By Kevin W. Perizzolo

Deep inside the parrot was an old soul. Tired, war-torn, weather-beaten, and fed up. So this go round it asked to be something simple. It is a common misunderstanding that souls have a sex. In previous lives, she had been a he many times, as well as a she. The universe did not differentiate on that matter; there were other, more important things to worry about. Let whatever place the soul lands, decide the differentiation. The more advanced, the less it mattered.

She was named Paco upon hatching. Not really the hatching. But so named when she was put on display in the pet store and purchased the same day. “No Daddy, it has to be a he. Look at his beak,” the child said, tapping the glass of the cage.

“Okay. Parrots live for a very long time, dear. Are you going to be ready for that sort of commitment?” the father asked his daughter quietly.

The child nodded eagerly. “I am eight, you know.”

“Yes, such a big girl,” the father said with a huge smile. “Excuse me, I'd like this young parrot for my daughter,” he asked of the storekeeper.

The soul resided in the parrot happily for a number of years. Riding on the girl’s shoulder, getting lots of attention from the neighborhood children and the occasional shower slash bath. Paco followed the girl around the house, in the yard, and often down the sidewalk. Content at last for some peace and quiet. Nothing to worry about, no important decisions to make; for once being taken care of instead of being the caregiver.

# # #

“Dad! I'm going on a date this afternoon. What do you mean I have to take Paco to the vet?”

“Yearly checkup, dear. You made the appointment last month,” the dad hollered down the stairs. Paco sat on her perch in the girl’s room. She glanced at the young lady, cocked her head to the left, and made a quiet cooing sound.

She heard it and turned to the parrot. She shook her head. “You take him! I don’t have time, I'm trying on dresses.”

“You promised you were ready for this sort of commitment.”

“Dad, come on. You know I love Paco. And that was ten years ago for crying out loud. How was I to know he'd live this long?”

“Because I told you they're long-lived animals. Paco will be around for the majority of your natural life. You promised.” He walked into the bedroom and held his hand out near the perch. Paco gingerly stepped onto the man’s finger. The man turned and walked out. “I'll do it this time only.”

“I love you Daddy,” she said under her breath. Paco heard the sarcasm in her voice; the soul cringed a little. She reached back and quickly tore a tail feather out and dropped it on the floor.

# # #

He dropped the veil over her face and sighed. “Now is not the time to tell me you can’t keep her any longer.”

“Dad, Scott hates birds. He won’t have Paco in the new house. He says that birds are nasty and carry diseases.” She smoothed out the satin of her white gown in front. She looked up. “Daddy, please. I love Scott with all my heart. Is it too much to ask to give up my bird?”

“Personally, I would say yes. You've known Paco a lot longer than Scott. Paco wouldn't ask you to give up Scott for her.” He glanced over and smiled at the bird. She bobbed up and down for a moment. It was her signal for attention. He reached over, and she hopped on his hand. As he brought the bird toward his daughter, she looked at Paco with a sad face. The soul inside cringed yet again.

“Daddy, I can’t,” she sighed. They both noticed Paco reached back and tore out a tail feather.

“You can’t change your mind this time, sweetheart. I'll find a home for her. I’ve already talked to the vet,” he said, stroking the bird’s head. Paco tore out another tail feather. Dad raised an eyebrow this time. “I think she understands us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dad. This is for the best for all concerned. By the way, why is she called a boy’s name?”

“You insisted she was a he twenty years ago.” Paco tore out another feather. “Honey, say goodbye and go wait in the car.”

“Paco, you know I love you,” she said, stroking her head. Paco bobbed up and down frantically for a moment. The girl turned and walked out of the room. Inside, the soul let out a wail of anguish. Paco just remained perfectly still; staring at the door.

The girl’s divorce came through two years later. Scott had managed to require she give up one thing too many.

# # #

Four children, ages ten, eight, six, and four, fell for Paco as soon as the vet brought her into the waiting room. The parents of the children noticed that Paco had no tail feathers, and asked about it.

“Stress reaction. Given the proper environment, lots of toys, attention, and love; the tail feathers will grow back and Paco will stop pulling them out,” the vet replied, a little too clinically. She herself had taken a liking to the bird and was reluctant to give her up. Something about the bird’s eyes were deep and intense and seemed to have great knowledge. She could not pinpoint it, but knew that Paco was something special.

“Daddy, Mommy, please….” the children chorused together. The parents looked at each other and the parrot. They nodded their assent.

The vet spoke first. “Okay, she's yours. You must understand something, though. Paco is still a young bird. Only twenty years old. This is a lifetime commitment for you kids. So, in twenty years there will be no ‘I can’t deal with the bird, so please get rid of it.’ The four of you are now taking on the lifetime of this bird.” She looked at the six-year-old. “This bird is going to be alive after you are dead and cold and buried in the dirt. Do you understand what I'm saying?”

The children looked at the vet, looked at each other, then looked at their parents, and all four walked out of the room without a word.

“You could have just pulled a knife on them, doctor. It would have scared them just as much,” the mother said as she walked out.

