The parrot is sideways. David has already written a description of it with a view to a footnote or introduction in the anthology. He has done it to pass the time because the parrot will not talk, and he can sense his impending academic and personal failure. His small notebook is on the table before him, and so is the cage with the parrot’s gnarled feet gripping the bars at an angle. The possessive nephew of the Great Poet (and executor of His estate) is elsewhere in the house occupying himself for the hour that he has allowed David to spend with the parrot.
David wonders if this will work at all. It certainly seems absurd.
“Aren’t you going to speak?” he says.
He taps the bars with his pen. He rattles the bars with it. He makes desperate clicking noises with his mouth.
“Speak to me.”
The parrot is research. If it speaks, David will write down exactly what it says, reproducing its genius by transcribing it into writing. It will be the final work of the Great Poet whose poetry David has studied intensely all his life.
David opens the door to the living-room and pokes his head out. He looks up the stairs and says, “Michael. Do you think I could get a drink?”
Michael appears at the top of the stairs in shorts, shirt and slippers, white socks running up his calves.
“What d’you want?” he says.
“I was wondering if I could get a drink. A glass of water, perhaps. And what does the parrot eat?”
Heading down the stairs, Michael says, “The parrot eats parrot food. Why, what have you given him?”
“I haven’t given him anything. I was wondering if maybe he has a carrot from time to time, or something like that.”
Michael pushes past David, into the living room. He looks at the parrot suspiciously for a moment, and then goes towards the kitchen past David. David follows him. Michael pours a glass of water and hands it over. He then takes a loaf of bread out of the bread bin and tears a chunk out of it.
“This is wheat bread,” Michael says. “Runo likes it.”
“Thank you, Michael,” says David.
“Only give it to him in small chunks. He won’t be able to swallow it otherwise.”
David feeds a chunk through the bars and the parrot takes it quickly, nipping the ends of his fingers in the process.
“You get more if you talk,” he says. But the parrot only eats and watches him closely, turning its head sideways and thrusting it forwards and backwards in an imploring dance. He feeds another chunk.
“If you only utter one word I’ll be grateful,” he says. “Please.”
Before going back upstairs Michael puts his head in at the door. He says, “You have about thirty-two minutes left.”
“Thank you,” says David, “but I’d prefer it if you didn’t disturb us. You might frighten Runo out of saying something.”
Michael looks at the parrot for a moment longer and then withdraws. David feeds another chunk and makes a clicking sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
David says, “If he doesn’t leave us alone I’ll have to kidnap you. Imagine the headlines.”
The Great Poet obtained the parrot on holiday in Cuba, because of the large red and white feathers that swept back off its head and the fact that it had said Puta madre to Him when He had peered deeply into the cage and disturbed its sleep. The Poet paid for its flight back home, or rather its new home, and thought it would make good company during His lonesome forays into language.
He would stand and pace the room. He would mutter to the walls, His thoughts like heavy rain drenching His feverish body. And He would proclaim the lines that He composed, speaking them aloud in order to get a better grip upon them. He would pace and moan when the ideas were nascent, jagged and unformed, and speak eloquently, rapping the furniture with His white knuckles, as he refined them into beautiful verse. He would grab onto the bars of the cage, hook His fingers around the metal, and hold forth like a prisoner exclaiming his innocence. The parrot sat and listened at times, and at times ruffled its feathers absently, cleaned its beak, or slept.
The empty glass David drags across the bars of the cage while the bird watches and moves in simple jerks. He drags his knuckles across the bars of the cage. At some point, frustrated, he arises from the chair and paces the room, reciting the lines of the Great Poetry in the sort of way he imagines the Great Poet himself would have said them, only with a little shyness and feeling thoroughly silly. After saying a few words he stops and listens quietly to encourage the bird to talk, to join in, to flitter away on wings of rhetoric and uncover combinations of words that beyond these four walls had never been uttered at all. To complete the Final Poem of the Great Poet, the Poem whose unfinished lines may have been finished verbally at one point or another in this very room, before the clot became lodged in His brain like a piece of semi-masticated meat in the throat, choking the words.
“A parrot that doesn’t speak,” says Michael, “that chooses not to repeat the words it hears, is the greatest genius on the earth.”
“Mmm-hmm,” says David.
“The things we cannot express,” says Michael, “we should pass over in silence.”
David tumbles dejected out the door, impatiently wanting to put as much distance between himself and his failure, his last resort for accessing the mind of his literary hero, as possible.
“Yes,” says Michael. “Don’t be disheartened. You’ve been in the presence of a true genius today. Nobody can get the better of a true genius — not even a professor.”
A. Cochrane writes in North Humberside, England.