“I’m going nuts here by myself,” Pat Myers confessed to her daughter, Annie. Pat had been virtually confined to her house for a year as she was treated for an inflamed artery in her temple that affected her vision and stamina.
A widow with two married children, she’d been happily running a chain of dress shops. But now that she had to give up her business, her home began to feel oppressively silent and empty. Finally she admitted to Annie how lonely she was.
“Do you think I should advertise for someone to live with me?”
“That’s such a gamble,” Annie said. “How about a pet?”
“I haven’t the strength to walk a dog,” Pat said. “I’m allergic to cats, and fish don’t have a whole lot to say.”
“Birds do,” said her daughter. “Why not get a parrot?” And so it began.
Pat and Annie visited a breeder of African Greys and were shown two little featherless creatures huddled together for warmth. Pat was doubtful, but Annie persuaded her to put a deposit down on the bird with the bright eyes. When he was three months old and feathered out, he was delivered to his new owner, who named him Casey.
A few weeks later Pat told Annie, “I didn’t realize I talked so much. Casey’s picking up all kinds of words.”
“I told you.” Her daughter smiled at the sound of pleasure in Pat’s voice.
The first sentence Casey learned was “Where’s my glasses?” followed by “Where’s my purse?” Whenever Pat began scanning tabletops and opening drawers, Casey chanted, “Where’s my glasses? Where’s my purse?” When she returned from an errand, he’d greet her with, “Holy smokes, it’s cold out there,” in a perfect imitation of her voice.
Casey disliked being caged, so Pat often let him roam the house. “What fun it is to have him,” she told Annie. “It makes the whole place feel better.”
“I think you’re beginning to feel better too,” said Annie.
“Well, he gives me four or five laughs a day—they say laughter’s good for you.”
Once a plumber came to repair a leak under the kitchen sink. In the den, Casey cracked seeds in his cage and eyed the plumber through the open door. Suddenly the parrot broke the silence, reciting, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four.”
“What?” asked the plumber.
“Don’t poo on the rug,” Casey ordered, in Pat’s voice.
The plumber pushed himself out from under the sink and marched to the living room. “If you’re going to play games, lady, you can just get yourself another plumber.” Pat looked at him blankly. The plumber hesitated, ‘That was you, wasn’t it?”
Pat smiled. “What was me?”
“One potato, two potato—and don’t poo on the rug.”
“Oh, dear,” said Pat. “Let me introduce you to Casey.”
Casey saw them coming. “What’s going on around here?” he said.
At that moment Pat sneezed. Casey immediately mimicked the sneeze, added a couple of Pat’s coughs at her allergic worst and finished with Pat’s version of “Wow!” The plumber shook his head slowly and crawled back under the sink.
One morning while Pat was reading the paper, the phone rang. She picked it up and got a dial tone. The next morning it rang again, and again she got a dial tone. The third morning she realized what was going on: Casey had learned to mimic the phone faultlessly.
Once, as Pat opened a soda can at the kitchen table, Casey waddled over and snatched at the can. It toppled, sending a cascade of cola onto her lap and the floor. “*#@!” Pat said. Casey eyed her. “Forget you heard that,” she ordered. “I didn’t say it. I never say it. And I wouldn’t have now if I hadn’t just mopped the floor.” Casey kept his beak shut.
Later a real estate agent arrived to go over some business. She and Pat were deep in discussion when Casey screamed from the den, “*#@!”
Both women acted as though they’d heard nothing.
Liking the sibilance, Casey tried it again. “*#@!” he said. And again. “*#@!” “*#@!” “*#@!”
Caught between humiliation and amusement, Pat put her hand on her guest’s arm. “Helen, it’s sweet of you to pretend, but I know you haven’t suddenly gone deaf.” They both broke up laughing.
“Oh, you bad bird,” Pat scolded after the agent left. “She’s going to think I go around all day saying four-letter words.”
“What a mess,” Casey said.
“You’re darned right,” Pat told him.
Casey’s favorite perch in the kitchen was the faucet in the sink; his favorite occupation, trying to remove the washer at the end of it. Once, to tease him, Pat sprinkled a handful of water over him. Casey ceased his attack on the washer and swiveled his head to look sharply. “What’s the matter with you?” he demanded.
If he left the kitchen and Pat heard him say “Oh you bad bird!” she knew to come running. Casey was either pecking at her dining room chairs or the wallpaper in the foyer.
“Is it worth it?” her son, Bill, asked, looking at the damaged front hall.
“Give me a choice between a perfect, lonely house and a tacky, happy one,” said Pat, “and I’ll take the tacky one any day.”
But Pat did decide to have Casey’s sharp claws clipped. To trim them without getting bitten, the vet wrapped Casey tightly in a towel, turned him on his back and handed him to an assistant to hold while he went to work. A helpless Casey looked at Pat and said piteously, “Oh, the poor baby.”
Pat often wondered if Casey knew what he was saying. Sometimes the statements were so appropriate she couldn’t be sure. Like the time a guest had lingered on and on talking in the doorway and Casey finally called out impatiently, “Night, night.”
Yet, whenever Pat wanted to teach him something, Casey could be so maddening. Once she carried him to the living room and settled in an easy chair as Casey sidled up her arm and nestled his head against her chest. Pat dusted the tips of her fingers over his velvet-gray feathers and scarlet tail. “I love you,” she said. “Can you say, ‘I love you, Pat Meyers?’”
Casey cocked an eye at her. “I live on Mallard View,” he said.
“I know where you live, funny bird. Tell me you love me.”
Another time Pat was trying to teach Casey “Jingle Bell Rock” before her children and grandchildren arrived for Christmas dinner. “It’ll be your contribution,” she told him.
“Where’s my glasses?”
“Never mind that. Just listen to me sing.” But as Pat sang “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock” and danced around the kitchen, Casey simply looked at her.
Finally Pat gave up. And all through Christmas dinner Casey was silent. When it came time for dessert, Pat extinguished the lights and touched a match to the plum pudding. As the brandy blazed up, with impeccable timing Casey burst into “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock!”
Pat’s health improved so much she decided to go on a three-week vacation. “You’ll be all right,” she told Casey. “You can stay with Annie and the kids.”
The day her mother was due back, Annie returned Casey to the apartment so he’d be there when Pat got home from the airport.
“Hi, Casey!” Pat called as she unlocked the door. There was no answer. “Holy smokes, it’s cold out there!” she said. More silence. Pat dropped her coat and hurried into the den. Casey glared at her.
“Hey, aren’t you glad to see me?” The bird moved to the far side of the cage. “Come on, don’t be angry,” Pat said. She opened the door of the cage and held out her hand. Casey dropped to the bottom of the cage and huddled there.
In the morning Pat tried again. Casey refused to speak. Later that day he consented to climb on her wrist and be carried to the living room. When she sat down, he shifted uneasily and seemed about to fly away. “Please, Casey,” Pat pleaded, “I know I was away a long time, but you’ve got to forgive me.”
Casey took a few tentative steps up her arm, then moved back to her knee. “Were you afraid I was never going to come back?” she said softly. “I would never do that.”
Casey cocked his head and slowly moved up her arm. Pat crooked her elbow, and Casey nestled against her. Pat stroked his head, smoothing his feathers with her forefinger. Finally Casey spoke.
“I love you, Pat Myers,” he said.