For Helen and her feathered friend
As she left her apartment for work on Friday morning, Catherine met a neighbor who was out earlier than usual for an appointment. Mrs. Talbot was a spry, elderly woman who lived in an apartment down the hall from Catherineís, someone Catherine always enjoyed chatting with when their paths crossed. They talked in the elevator on the way to the lobby; and, just before they parted ways, Mrs. Talbot turned to Catherine with an unusual request.
"Cathy, I know this is presumptuous of me, but I need a favor. Iíll understand if you want to say no."
"What is it?" Catherine asked.
"Iím going to be away for the weekend, and the friends I would usually call will be on the trip with me. I have a parrot, and I donít like to leave him alone."
"And youíd like me to keep him?"
"Do you suppose you could? I hate to ask; but my family has moved away from the city, and I canít think of anyone to call. Iíll be back on Sunday afternoon."
"Well, you chose the right weekend," Catherine answered, relieved that the favor didnít involve getting a relative out of a legal mess. "I have no plans at all at the moment. Just be sure to leave me some instructions. I donít know much about parrots."
"Thank you so much, dear," Mrs. Talbot answered, resting one hand appreciatively on Catherineís arm. "Knowing Paris will be in good hands, I feel better already."
Mrs. Talbot smiled. "We bought him after returning from a romantic trip to France. It seemed an appropriate name at the time. After Douglas died, I brought him with me when I moved here from our last house."
"Then Iíll be doubly careful with him," Catherine answered and gave her neighbor a hug.
She laughed inwardly at herself, smiling as she waved to Mrs. Talbot and hailed a cab. What does one do with a parrot as a weekend guest? She would find out before long.
Arriving at her apartment after work, Catherine was looking at a lonely weekend because Vincent had told her he wouldnít be able to see her until Sunday night. He had been with a work crew most of the week, and she hadnít seen him since the previous weekend. Maybe parrot sitting wouldnít be so bad. It should be an interesting distraction. She ate a light take-out dinner that she picked up on her way home and was about to settle down with a book when the phone rang.
A brief phone conversation was all that was needed to make arrangements, and around eight oíclock Catherineís neighbor appeared at her door with a tall wooden perch and a sleek, wary looking green parrot in a large cage.
Catherine was given instructions on the care and feeding of parrots and the phone number for a veterinarian. Mrs. Talbot looked self-conscious as she handed over the vetís number. "You must think Iím a foolish old woman, but itís only Paris and me now. Itís sort of like worrying about your child."
Catherine smiled. "Donít worry. Iíll call the vet if Iím worried about anything."
During their conversation, Paris had squawked and repeated several words with the sound typical of a talking bird, and Catherine had already begun to wonder if that would go on all weekend.
Mrs. Talbot stopped at the cage and said good-bye to the bird, ending with "I love my boy."
Paris, in a very different voice, answered. "I love you, Rosie."
Seeing the look of amazement on Catherineís face, Mrs. Talbot smiled. "Sometimes he says a few things Douglas used to say, and it sounds so much like Douglas that I almost expect to turn and see him standing there. Iím so accustomed to it that I hardly think about it anymore. I suppose it could be a little disconcerting."
"Iím glad I knew that before Paris and I were alone. Itís amazing how human he sounds," Catherine laughed as she walked her neighbor to the door and gave her a warm hug. "Enjoy your trip. Weíll be fine."
After locking the door, she went to the cage and talked to the bird, hoping it might say something again, preferably sounding more like a parrot; but it only watched her suspiciously and moved back and forth on its perch. She finally gave up and sat down with the book she had started earlier in the evening. Later, as she moved about the apartment, she talked to Paris and once gave him a little treat. When she said "Goodnight," she finally heard a very parrot like squawk followed by "Goodnight" in return. She smiled broadly, covered the cage and went to bed.
During her chores on Saturday, Paris entertained Catherine with his noises and ceaseless investigations of her apartment, finally settling down after nightfall and voluntarily going back to his cage when Catherine encouraged it. He entertained himself relatively quietly with some of the things Mrs. Talbot had left for him; and by eleven oíclock, when she heard a familiar tapping sound at the bedroom door, Catherine had almost forgotten he was there. She hurried to the door, opened it quickly and threw herself uninhibitedly into Vincentís waiting arms.
"Iím so glad to see you," she declared, nuzzling into his chest.
"You hid it well," Vincent teased, recovering his balance after the welcome assault, and pulled her closer.
"I didnít expect to see you until tomorrow night. Did you finish the repairs early?" she asked, looking up at him.
"Yes. We were much more efficient than we thought."
Suddenly a good-natured and very human sounding male voice from the apartment called out. "Hurry up, girl. Where are you?!"
Vincent quickly moved back away from the door. "Iím sorry, Catherine. I didnít know you had a guest. I sensed no one elseís presence.
"Itís okay. Thereís no one else here. It startled me, too, though."
"But, I heardÖ"
"Paris?" Vincent asked, not feeling sure he could relax yet.
"Paris. Heís a parrot."
"But the voice I heardÖ"
"Paris. Would you like to meet him?"
"A real parrot?"
"Have you seen one up close?"
"No. We donít have many visiting in the tunnels," he smiled, relaxing a little bit.
"I donít think I should bring him out here. Youíll have to come in."
Catherine could see Vincent weighing and balancing the idea of entering her apartment. She could also see his curiosity at war with his usual reticence.
"Come in," she encouraged. "When are you likely to have this opportunity again?"
"Where is he?" Vincent asked as his curiosity finally won and he entered the door.
"In the living room," Catherine answered and led him in that direction.
