There was once a middle aged man named Barrett who had never married, and a terrible thing happened to him.
He fell deeply, madly, and soulfully in love with a young woman named Lucia. He loved her so much he wanted to spend his life with her, and so, against his mother’s wishes, he proposed. It’s not that the mother had anything against Lucia. No, Lucia was bright and witty and cared deeply for her son. Lucia had good taste in clothes and home decor and was an otherwise perfect match for Barrett except that, early in their courtship, Lucia inherited a Moluccan cockatoo. When this happened, the mother knew there was going to be trouble.
The Moluccan also loved Lucia. He learned to speak her name in a lilting sing song: Loo-chee-aa. Loo-chee-aaaaa. Looo-cheeeeEEE-aaaaa. The Moluccan learned her ringtone, and one of his favorite games was to sing it as Lucia pretended to look for her missing phone. Barrett thought this game was cute, and although he was secretly afraid of the bird, for it was inclined to bite, he cared for it because he cared for Lucia.
One day, Barrett received a call that Lucia had been in an accident walking home from work. A college girl texting had ridden up the sidewalk, hadn’t even seen her. By the time Barrett arrived at the ER, the doctor was waiting. He had a white napkin for Barrett. Inside was the engagement ring, which had been cut from her finger.
When Barrett returned to the apartment that night, it was as if the Moluccan knew. He turned the side of his face to Barrett and started singing the ringtone, and the sound of Lucia’s phone ringing filled the apartment for most of the night. Barrett did not sleep, and he thought about killing the bird, but he could not. It would be, in some way, almost like killing Lucia herself.
In the morning, the Moluccan slept. So did Barrett.
After the services, the Moluccan quit biting Barrett’s hands when his food and water was changed. Barrett started sitting next to the cage at night, when the bird was winding down, and in a small voice it said Loo-chee-aa. Loo-chee-aaaaa. Looo-cheeeeEEE-aaaaa. Eventually, it would fall asleep, and then Barrett would go to bed, where he would lie awake and look at the severed engagement ring and wonder where his beloved had gone. In time, he grew to hate everything except the Moluccan.
One night, Barrett drifted off by the cage listening to the Moluccan’s coos of Lucia. He awoke when he heard the cell phone ringing. He looked into the cage, and there was the Moluccan, looking him in the eye, and ringing.
“Not her phone, bird!” Barrett said. But the Moluccan wouldn’t quit. He only got louder. “Shut up! Stop it!”
But the Moluccan puffed his feathers and did not stop. He would pause, and then start ringing again, the same way Lucia’s phone did when she was alive.
Barrett pounded the cage, but the bird did not quit. When Barrett opened the door, the Moluccan ran from him and bit him on the thumb. What disturbed Barrett most was not so much the haunting sound of Lucia’s phone ringing, that reminder of her presence in his life, but the way the Moluccan looked at him, as if…it couldn’t be, could it?…as if he wanted Barrett to answer the phone.
“Is that what you want? You want me to answer the phone?” Barrett held his bloody thumb in the corner of his shirt. He would try anything to get the Moluccan to quit ringing. “Fine. Fine! Hello?”
The Moluccan halted.
“Hi-ya, babycakes,” said the bird. But it wasn’t at all what Barrett expected. The Moluccan spoke with Lucia’s voice. Barrett staggered and fell into the chair next to the cage.
“Hello?” he said.
“Is that you?”
“Can I call you right back? I’ll be home soon.”
“Can I call you right back? I’ll be home soon.”
Barrett looked at the bird, and it looked back. “Are you Lucia?” he asked.
But the Moluccan said nothing then. Only pooped, ate a grape, and preened the feathers on its chest. That night, they both slept, and when Barrett woke in the morning, the engagement ring was gone and the Moluccan was out of the cage, perched on top, and when it saw him, it pooped, and walked down the cage to the open door.
Barrett asked his mother about the ring, had she seen it?
No, she said, are you feeling okay?
Barrett said yes, he was fine, but she did not believe him, and while he was at work, she broke into the apartment using her only credit card. She crept into the kitchen as to not startle the Moluccan, and when she looked into the cage she saw something that terrified her almost to her death.
In the cage, instead of the peach-colored bird, was a large demon. And next to it, a silver angel. The demon held the broken engagement ring in its hand, and the angel held the body of Lucia. They were arguing, but in a language Barrett’s mother couldn’t understand. When they saw her, they screamed and flew into each other so that when Barrett’s mother opened her eyes again, all she saw in the cage was the Moluccan.
She told Barrett what she had seen, what was happening in his home, but Barrett did not believe her and told her doctor. They put her in an old age home for advanced dementia patients, and she died there, begging for someone to believe she had seen a demon holding a diamond ring and an angel hugging the body of Lucia.
Barrett found that he could not bear to be apart from the bird. He tried to take it to work, but they forbid it, and he snuck it in, but was discovered when the bird kept calling, and Barrett would answer, just to hear the Moluccan say, “hi-ya babycakes.” His boss tried to reason with him, but by this time, Barrett hated his boss, too, and he knew his boss had always been jealous of his happiness with Lucia. Barrett quit, and he and the Moluccan moved into his mothers house, where he did not have to pay rent.
Barrett grew old. Very, very old. When he got to the point that he could no longer use his legs, it struck him that his Moluccan was just as spry as it was on the day Lucia brought him home. When he rang, Barrett answered.
“Bird, why aren’t you aging? Why aren’t you breaking down like I am you old bird?”
“Honey, can I call you right back? I’ll be home soon.”
And the Moluccan didn’t age. On the morning that Barrett found himself dying, the Moluccan was already out of the cage and perched on the headboard, peering into Barrett’s eyes.
“Lucia,” it said. “Loo-chee-aa. Loo-cheeeeEEE-aa.”
“Ah, my love,” Barrett said, closing his eyes to die.
“Leave them open,” the bird said, in a voice Barrett did not recognize. And then, he saw what his mother had seen, the demon first emerging from the bird’s salmon-colored crest.
“Lucia,” it said, “I will be home soon.”
When the police came to collect the body, they did not find a bird, although they did see the cage, its open door, and a few half-eaten grapes in the dish. They did, however, find Barrett, in the bed, covered in a soft, peach-colored dust.
His left eye was missing, and in its place, what looked like an engagement ring. In his right hand, he held one feather, big enough, the cops said, to belong to an angel’s wing.
nighty night, beloveds. sleep in peace.