Polly

My shtick had admittedly gotten stale. I would say, “Hello! Woooo-oooop!” Then I would sway from side to side, rub my beak on my perch and say, “Whadaya mean, crazy?” Bodean got a kick out of that the first, oh, ten times I did it.

But still, what a fuss they made over that cat. The first time the cat spoke, Bodean paused The Price is Right and remarked to Nancy, “That did not sound like a hairball.” Nancy got down on the floor and cooed, “What’s wrong Banksy? I hope you’re not sick!” Banksy leaned into the caress of her hand and repeated his first word in a crackly voice, as if he found it extremely important.

“Golf.”

“Well, shit,” said Bodean, joining Nancy on the floor. “You ever heard a cat make a sound like that?”

“I should take him to the vet!”

“Now, now, Nanc, don’t you go spending money we don’t have on this feline. Sounded to me like he said ‘golf.’”

“Don’t be stupid.” She held the cat’s head steady between her hands and peered into his eyes, as if by doing so she could diagnose his illness.

“Winnebago,” said Banksy.

She let go of his head and recoiled slightly. “‘Winnebago’? You hear that, Bodean?”

“Yup.”

They both looked involuntarily towards me, but not at me, through the wall behind my perch, over the sad collection of rusting, half-assembled lawnmowers, behind the clump of wild blackberry bushes, at the flat-tired, weed-entwined but theoretically-still-functional motor home, about which they hadn’t spared a thought in months.

Their reverie was interrupted by Banksy. “Texas,” he declared.

This got Bodean to thinking hard. He had an uncle in Waco who had once, briefly, been a professional golfer but had since thickened, embittered and taken up the sale of life insurance. He was still the same old Uncle Luke to Bodean, though, tall and lascivious and willing to share a six-pack of beer and shoot the shit with a ten-year-old boy.

Bodean reasoned that a cat talking was not a natural thing, which made it either unnatural or supernatural, he couldn’t decide which. In any case it was not something to be pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. He started pacing the living room, and in his furrowed brow I saw a sense of purpose I hadn’t seen since his days at the Royal Crown Bottling Company. This sense of purpose carried him out the door and over to Cal’s house to borrow the air compressor and an extension cord, which he used to pump up the tires on the hopefully-still-functional Winnebago.

I heard the thing rumble to life, and then a prolonged, spirited discussion between Bodean and Nancy that ended with Nancy shoving clothing into duffle bags and muttering under her breath. Bodean picked up the cat with a tenderness he had never previously shown to any living thing, and they all left the house. I heard the Winnebago roll out of the yard, springs squeaking.

I had been too befuddled to make a sound during all of this and realized too late that I had been left alone to fend for myself. I was coping with a mixture of exhilaration and fear when I heard the motorhome return. Nancy stormed in, apologizing and blaming her oversight on Bodean’s unaccountable haste. I got on her shoulder, and she carried my perch in one hand and a bag of Jungle Munchies in the other, and we went out. She kicked the door closed, and when it failed to latch she just grunted and left it that way.

We headed towards Waco, Texas, to help or be helped by Uncle Luke, who either was or was not expecting us, Bodean couldn’t decide which. It was at this point, as we pulled on to I-81, that I belatedly assumed the role of the voice of reason.

“Woooo-oooop! This is crazy!” I said, clinging to the fabric back of the passenger seat, in which Nancy sat looking out the window, cat in lap.

“Whadaya mean, Crazy? Ha ha!” called Bodean.

“The cat’s a dunce,” I explained. Now, I’m not much of a talker, but when I find a phrase I like, I tend to repeat it. Call it a personality defect. “The cat’s a dunce. The cat’s a dunce. Woooo-oooop!” In my excitement I started tearing at a loose thread in the seat back.

“Banksy is not a dunce!” scolded Nancy, wrenching her neck around to look at me. “And stop picking at that.” She swatted me lightly on the beak, which she only does when she is particularly agitated, being a gentle soul. Bodean has knocked me off my perch once or twice, but a swat from Nancy stings more than anything.

