The parrot up close to my face grumbles, rolls her orange eye pupil wide toward me. She bends to bite the neck of my sweatshirt, ripping, and I turn her upside down against me, a new game. Beats her wings free, growls, dangles from my hand, snapping.
Kay walks through the room. Good morning, I say, and the sun shines through the big glass doors over us all: me in the old gray sweat-suit I sleep in because the house is cold, the bird clambering up between my breasts gripping my hand flashing red and blue in her wings, and the tall woman glancing at us. We have been playing morning games, unlearning fear. Hard lessons, for aliens. Hand and beak, claw and skin, slow trust. (She’s a punk, said the dealer, but you know she’s smart. She’s a punk because she knows she ain’t got no reason to trust you. )
Talk to me, I said to the woman, months ago, before I bought the bird. I can’t read your mind. She looks at me now without breaking her long stride—turning away while I smile, stiff, false, inflexible. Good morning. She is gone.
The bird has climbed into my hair and I untangle her, pulling the strands free of each claw. I lift her in front of me, reaching to pet her. We are both afraid now. She takes a finger in her beak, grinds down, warning. The centers of her orange eyes narrow, throb. I pretend she can’t hurt me, scratching her throat with another finger, rubbing back the edge of her skull under her soft loose skin. Her hard beak parts slowly; she leans into my touch. I breathe carefully, quietly, trying not to frighten her. This is the breakthrough, and all our struggles now will come back to this, this slow quiet rubbing of dry soft skin.
The woman’s sharp voice comes from the end of the hall, talking to her son. The bird bites down, hard. Her footsteps come back. She appears in the door. She comes in and walks through without turning her head. In the path she walks from hall to kitchen she must face me, walk toward me and away, but she does not see me. Her eyes are carefully held not to see me, her neck is stiff with the effort of not seeing me, and this is breakthrough too. To be hated and be in the same moment free. Free of her hurtful pressed-lip silence and the wall built hard in her sharp blind face. The parrot climbs back into my hair, beating red and blue and yellow in her wings.
Copyright © 1984
Previously published in We Accept Donations, #1 Spring 1984