrot Man, I will tell you about the hos­pi­tal.

The Parrot Man leant for­ward, steady, wait­ing.…

~

Rose Hunter