The cat looked up from being jostled, dunce-like in my opinion. “Capillary,” he said.

“What was that?” asked Bodean urgently. “What’d he say?”

“‘Capillary.’ He said ‘capillary’. That’s like a vein.”

“I know what it is. It’s a blood vessel.” He thought for a moment. “Stroke! Poor Uncle Luke had a stroke and he’s lying on the linoleum in his kitchen trying to reach the phone. You see? If we had called he couldn’t pick up anyway.” He leaned into the gas pedal.

“The cat’s a dunce! Woooo-oooop! The cat’s a dunce!”

“Shut your beak!” screamed Bodean. “Will you shut that god-damned feather duster up?”

Nancy put down the cat, stood up, and pressed her wrist into my belly. I hesitated and, without really meaning to, pooped on the seat back. “Tsk,” said Nancy sternly. “C’mon Polly.” I stepped onto her wrist, and she carried me to the tiny bathroom and shut me in.

They hadn’t bothered to clean out the bathroom before leaving, and I shared the space with three crickets, one alive and two desiccated. A moldy washcloth lay on the floor and I took out my frustrations on it. We stopped two or three times, for gas and snacks, I assume. Once Nancy opened the door and offered me her hand, and I bit it. Hell hath no fury… She came back with a little bowl of water and a handful of Jungle Munchies and she shut me in again. I’d never bitten her before and remorse bubbled up, but I tamped it down with a replay of the day’s indignities. And that cat. That imbecile of a cat.

I woke to the motorhome rocking back and forth, and when the engine cut I could tell we were not at a truck stop nor a Quik Mart. It was completely dark, and I heard Bodean and Nancy murmuring as they exited the vehicle. I heard the rattle of a knock on a loose screen door, more anxious murmuring, and the crackle of dry bushes being treated roughly. That idiot Bodean was probably trying to force a window open. Then the creak of a door opening and the distinctive sound of a shotgun being cocked.

“Uncle Luke,” pleaded Bodean amid the sound of more rampant bush destruction.

The voice of a female lifetime-smoker responded, “You and your Uncle Luke best get on out of here, and I mean now.”

“Sorry, ma’am!” said Bodean pathetically.

“Go on then.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They got back in, and we drove for a few minutes before Bodean pulled the rig over by the side of the road. Nancy opened the bathroom door but, beak-shy, did not offer me her hand. She returned to the front of the vehicle where Bodean sat staring at Banksy, who sat staring back.

“The cat’s a dunce,” I said unnecessarily. Bodean just grunted.

“Skeeball,” said Banksy.

This got Bodean to thinking again. “You ever been to Galveston?” he asked Nancy.

“Oh no you don’t. We’re going back home where we belong.”

“But we come all this way.”

To abbreviate, we ended up heading on down to Galveston, Bodean attempting to raise our spirits with talk of sandcastles, skeeball, and saltwater taffy. We arrived around dawn and trudged wearily out to the beach to watch the sun come up. I sat on Nancy’s shoulder, she and I having come to a truce. The salt air was refreshing. Two seagulls circled.

“Fly,” said Banksy.

That got me to thinking hard. Once upon a time, Nancy had clipped my wings to keep me from flying away. But I had shown so little interest in flying after that that when my wings grew back she didn’t bother cutting them again. I was as fully fledged as those seagulls up there (and twice as beautiful). Why not?

“Fly?” asked Bodean.

And so I took off, clumsily, swatting the air with my wings and landing in the sand 20 feet away.

Nancy jumped up. “Polly! What are you doing?”

I took off again, gaining some altitude and reaching the high branches of a palm tree with sad drooping brown leaves. I panted, but looked down in triumph on Nancy and Bodean, their jaws hanging low. Who was the miracle now?

“Woooo-oooop!” I cried.

The cat appeared unmoved. “Golf,” he said.

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