George didn’t know what to think about Melissa, the quiet girl they rarely saw, the visitor from down the street playing with Anika. George’s humans were unflappable, Anika and her parents Mike and Linda, doing what needed to be done then relaxing with music or wine or a game of jotto. But this little girl, Melissa, just seemed skittish. She wasn’t noisy like that little jitterbug who comes over on those days with big dinners or bright ribbons or trees with lights everywhere. No, Melissa was reading or listening to music with Anika or playing scrabble, but with an edge, a nervy sort of anxiety that somehow hovered over her, a constant cloud. Fear, maybe.
It was an advantage, George thought, humans thinking parrots brainless, an advantage to a clever bird, catching them off guard, gleaning revelations, explaining mysteries. George found just such an advantage that afternoon when he waddle-strolled down the hall and found Melissa alone in Anika’s room, drawing rainbows on butcher paper with glitter crayons. Melissa gave a little start when his toenails click-clicked him into the room, her breath swooshing in, puffing out again as she drew her knees up to her chest. Didn’t she understand he’d have bitten her already if he hadn’t taken a liking to her?
He waited, poking around the room, chewing on the edge of the roll of butcher paper, giving his one-eyed stare to the bird in the mirror, rather an attractive bird, an African Gray like himself, jingling the bell-in-a-ball kept for his entertainment. Finally he amble-waddled toward Melissa, settling himself near her chair, resting his beak on his back between his folded wings and closing his eyes.
But he didn’t sleep. Hoping Melissa would relax, hoping Anika wouldn’t return too soon from her chores with her mother, he let time tick by. He opened an eye. Melissa had resumed her drawing, but he should have know better than to think she’d relax. That edge, like a knife, like an executioner’s blade, hung over her head.
“What’s the matter, Kid,” he said.
Melissa jumped so high he could see the embroidered pockets on the backside of her jeans. “Oh. Oh, George. You scared me half to death.”
“Well, I do need to tell somebody. And I’m afraid to tell people. So maybe I should talk to you.”
Melissa scooted her chair back,. carefully walked around George and, at the door, peered both ways. Both ways again. Swinging back, changing her mind, returning to the door, she shut it. Then she came to the bed, sat and repeated the knees-to-chest bit. “George, what can I do? I’m only ten. Papa is so big. If I tell they might lock me up too, Papa and Ginger, and I’ll be in the same fix as Bobbie.”
“He’s just a little boy, George. And I don’t know why they’re so mean to him. Of course he pees in there. In that closet. And poops sometimes. Because they don’t let him out. And then they unlock the door. And, oh George, Papa pees on him. And Ginger puts on her glove and Bobbie and I both know what that means. She’s gonna smear his poop all over him, on his face, on his lip. If he wiggles, it “accidentally” gets in his mouth. And they just leave him like that, still locked in the closet.”
“But the worst part, George, is that they leave him for whole days and nights. He can’t sit down in there, George. A little boy like him. It’s a tiny narrow broom closet. Even if he didn’t mind sitting in poop and pee, he can’t. He can’t lie down. He can’t sleep.”
George could feel his eyes squinting, going slanty. They did that when he was about to bite somebody. Not this time, but he’d sure bite Papa and Ginger if he had the chance.
“And they don’t feed him, George. He’s only a little boy, five years old. He’s so skinny. Little bony arms. His face is all cheekbones and shadows and big eyes. I get him out when I can, when Papa and Ginger leave. Once in a while they both go. And I feed him. Graham crackers. Cereal. Yogurt once. I clean him up, but not too much or they’ll know. We watch TV for a while. He’s so grateful it’s pathetic. And then I have to lock him up again before they get home.
George waddle-paced to the door and back. To the door and back. Click-click. Click-click.
“Sometimes he can’t stand it, and he whimpers. It’s just a whimper, George. And they’ll start yelling and banging doors and they get the key and they get the dish soap and they open up the closet and hold the poor little boy and pour the soap into his mouth. And he shakes his head and tries to spit it out and it goes down his neck and on his chest and they just leave it there and the last time I got him out I saw the rash, it was sores more than a rash, from that soap just being on him all that time.”
“Poor little boy,” George said.
“Oh, you’ve got that right, George. I really think I’m going to have to run away. Maybe they’ll let him out if I’m gone. They’ll be afraid . . .”
The door opened and Anika walked in. “Oh, there you are, George,” she said. “How did you get in here?”
“He walked in,” Melissa told her, “and I thought I should shut the door . . . does he ever try to escape?”
When Melissa left that day, George started his campaign. “Go see Melissa,” he said.
“Oh, Melissa’s house doesn’t seem very friendly, George. She’d rather come here.”
“Go see Melissa.”
He had that conversation a gazillion times. Day after day, “Go see Melissa,” he’d say, and Anika or Mike or Linda would explain why not.
“Go see Melissa,” he said.
So one day they went, without George. “We took her some cookies,” they told him. “It was kind of dark and unpleasant there. We didn’t stay.”
“Go see Melissa,” he said.
Finally he heard Linda on the phone explaining what an obnoxious parrot they have, asking if they could bring George to visit Melissa, saying no, Melissa has come here several times but he keeps saying ‘go see Melissa,’ and it was getting tiresome and would it be all right if they just brought George by for a few minutes. There was reluctance on the other end of the line, George could tell, but after all they’d been given cookies and Melissa did come visit Anika and so George got to travel down the street to their little single-wide.
He flew off Mike’s arm the minute they got in the door. Not much time, he figured. He waddle-strode into the kitchen. “Where’s Little Boy?” he said.
He saw eyes darting, hands grabbing. He flew-flapped around them and down the hall. Right there, just around the corner, a door. A terrible smell, to a parrot, anyway. Humans didn’t seem to notice. A lock on the door. “Where’s Little Boy?” George said.
A whimper came from behind the door.
“Little Boy?” George said.
Mike was there, grabbing at George, snatching him up. Another whimper. Louder.
Mike heard it. “Who’s in this closet,” he said.
“Little Boy,” George said.
“Where’s the key?” Linda demanded.
“What’s going on here?” George had never heard that tone in Mike’s voice before.
Papa lunged for Melissa. “What have you been saying to people?”
Mike lunged for Papa. “Who is behind that door? Why is it locked? Don’t you touch this girl; she’s done nothing wrong. Except maybe to not tell us what’s going on here.”
George had fluttered down to the floor again. “Little Boy?”
Well that did it. Papa seemed to fly, right to George. One foot came back and began its swing, a mighty kick aimed at George. Big boots, big man, at least two hundred pounds, against small bird, maybe two pounds. This wasn’t going to be a fair fight.
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