“They live how long?” Just then, I hated how much my squawk of dismay made me sound like Machiavelli, my recently inherited Mynah bird.
"Eight to ten years is average," the reference librarian on the other end reported. "It depends on the species of course, but this book states that with good care, some Mynahs can live up to twenty years."
“Twenty shit! Twenty shit!” Machiavelli repeated from his perch with far too much glee. It gave me a pang how much he sounded like his late owner and my best friend, Brian.
“I beg your pardon?”
“No I beg yours” I apologized. “It’s just that my best friend died very suddenly this week, and I adopted his Mynah bird. I’m kind of stuck as I don’t know anything about them, so I was just hoping they didn’t have that long a life span.”
“Kinda stuck, kinda stuck...”
“Oh shut up!” I hissed to Machiavelli, although I didn’t move the phone far enough away from my mouth or cover it with my hand. Since Machiavelli had arrived three days ago, I hadn’t been able to have a single phone conversation without his input. My exasperation with him has led to some unfortunate telephone conversational non-sequiturs on my part. I don’t like it when people speak rudely to me on the phone, so my conversations have been laced with embarrassed apologies, lately.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, ma’am?” The librarian’s previously friendly tone was gone, and she was clearly hoping this call was over.
“Sorry, I was talking to the bird, again,” I apologized. “He won’t stop talking. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful—“
Click I was talking to dead air. “See if I donate any more books to your stupid book sales!” I muttered. “And don’t call me ma’am.”
“Talking to the bird! Very helpful! Very helpful!” Machiavellli cawed.
“Brian should have named you Eddie Two Times. Why couldn’t you have been a parakeet with a three year lifespan, instead?”
I flopped down onto my old sofa, wanting to scream and beat the cushions with my bereavement and frustration. After Brian’s funeral that morning, I felt too exhausted to do anything but loll. The musty old green velvet upholstery smelled like buttered popcorn, with a parfum of Luigi’s Monster Combo Pizza with a whiff of Szechuan Beef; Brian’s and my dietary history on weekend evenings while we shared this very couch watching vintage bad movies from the 1950’s. We both ate too much, stayed up too late, watched too much bad television and drank too much beer. We exercised too little, made and saved too little money, and we were both the oddballs in our respective uptight socially conservative Pennsylvania families.
“You’re a terrible influence on me,” I’d told Brian while we were in college. “Promise me you’ll never change.”
I think our friendship lasted over twenty years because neither of us ever tried to improve the other, or nagged one another to change in any way, even while we tacitly accepted the need to be self-supporting adults. Neither of us ever had to explain our jokes to the other, and we knew we could count on the other to laugh at them. On my 21st birthday, Brian's present to me was a black tee-shirt saying “You’re perverted, twisted and sick! I like that in a person.”
Brian had been here just last Saturday night, quoting the worst lines from Day of The Triffids verbatim in his best, deadpan Edward R. Murrow impression, making me laugh until my soft drink bubbled up painfully in my sinuses. It took my mind off my financial worries during my latest six month streak of unemployment. Nothing moribund about Brian, no intimation that thirty-six hours later, he’d die on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Or that he’d be pulled from the flattened steel pancake that truck had made of his Mazda, covered head to toe in sticky Brer Rabbit molasses.
Only Brian would have appreciated the tragicomedy of the molasses and his having made a huge mess on a public road which no one could expect him to clean up. Once, he’d told me he daydreamed about faking his death so that he could catch his family out at his funeral. But he hadn’t burst in today to laugh at his extended family of phonies at the canned service in that awful faux-medieval funeral chapel, convincing me at least of the awful truth. He’d have hated that stiff ceremony, as had I since it did so little to honor the real Brian Milne I'd known.
I heaved myself up and fumbled for a tissue to mop up my wet, salt-water stung eyes, the last in the box I’d bought on Tuesday after hearing the news. This was about the time of evening when Brian would show up with a pizza, or Chinese food from the Szechaun Chef to eat while we watched the movie. It was getting dark in in my livingroom, which weighed on my spirits even more, but I had no energy, even to search for the nearest light switch. I knew there was nothing to eat in the fridge, I’d been too overcome to do anything useful all week. A memorial pizza from Luigi’s, not frou-frou crustless caterer’s tea sandwiches, was the way to honor Brian’s memory. I lumbered over to the phone, and just as I put my hand on the receiver, it rang, making me jump and it made Machiavelli look up and rustle his wings.
In the dimness, I didn’t stop to check the caller ID; that damnable human compulsion just made me pick up the receiver and say hello. At the same moment, Machiavelli said “HYEL-lo?” mimicking Brian’s tone and inflection so perfectly, that for a second, I looked around for him. Of course, Machiavelli would have picked up words that way, his perch always having been in easy earshot of Brian’s phone. Brian had always been an ‘active listener’; if I wanted to have my say, I’d learned to interrupt loudly, and even talk over him if I had to.
“Ms. Donaldson?” The adenoidal voice of my least favorite harassing bill collector sounded puzzled by the double greeting. I just couldn’t deal with her now, so I held the phone out to Machiavelli.
“Yes yes, I’m listening,” Machiavelli cawed. He sounded so much like Brian again, that I felt my eyes prickle with tears.
“Ms. Donaldson, Ethan Allen has received no payments for your recent purchase of your bedroom furniture suite in the last three months. If you do not resume your scheduled payments, the store will be forced to repossess the items in twenty-one days.”
“How long? Twenty? Shit! Twenty? Shit!” Machiavelli now sounded like me. I pressed my hand to my mouth so this collection agency bitch wouldn’t hear me giggle even while my heart sank at this new low blow. I wondered how long it would take her to realize she was talking to a Mynah bird. I could picture her, a heavy-set bitter woman with a beehive hairdo and cat's eye glasses--a woman right out of The Far Side.
“Kinda stuck, kinda stuck!”
“Hello?” Ms. RePo now sounded suspicious even though her voice was faint with the phone receiver away from my ear. “Is anyone there? Ms. Donaldson, is this some kind of joke?”
“Talking to the bird! Very helpful, very helpful!”