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Free to go

It was going to be easy money.

All Regan had to do was parrot-sit for the August Bank Holiday. Three days total, and she would earn herself £100, paid in cash. Enough money to pay for three driving lessons. Easy-breezy-parrot-squeezy. Regan found herself smiling more than usual as she took the bus into town.

Sure, she had a couple of fears. She’d never cared for a parrot before. And she’d never actually been on her own for three days straight. But as she located Archer Street, she reminded herself that her Aunt Tillie had looked after this parrot multiple times, without incident. If her roast turkey burning, moped crashing, chaos-storm of an aunt could manage, then so could she.

She nodded to herself as she took the key out of the white envelope, and let herself in through the front door of 27A. She kicked off her boots by the door, then jogged up the stairs, calling out as she did so, “Hello. It’s only me. Regan. I’m going to be watching you while your owner is away.”

“I be watching you!” The screechy voice came through an open doorway, off to the right. Regan shrugged her backpack off and followed the direction of the sound. Sure enough, there he was, in a cage at the far end of a very brown and beige living room; a steely grey parrot with a red tail and an appraising glint in his eye.

“Hi Joey,” Regan said brightly, stopping between two old couches. “I’m Tillie’s niece. You know, Tillie, who usually watches you while your Nigel is away?” Regan felt a little self-conscious explaining herself to a bird, and showing her palms. Like what? ‘I don’t have a gun. I don’t have a knife. Let’s be friends now’.

She pulled her aunt’s written instructions from the pocket of her jeans and waved them gently at her side. “I know what to do. It will all be ok.”

Joey stared back at her, his pale-yellow eyes unblinking. He shifted from foot to foot on his perch, then tightened his grip and craned forwards. He let out a low growl – more what you’d expect from a dog than a parrot? Regan glanced down at the instructions. There was nothing she was supposed to do for him until his meal at 3pm. She checked her phone. 10:02.

“So…”

“I be watching you!” Joey squawked, perfectly still except for the clacks of his sharp looking beak.

“You want to watch TV?” Regan said, gesturing to the enormous flatscreen to one side of her, and looking around for the remote.

The living room was old-man-bachelor cluttered, but it had to be somewhere. She searched under fleeces and gardening catalogues, and finally found it on a low table, sandwiched between a book of sudokus and a caravanning magazine.

“Tillie says you like sports. Ok. Here we go.” She flipped up the channels until she hit one that was snooker. Joey hopped to a lower perch and leant forward, eyes intent.

“Ok, I’m going to unpack,” Regan said, backing out onto the landing, and retrieving her bag. She exhaled slowly as she passed the kitchen, the bathroom, a closed door and then what had to be the spare room, where she would be sleeping for the next two nights. She dropped her backpack down onto the beige carpet, and sat down on the end of the spare bed. The flat was so small that she could still hear the TV; the soft clink, clink of the snooker balls, and the low drone of the commentator.

“I BE WATCHING YOU!”

“What the….!” She leapt up off the bed.

“Oh my God! Could you not?!” she yelled back.

Joey started screaming like a cat was trying to eat his eyeballs.

Regan put her hands over her ears, and closed her eyes. But what if something really was wrong? She couldn’t have him die on her watch. She ran back to the living room, and skidded to a stop between the couches.

Joey stopped screaming instantly and stretched out his wings.

“Where Tillie?” he said.

“Look, I know I’m not Tillie, but…”

“WHERE TILLIE?”

“You’ll have to make do with…”

“WHERE TILLIE? WHERE TILLIE? WHERE NIGEL?”

Regan patted the air in front of her. “Look, I get it. You’re used to Tillie.”

“HATE TILLIE! WHERE TILLIE?”

Jeez. Regan’s ears were ringing. “She’s gone to Hunstanton. The seaside.”

Joey hopped to the lowest perch. Then leaned forward slowly. “Where Nigel?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never even spoken to him.” Regan folded her arms, then froze. Wait. What was happening? Were they having an actual conversation? “Do you…understand me?”

“Where phone?”

“You mean, my phone?”

Joey bobbed his head. Then Regan could have sworn his eyes fixed on her pocket. She pulled her phone out slowly.

“Call Tillie.” Joey said, and tapped his beak twice against the bars of his cage.

“Look, we’re doing ok here. A few hours and you’ll get your…” Regan pulled the wadded up instructions from her pocket, “Your… watermelon cubes.”

Joey let out a scream that blasted Regan’s eardrums into space and back.

“OK OK!” Regan made a show of pulling out her phone. “Why am I calling Tillie?”

“She with Nigel?” Joey said, head cocking to the other side.

Regan watched him for a moment. “Are you…worried?”

Joey tapped his beak repeatedly on the cage bars in front of him.

“Look Joey, how about I text her instead.?”

“CALL GUN-GUN CALL!”

“Gun-gun?”

Joey ruffled his feathers. “Ray-ray?”

“Oh. Regan. Ray-gun.”

“CAAALL, CAAAALL, CAAALL, CAAAALL, CAAALL, CAAALL, CAAAAAALL, CAAAAAALLL.”

“OH-KAY!” Regan held up one hand, like she could fend off the sound, and called Tillie. As she waited for her to pick up, she checked the time. 10:18. No…way.

She could not do the maths on how much time she had left. Not with a parrot screaming at her. But what she did know was that she wasn’t even through the first half hour!

“CAAAAAAALLLLLL. THEY TOGETHER. THEY TOGETHER. THEY NO LOVE JOEY.”

Oh. OH. Tillie and Nigel were together like that? “Joey, are you jealous?” Regan said softly.

Before he could answer, Tillie picked up. “Hello? Regan? Everything ok?”

Regan glared at Joey and put her finger to her lips.

“Yes, fine. How’s Hunstanton?”

“Is there a problem?”