Vincent stood in front of the cage with a look of fascination. He had seen birds in the park, but never one this colorful or one that could talk - and with the sound of a human voice.
Paris watched Vincent carefully, as did Catherine. She could almost see his mind reviewing everything he had read about such birds and comparing his impressions with the evidence before his eyes. It was almost like watching a child encounter snow for the first time. The exuberance of a new experience for him provided her a similar sense of joy, and she watched him contentlyÖenjoying the sight of him, the pleasure of having him in her home, and the look on his face.
Responding to her diverse feelings of enjoyment, he turned to her, looking a little sheepish. "I suppose I look foolishÖat my ageÖto be so captivated by what to you must be a common sight."
"I enjoy that you feel comfortable enough with me to let me see thatÖand that I can give you some of the things that are new to you. Watching you makes me see things from a new perspective. You donít look foolish at all. You look wonderful. Iíve missed you this week."
"You make me feelÖas if I am like any other man. You make me feelÖvery muchÖloved."
"You are." She reached up to touch his cheek, and he covered her hand with his, holding it against his face as she spoke to him. "I love having you here in my living room. I love looking at you."
"And I love you, Catherine. I should have said that long ago."
"I knew," she answered and wrapped her arms around his waist.
She looked up and put a finger to his lips to stop him.
"Iíve heard it now," she smiled, "and it was a beautiful sound. Donít keep it to yourself from now on."
Vincent started to answer but was interrupted by a squawk from a parrot who seemed to be feeling left out. He and Catherine both laughed and turned toward the green, feathered mood breaker.
Catherine moved away from Vincent, reached into the cage and coaxed Paris to perch on her wrist. She brought him out carefully and was amused as Vincent and the parrot thoughtfully judged one another. After giving them time to size each other up, she held her arm out, offering to let Vincent hold him. He held his hand out, and the bird edged toward him tentatively; and after Vincent talked to him quietly, Paris eventually moved to the new wrist.
Catherine laughed softly as Vincent looked at her with the smile she was rarely treated toÖthe one where the tips of all four canines peeked outÖand watched him drop gracefully to the floor to sit cross-legged as he watched his new charge move back and forth on his wrist and hand as if it were a perch. Catherine took a toy from the cage, picked up some of the treats Mrs. Talbot had left for Paris and plopped herself down on the floor beside Vincent. They alternately talked and played with Paris or watched his antics as he explored the floor of Catherineís apartment, squawking now and then or saying a few words, investigating the furniture legs or the paraphernalia around the fireplace, etc.
When they realized that it was close to two in the morning, Catherine put Paris back in his cage and sat with Vincent until he had to leave.
"Can you come Below for a while tomorrow?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Not until tomorrow evening. Mrs. Talbot wonít be back until tomorrow afternoon, but Iíll be there as soon as I can."
"Iíll meet you at your threshold, then," he answered, rising from his place on the floor and reaching for his cloak.
"Say it again before you go."
Immediately understanding what she meant, Vincent reached out, pulled her to him and rested his cheek on the top of her head. "I love you, Catherine."
"Say it again," she insisted, her face resting against his chest and her arms around his waist.
Holding her upper arms, he moved her far enough away from him to look directly at her, and he repeated with great love and conviction, "I love you, Catherine."
There was no more need for words. The right ones had been said. They shared a close embrace, and Catherine walked Vincent to the balcony where they reluctantly parted.
Before going to bed, Catherine stopped in front of the large cage. "Thank you Paris. You accomplished what I hadnít been able to. You got him inside." She then covered the cage and went to bed.
Mrs. Talbot called about 4:30 the next afternoon to say she would be at Catherineís door in a few minutes, but Catherine insisted on taking Paris home herself Ė partly to save her neighbor a few steps and partly to assure that she would be able to see Vincent again as soon as possible. She stayed for a few minutes to chat and help Mrs. Talbot settle the parrot and his accoutrements back into his home. As she approached the door, about to leave, they were startled by a very male sound saying, "I love you Catherine." Ė with great sincerityÖin Vincentís voice.
"He sounds like someone you should hold on to, dear," Mrs. Talbot teased.
"Itís just words, Mrs. Talbot. He must have heard them on television while I was busy."
"Nonsense, Cathy. Your eyes tell a different story. I hope I can meet him sometime. Iíd love to place a face to that voice. It makes even my old heart flutter."
Catherine looked down, not quite sure how to answer.
"Donít worry, young lady. I know how to keep secrets," Mrs. Talbot told her. "When Douglas and I were dating, we had to hide it, too. My family was quite wealthy and his was the opposite. We had a small circle of friends at the college where we met who helped us find ways to spend time together. After we graduated and Douglas had a good job, we approached my family about marriage; but they refused a weddingÖso we eloped. After a while they grudgingly accepted him, and they later earned to respect him; and eventually they called him family when they saw how lovingly he helped take care of my father when he was terminally ill." She reached out and took one of Catherineís hands in hers, patting it as she spoke. "Love will win against all odds if youíre determined. I wonít ask why you donít want anyone to know, but your secret is safe with me."
Catherine knew defeat when she faced it. There would be no fooling Mrs. Talbot, but it seemed that there was no danger in that. She simply gave her neighbor a big, appreciative hug and turned again to the door.
There was the sound of Vincentís voice again. "I love you, Catherine."
Mrs. Talbot laughed. "If anyone asks, Iíll tell your television storyÖand say that I canít remember the name of the movie."
Catherine gave her a grateful smile before escaping into the hall, feeling that she had just been reprieved from a very close call. As she walked to her apartment to pick up a jacket to take Below, she was thinking that she might have to offer to parrot sit again the next time Vincent was on one of those week long work details.