“Glad to be of service.” The vet smiled and watched the father retreat after his wife. Paco moved from side to side and bobbed up and down as well. No one had figured that out yet, but it was her happy dance.

For the next twenty years Paco greeted every client and animal that came into the veterinary clinic with a cheery, “Hello, please take a seat. Someone will be with you in a moment.” All of her tail feathers had grown back. Her toys lay scattered about the offices, her many perches all kept meticulously clean. The soul inside was once again content. Paco was enthusiastic about her job each day—sometimes even reluctant to go home at night, but she looked forward to another day of saying hello, meeting new people, and meeting new animals.

Ten more years passed, and the soul noticed that the trips to the office were less frequent. When the vet got the keys out of her purse, Paco would do her happy dance, then stop in mid bob when she realized they were not leaving that day either. She followed the vet through the house making sounds to soothe the woman’s heart.

She would hold the bird gently and up close to her cheek. “You are indeed special, Paco.” Paco would nuzzle the lined face, which had once been smooth. “I'm glad I kept you.” Likewise, the soul replied without a word.

She sold the practice a few years later. She and Paco puttered around the house and garden, Paco perched on her shoulder most of the time. In her old age, the doctor was popular with the neighborhood children for her stories about animals. Paco, in her spot on the woman’s shoulder or her right arm, would chime in on occasion with imitations of animal sounds and do her “happy dance” to the delight of those who sat enthralled on the Doctor’s front steps.

The soul knew the woman was weary; knew that her time was soon. The soul was not saddened by this; the soul knew the universe would be kind to the woman as she had been kind to the universe. It worked out like that. Of late, Paco would stare into the woman’s eyes for long periods of time.

It was a beautiful day. The wind blew mild and there was freshness in the air. The doctor took her keys out of her pocketbook and called for Paco. She peeked around a corner and looked to the woman by the front door. She flew gracefully to her shoulder. “I think we should take a walk young lady,” she said. One last time, the soul replied.

An hour later she lay down on her couch, and Paco, perched on her shoulder, gently nuzzled the doctor’s hair and ear. Are you ready? the soul asked.

Quietly, barely a whisper, the doctor said, “Yes, I think so.”

# # #

“Come on Jeremy,” the young man said into his beer. “The old lady died this afternoon. The house is empty right now. If we go now, we can get in and get out and no one will be the wiser. We can catch a pretty penny for the stupid bird as well. Get enough money for a week of blasts.”

The bar stank of spilled beer, whiskey, and God knows what else. Two burnished metal coffee mugs stenciled with “Hers” and “Mine” sat on the counter next to the other young man. He looked up from under his gray hoodie.

“I don’t like the idea, Mark. Besides, I've been working very hard to get out of that sort of life, remember?” He took a quick swig of his drink and coughed a bit. The idea of a hit of dope made him twitchy and edgy. He glanced at the two coffee mugs and smiled at thought of the woman at the bus stop. She helps a lot, even if she doesn't know it, he thought.

“Jeremy, you owe me, man. Come on, let’s get 'er done.” Mark finished his beer and stood up. “You coming?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Your loss, man. More for me then.” He strode out the door.

Jeremy raised his glass to the closing door. “More power to you.”

Paco heard the back door open and shut. She flew to her kitchen perch and saw a young man who used to bring his dog into the clinic a few years back. “Hello, please take a seat. Someone will be with you in a moment,” she said automatically.

“Shut up, you stupid bird,” Mark replied quietly. He stopped and listened to see if anyone was in the house. He heard nothing and proceeded to do a sweep of the bungalow for small valuables. He found a jewelry box and dumped it into his pockets. He grabbed a few other items and headed for the back door. He glanced up at the parrot. “I remember you. The vet clinic. Paco is your name. You want to come with me?” he asked, holding out his arm. She flew to it instinctively and started doing her happy dance. He glanced around and found her food and grabbed it as well.

She perched as far away from Mark as she could in his apartment. She began plucking her tail feathers out within a day of arriving there. This place was not safe. Paco knew and she wanted out.

Paco did not have to wait long. When the EMTs arrived after receiving the incoherent 911 call, Paco was perched on the television set. Mark’s body lay on the floor, still twitching from the overdose, blood all over the floor and the needle lying next to his arm.

“Jesus H….” one young EMT started.

“Don’t say it, junior! Just do your job,” an older man told him quickly.

“Right,” the young man replied. Kneeling by the body, he glanced up at the television. Paco looked down at him with her dark eyes and proceeded to do her happy dance. “Well, aren’t you out of place here?” he asked. Paco bobbed up and down. “Smart one, too.” Paco bobbed some more. “We’ll take care of you shortly,” the man finished and set to work on the prostrate body.

A while later the young man stood and looked at Paco. “Come on. You’re with us,” he said quietly. She flew to his outstretched arm.

“Uh, Scott, the bird can’t come with us. We have to call animal control. Find the owner and all that,” the older man said.

“Bullshit we do. Remember the paper the other day. Someone stole a parrot named Paco from a dead woman’s house the day she died. She was a vet in the area. I bet this is one in the same. We know who broke into her house, and we found the parrot. Should be easy enough to identify the bird,” the young man finished. “Besides, we need a new mascot at the firehouse.”