“Uh…no…I just…”

“IS NIGEL THERE?” Cue more screaming from Joey. Then he snapped his beak shut and dropped off his perch. Regan darted forward. Joey lay on the shredded newspaper at the bottom of the cage, his toes resting on some dropped parrot food pellets, his head partially smudged into a dark green swirl of poo.

Regan sucked in a panicked breath. “Tillie. Joey is freaking out. I think he just fainted. Is Nigel there?” Regan opened the cage door and reached out her hand, towards Joey’s little chest. Joey righted himself in a snap, and nipped at the cuff of her sweatshirt.

“Hell.” She yanked her hand out and Joey swooped through the cage door, and up onto the curtain rail.

“Scrap that. He’s alive, but he’s mad as hell.”

Regan could just make out a male voice in the background. Then Tillie said, low and harsh, “That little feathered twerp is NOT ruining my weekend. He does NOT own Nigel. Deal with it, Regan. You’re a big girl. He’s just a parrot.”

“But…”

Tillie cut the call. Regan tried ringing her straight back, but it went to voicemail. A crowd booed on the TV. Regan clocked that the football was on now, a player down on the ground, writhing post tackle. Faking it likely. Joey shook, up on the curtain rail still, and panted, his little parrot tongue peeking out. Then he made the weirdest crying sound.

Regan groaned in response. “Fool me once…you…fool me twice…you…” She couldn’t remember the stupid expression. She slumped back onto one of the couches and put her head between her knees.

A moment later she felt the light bounce of Joey landing on her back. She froze. Did parrots have sharp claws? Probably. And disease?

“Don’t bite the back of..the person…with…the…hand..that..is going to feed you,” she said, her voice muffled between her own knees.

“Joey no understand.”

Regan made a slight shrugging motion and she felt him hop off. She sat up slowly and they looked at each other, him sat on the back of the tatty couch.

“You’re jealous?” Regan said softly. The white skin around his beak and eyes tinged pink.

“No-one-love Joey.” He flopped dramatically off the top, and rolled commando style down until he hit the cushions, where he lay on his back, wings spread out. “I rather die.”

“You don’t mean it.”

Joey let out one short scream, and then it turned into dry heaving sobs.

Regan searched on her phone, ‘what to do if a parrot is crying’. Oh. According to allaboutparrots.com, parrots really could cry. Not tears, but sound and emotion. It didn’t tell you how to stop them crying though. This was unbearable.

“You want me to cover you?”

“Let me go.” Joey wailed.

“I’m not touching you,” Regan said quietly.

“I NOT STAY.” He turned his head and looked at her accusingly.

“I can’t let you out.” The words came out firmer than she felt. The little twerp was breaking her heart a little. He hopped to his feet, swaying on the soggy cushion. “It wouldn’t be safe for you out there. I can’t. I’m supposed to be watching you.”

“GET YOUR BAG. WE GO.”

“Go where?” Regan rubbed her eyes. She needed to be in charge here, not act like she was the hostage. “Joey, I’m sorry, but…”

Wow. If she’d thought his earlier screams were bad, she was mistaken. They were just a warmup.

“The neighbours will…”

Swoop, swoop, divebomb. Wow, Joey was fast. A fighter plane in action. Regan ran for the spare bedroom, phone in hand and shut the door. She pressed her free hand against it, breathing hard, and then heard a squawky voice behind her.

“Sorry Gun-Gun.”

She spun around. Joey was sat on her pillow, wings stretched out.

Now she was the one to scream… until her lungs burned… out of the bedroom, down the hallway, and sock skidding down the stairs. Before she could say wham-thankyou-adrenaline she was out on the main street, in her socks, the door slammed behind her. But her bag inside. She crouched down and lifted the letterbox. She squidged down lower until she could see in.

Joey was sat part way down the stairs.

“Sorry Ray-Ray. Sorry. I be good. I no watch you. Good Joey.”

Regan breathed out through her nose, stood up to her full height, and looked up to the sky. If she opened the door and he flew out, that was down to him.

“We make a deal. I pay you double. You like dancing?” Joey called. “Joey sad. I try to dance. For you. Ray-gun. You love me? You love Beyonce? I sing for you. I so lonely. I so hungry. You lonely tonight? You like Elvis. Joey bad. Joey sing.”

“Joey, stop,” Regan called gently through the letterbox. She checked her phone. 10:32. She groaned. This was so not worth the money. Maybe she should ask her grouchy Dad to teach her to drive? And rat out Tillie, his sister, while she was at it. She scrubbed her eyes with her fists.

“You free to go,” Joey crooned, like he was singing the most heart-breaking of ballads.

Regan couldn’t help smiling. She rolled her shoulders back, then slipped in quickly through the doorway and closed the door behind her. Joey sat there, part way up the steps, shuffling left, then shuffling right.

“We start over?” He squawked.

She put her hands on her hips, and nodded her head. “Hello Joey. I’m Regan. And I’m sorry you feel bad. But I also don’t take any shit. From this point forward. Ok?”

“Hello Gun-Gun.” He bobbed his head. “Joey be good. You love Joey? You love Beyonce? YES. I sing! You watch me sing.” He flew up the stairs, landed on the bannister, stretched out his wings and let rip with the first few bars..

“IF I WAS  A BOOOOOOY……”

Week 10

This week I am into double digits for my short story challenge!

I decided to focus on two things:

1) Writing it in 3rd person. (The past few weeks have all been 1st person.)

2) Parrots. I don’t know why my brain seems to be obsessed with birds? More specifically, talking birds. But it is. So this week I was like…have at it brain. And I scheduled 20 minutes to google parrots…I learned SO MUCH. And fell in love with all of them, including this one, who sings Beyoncé’s ‘If I were a Boy’:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuobgXe1Lko

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