“You’re lost,” the bird said.
“I know,” Adam answered.
“You’re lost,” the bird said again.
“I know,” Adam said again.
Why did parakeets have to talk?
And why had Adam agreed buy one?
Leslie. That was the answer.
She was pretty and funny and had a temper like a rabid dog, and when she’d said she’d wanted one, he’d answered: yes, dear.
They’d looked at pet shops where their birds were clipped, but Leslie had said that that was immoral and unconscionable and so they’d gone to a private breeder who had sold them a parakeet who could fly, not just glide.
Which brought him to where he was now.
With the most evil parakeet the world had ever seen.
“This is all your fault,” the bird said.
“I know,” Adam answered.
It was the same story for most of his bad life decisions.
Leslie had wanted to raise chickens, so they’d built a mobile chicken coop. They keep the grass short, she promised, and they eat the bugs. You hardly have to feed them at all.
The problem was that she wasn’t willing to eat them, and at the beginning she’d said that it was only natural that they keep a rooster, too, so soon their little mobile coop that they moved around the back lawn during the day – at least two or three times a day, so that the chickens didn’t get bored – was too small and Adam had to build a bigger one.
And he’d done it. He’d sold the rooster, but he’d built a bigger coop for the original six chickens and the eighteen blasted offspring that had made it through the first few weeks.
Every time one of the chicks had died, she’d brought it into the house crying and lay it out on the table, germs and parasites and all, and she’d said words over it. Three, four, five times a day. Baby chicks were fragile, it turned out, and mother hens weren’t very good at caring for them.
Leslie said it was because they didn’t have enough space. The other hens attacked each other’s chicks and killed them.
So he’d built a bigger coop. Now it took both of them to move it, but the bloody little things could run around in there like it was recess, and she’d been happy. And they’d sat out on the lawn watching the chicks play and they’d laughed and drunk beer.
Then she’d wanted a goat.
They were clever and funny and they would keep the edges of the back yard clean of long grass and rodents, and she’d always wanted a goat.
And the first goat had died. Coyote, she said. Neighbor dog, Adam thought.
So they’d gotten two more, because there was safety in numbers, and they’d built a shed for them to live in at night. And every morning before he got up for work, he went out and fed them and washed them – because they stepped in their own excrement overnight, and Leslie wouldn’t stand for them having it on their feet all day long. So he became a goat pedicurist.
And then she’d wanted a cow. A good milking cow, she said. Just imagine the breakfasts you could have, with a flock of chickens and a cow!
And the neighborhood finally put its foot down, so they’d moved. They rented a little cabin outside of town where the barn was three times bigger than the house, and they’d moved the goats and the chickens, and he’d been ready to tear down the goat shed and move it, but she said no, they needed a bigger one. Because they deserved more space, if everyone else was getting more space.
And a more solid chicken coop, she thought, because the coyotes out there in the woods might be bigger and meaner than the ones in the suburbs.
Adam thought that suburban coyotes might be pretty rugged beasts, seeing as how they competed with so many dogs for prey, but he didn’t say it because she wouldn’t have thought it was funny. He just built a bigger chicken coop.
And then came the pets. They’d gotten three Great Pyrenees to watch over the livestock. Never mind that the one killed four chickens before Leslie declared him an indoor-only dog, that was what they were for. They got a cat, and then another, and then another, because barn cats shouldn’t be lonely either, and then all three of them became indoor-only cats when Leslie thought she saw a coyote out in the front yard. They got a ferret, because she read that they were supposed to be really great pets – smart, interesting, creative, and inquisitive – but the blasted thing got stuck behind the refrigerator and when Adam tried to get it out, he’d squished it.
She hadn’t spoken to him for three days.
And then came the parakeet. You were supposed to talk to it every day, and groom it with your finger the way it groomed itself, and never let it sit on your shoulder or your head, because that was the stupid thing asserting dominance, and then you’d never be able to train it.
It only ever sat on Adam’s shoulder. Leslie taught it all kinds of things, and it remembered everything she ever said to Adam, repeating it in an eerily modified version of Leslie’s voice.
“You’re lost,” it told him again.
He’d opened the window because it was spring and it was nice outside, and he wanted to get some of the animal smell out of the house. He was tired of not having any space in the bed, and if he couldn’t fix that, at least he could get some of the nice woodsy smell in and the dog-and-cat smell out.
And the damned thing had flown out the window.
He’d chased it for hours, from tree to tree as it called down criticisms at him, until it finally got bored and flew down and landed on his shoulder.
“You shouldn’t let him do that,” it said.
“I know,” Adam had answered, taking out the leather tie he’d grabbed from the back of the sink that you used to keep it from flying when you weren’t actively holding its feet. They’d gotten the leather thing after the parakeet had mauled one of Leslie’s friends in one of their rare human visits.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Leslie had said. “He thought he was in danger.”
Adam thought that generally birds that thought they were in danger flew off, but what the hell did he know?
He tied the bird to his shoulder, because it would attack him with its beak if he tried to tie it to his wrist, and he’d started back to the house.
That was four hours ago.
He had no idea where he was.
The sun was going down, and the weather was fine, but he was well and truly lost, and the bird telling him so didn’t help anything.
He sat down next to a tree and folded his hands across his stomach, resigning himself to sleeping out here.
At the end of the next day, he’d begun feeling weak and he hadn’t found a road, any sign of civilization, or a drop to drink. As he settled down against a tree, brushing the parakeet off of his ear as the bird bit him again, he looked up at it and he smiled.
He didn’t know if he was going to get rescued and he didn’t know if he was going to find his way home. But as far as he could tell, what he had now was one final decision.
The next spring, a pair of hikers stumbled across a rotted corpse laying against a tree. They’d heard about the missing man the year before, so they weren’t entirely surprised to find him, but neither one of them could figure out the odd arrangement of feathers he was wearing around the crown of his head.