by L B Gschwandtner

After Curtis and Emma got married, he wanted a dog but she wanted a cat. They couldn’t agree on one or the other so they compromised. They got a bird. A really big bird, with a sharp, curved bill and long tail feathers. She sat on a big perch in the middle of their country kitchen; her bright red body and red and green plumage measured well over a foot tall.

They named her Sweetheart.

Before too long, although Emma cleaned Sweetheart’s cage and made sure Sweetheart had drinking water and seeds in her eating cup, Sweetheart fell in love with Curtis. Curtis let the bird drink his white wine cooler — only a little he said — but he gave her quite a lot when Emma wasn’t watching. He also fed her bits of fried apple and corn chips.

Emma tried to teach the bird to say Hello, Sweetheart. Sweetheart only learned part of the phrase. When Emma walked into the room Sweetheart squawked, Low… Tart, which embarrassed Emma and made Curtis laugh. Soon Sweetheart had learned to imitate Curtis’s laugh which she tacked onto her phrase to make Low… Tart… hahahaha.

After a few months whenever Sweetheart saw Emma, she repeated her one phrase and the cackle. Without realizing it, Emma began to avoid the kitchen as often as she could. She would walk all around the house to sneak past Sweetheart without the bird seeing her.

Soon Curtis took over the care and feeding of Sweetheart and they became even closer than before. Sweetheart learned how to walk from her perch to Curtis’ shoulder. She would nuzzle her fat bill against his neck. Curtis thought this display was remarkable. When he pointed it out to Emma she made a face and said the bird was dirty. They got into a fight over Sweetheart’s displays of affection for Curtis. Emma stomped out of the house and slammed the door. Curtis and Sweetheart ate some corn chips while Curtis repeated the phrase Damn Bitch over and over to Sweetheart.

Curtis had to go on a training trip for three weeks. Before leaving he and Emma discussed the situation.

“I’m sorry for the way Sweetheart’s been treating you,” he told Emma. “But she’s only a dumb bird. She’s just operating on instinct.”

“I have instincts, too,” said Emma. “and feelings.”

“I know you do, Em,” Curtis said. “And one of them is motherly. So please, take good care of Sweetheart while I’m away.”
“I’ll take care of her,” Emma said. “But I can’t help it if she just doesn’t like me. She’s just a one-person bird.”

Curtis nodded. He patted Emma’s knee before he got up to go. That rankled Emma. Then he went over to Sweetheart’s perch to let her nuzzle his neck. She repeated a new phrase she had just acquired, My Big Boy. This rankled Emma even more but she kept her temper from showing. She wondered how many times Curtis had repeated the phrase before Sweetheart could say it. She began to compute the hours Curtis must have spent with Sweetheart.

Three weeks dragged by for Curtis.

During the first week he called Emma every night to get reports about Sweetheart. Everything seemed to be going well. Emma seemed a little distant but, after the first week, Curtis didn’t notice it anymore. Toward the end of the second week he began to get excited about coming home. He couldn’t wait to see Sweetheart — and Emma too.

By the end of the third week he was on edge with anxiety over his reunion with Sweetheart. He worried that she might have forgotten him, that she could have formed a stronger bond with Emma. Then he figured that was silly. He imagined how happy she would be to see him. How she would nuzzle his neck and take food from his fingers.

When he arrived home, the first thing Curtis noticed was that Emma had moved Sweetheart’s perch from the middle of the kitchen to the glassed-in patio. He thought this was a fine idea since the patio had a view of trees and lots of light throughout the day. Feeling relieved that Emma and Sweetheart had made peace with each other, he walked over to let Sweetheart nuzzle him. He lowered his shoulder so that she could climb down to him. At the very moment she walked onto his shoulder, Curtis heard the unmistakable sound of batting wings and a voice that sounded like Emma’s, although higher in pitch

Hands Off… Hands Off… Hands off…

A large blue bird that, except for the color, could have been Sweetheart’s twin, landed on his other shoulder. It stretched its neck around in front of his face. Curtis could see down its throat, could in fact watch the little, round, rubbery-looking black tongue wobble as the scimitar-shaped cups of its bill reached forward. The sharp pointed tips of its beak pinched straight through his left nostril and held on tightly.

Curtis let out a yowl of pain but the bird didn’t let go. Sweetheart hopped back to her perch and cocked her head to one side. Curtis grabbed for the wall phone by the patio door, the big blue bird firmly attached to his nostril like a brightly colored Easter hat.

It took two members of the rescue squad fifteen minutes to get the bird to let go and then only by using a pair of pliers. They told Curtis he would need stitches. Once they were in the back of the ambulance with Curtis lying flat on his back, they asked why the bird had turned on him like that.

“He’s a new bird,” Curtis said from behind a large ice pack, “and not used to me yet.” He thought about the way the two birds had sat together on Sweetheart’s’ perch nuzzling each other.

They wanted to know why the blue bird kept repeating, Bye… Tart… hahahaha.

Curtis couldn’t explain it.