“Normally it's a dog or a cat junior. Not a bird,” the older man replied. Paco did her happy dance. The older man smiled, “We have a heap of explaining to do, but I think you're right for once, Scott.”

# # #

“My father’s first wife had a parrot named Paco,” Scott told the older man once they got back to the firehouse. “She divorced him over the parrot, plus a lot of other things. Heck, my mother divorced him too.”

“Your dad must be a real winner,” the man replied, stroking Paco's neck.

“He is sort of an ass,” Scott chuckled. “So, Paco.”He turned to the parrot, who stood on the table looking at the two men. Five others stood around behind her. “Do you want to be the first parrot mascot for a fire station in the city?” Paco began swaying back and forth to music not played, and bobbing up and down.

“Guess that's an affirmative,” one of the standing men said. A couple others laughed. Scott grinned at Paco. Paco looked into the young man’s eyes, and the soul found peace yet again.

# # #

Paco quietly swooped down behind Scott and started screaming like a siren. “PACO! That isn’t funny!” He held his hands over his ears. Yes it is, the soul replied. “Come on, we have to get you all pretty for the photo shoot today.” Paco jumped from his shoulder and landed in the sink. Scott turned on the sprayer and checked the water temperature before drenching the bird. She held her wings out and fluttered them until water was spraying everywhere. Scott stopped, and Paco proceeded to preen herself clean.

Paco had become something of a celebrity in the last fifteen years. Being the mascot for a fire house was one thing; being a parrot who rode the fire engine was something altogether different. The first few times Scott went out on the truck, he left Paco at the station. Paco simply flew out and followed the truck, eventually finding them and settling quietly on top of the cab to watch. A reporter noticed it once and took her picture. Time took care of the rest. When the siren went off, Paco was usually the first in the cab of the truck. The rest of the EMTs and the firemen had gotten used to it years ago.

The city used it to its full public relations value. Paco raised money for charities, funded scholarships in her name, and was even Grand Marshall of a parade once, happily riding on Scott’s shoulder in an open-air Cadillac. She raised her wings outstretched when the crowds cheered for her.

When Scott turned fifty, he became captain of the fire station. Paco was seventy-seven. Though no one knew it. Scott noticed she had slowed down somewhat. She still loved doing her happy dance, loved riding on his shoulder, but she slept longer. And Scott perceived her as being a little grumpier than in the past.

It happened ten years later. Scott and Paco had answered an EMT call. Bad part of the city, bad part of the neighborhood. This isn’t right, the soul said quietly as Scott entered the rundown house. Paco flew out the window of the cab and landed on Scott’s shoulder. “What, you going to protect me, old lady?” he whispered. Something like that, the soul replied.

Scott could not have seen the bat swinging toward the back of his head. And the pain he felt when it hit his skull was only momentary. He died a second later.

“Scott? Can you hear me, Scott?”

“Yes. Who are you?”

“Paco, you dolt.”

“What happened?”

“You’re dead.


“Don’t worry, it will be all right.”

“Paco, you can’t talk like this. You rarely talk at all.”

When the second EMT arrived, she found Paco standing over the body. She moved toward it and Paco hissed at her, wildly flapping her wings. The EMT backed away and called for the bird softly. Paco would not leave Scott’s body. She eventually calmed down enough to let them put the body on a stretcher, but she rode with the body to the hospital and became frantic when they stopped her at the doors. The EMT grabbed her firmly but gently. She hissed and bit the woman multiple times.

“I’ve known Paco for over a decade and never seen her act like this before,” the female EMT said to her superior. “Her devotion to Scott is beyond what I've ever read about in a parrot before. And I did some reading when I first heard of Paco and then met her.”

“Who knows, Carol? Paco's getting old. Even for a parrot, if my math is correct she's around ninety. I would assume senility is possible, or maybe Paco simply knew that Scott was the last person who would take care of her,” the man replied and placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder.

If a bird could be said to mope, then Paco did. She pulled out a few tail feathers in the next two days and even that didn't seem to get rid of the stress. The funeral was out of her context, of course. She rode in the cab as usual; she rode on Carol’s shoulder, but kept to the outside, not in intimate distance as she had in the past with Scott. She looked for Scott and did not see him. She understood nothing, except that her friend was not there and had not been for a few days. She refused to eat as well. The last few days of her life she simply perched on the top of Scott’s bunk. The other firemen didn't know what to do. They talked to her, tried to get her to do the happy dance. She refused all attention. She just perched there staring off into space.

The soul knew though. The universe would call it home soon. The soul knew that it would meet the good vet and the kind fireman again. For the universe worked like that. And besides, it had, after all, been a rather pleasant journey this go-round.

Copyright 2012, Kevin W. Perizzolo

About the Author

With some 25 years in the publishing industry, Kevin W. Perizzolo took a decade- long hiatus and moved from the Rocky Mountains to an island off the coast of Texas. He figured it was safe as Galveston Island was not part of Texas, just near it. He now resides in Dallas, having decided a big city is more to his liking. He is pursuing his writing and publishing once again and thanks Rational Magic for publishing his work.

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