A glow of the early morning sun coming through the closed screen door of Budgie’s room alerted him to the beginning of a new day. He fluffed his feathers, then cocked his head in various positions, looking over his surroundings rapidly, as birds often do. Sidestepping to the small mirror adjacent to his perch and breaking into conversation with himself, he gradually increased the rapidity and volume of his chatter, peeps and vocalizations. Patient coaching by his owner, currently attempting sleep in the adjacent room, had taught him numerous words which would emerge randomly and repetitively, often at unexpected moments. Budgie wasn’t able to understand that most of his vocabulary consisted of words generally forbidden to humans, at least in polite society, and, like most parakeets, was easily excited by noise and commotion. He liked it, reveled in it, and his sharp little voice could frequently be heard above nearly any din of noise. During the day, he enjoyed the run of the little house, flying from room to room and from window sill to the top of the drapes. True, he could sometimes be coaxed, by tender words and an offered finger perch, to return to the confines of his little room, but just as frequently, he demanded his freedom and would skillfully avoid capture. Only at dusk, as the daylight faded into darkness, would he willingly return to the confines of his converted closet.
John pulled the pillow tighter around his head, trying unsuccessfully to shut out the chatter from the awake Budgie. It was always a matter of time until he gave up, stumbled across to Budgie’s room and, without comment, opened the screen door on the small prison. Before his hand came fully away, Budgie erupted from his confines in a flurry of wings, chattering and drifting feathers of down. On the way past, Budgie skillfully shot a large wet glob of poop between John’s fingers, then flew off, letting go a couple of choice curse words as he gathered speed.
John glared at the bird as it circled the room, stretching out its wings after confinement and exercising its unalienable right to vocalize as much as possible along the way. Budgie was a good companion, smart and willing to learn, but above all, always interesting. John held his hand up to keep the bird-dropping off of the floor and hurried to the sink as it made its way onto his wrist.
“Damn, Budgie. Do you have to always poop when I let you out? Can’t you do it in your own room?” he yelled at the passing bird.
“Damn..damn, squawk,” Budgie answered clearly. He had assumed the highest, safest location in the house…atop the living room drapes. From his favorite perch, he could view the room as its lord and master, and any remote possibility of recapture was lost for the moment. John sighed and started pulling on his clothes. The day ahead was another long day of piano lessons for his students, usually accompanied by their demanding mothers. He sighed again and looked over the interior of the studio which was common to the rear of the house. It was always surprising how cluttered it could become during a busy day.
John set about picking up, dusting and re-ordering the room before any lessons began. He reminded himself to close the door to the rest of the house before any students arrived. Once he had forgotten, and during a lesson, Debra’s mother got up and wandered into the hall adjoining Budgie’s room. John was occupied and didn’t remember that Budgie would have been in full view in his little room. Suddenly Mrs. Creyton hurried back and sat down. John remembered glancing at her face and realizing that she heard more than she was expecting from Budgie. Her face was pink with flush, and from then on, John had kept that particular door closed.
After he was nearly done, he wiped the big black grand piano down, restoring its glossy black shimmer. It was positioned in the center of the room, mostly for show and effect, though leaving little room for anything else. Then he remembered the small restroom. Rushing about, gathering the cleaning agents and disinfectants, he failed to notice Budgie, who had silently flown in and taken up his second favorite perch, the window sill in the studio. When the cleaning was completed, John straightened his tie and adjusted his shirt, glancing around once more, still overlooking the blue and white bird who was attempting to make himself small and quiet…for the moment.
There was a knock on the rear door, and John glanced at his watch before opening it. The first student was right on time, and he opened the door with a smile. Mrs. Potworth was on the other side of the screen, looking her usual impatient best. Jennifer was just behind her mother and was dressed crisply and fashionably as well. It was not whom he had expected, and for a long moment, they eyed each other through the screen.
“Are you going to let us in or not?” she asked.
“Of course,” he stammered, opening the door. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you today.”
“We switched with Lucy and her mother. That’s hopefully acceptable, or should we leave?” Mrs. Potworth stood her ground and wasn’t smiling.
John’s previous experiences with Mrs. Potworth were often strained. She was a woman who dressed fastidiously as well as expensively and the same for her daughter, Jennifer. A child raised and groomed to believe that she was something out of the ordinary was not an ideal student for music. In spite of that, Jennifer was intelligent and quick to learn and could easily master her sessions when she chose to make an effort. Jennifer was not John’s most difficult student, but her mother surely was his most difficult parent.
“Please come in, and we can get started,” he said and moved back. They streamed past, leaving a strong hint of French perfume. Within a few seconds, Jennifer was seated at the piano as her mother positioned herself on the edge of the couch, holding herself away from touching it as much as possible. John glanced at the door separating his home from the studio and satisfied himself that it was closed, and Budgie, wherever he was, would cause no disruption.
John rustled through his notebook, looking for notes as to his student’s progress. “I see you have two pieces assigned,” he noted without looking up. “Jenny, which one would you like to start with?”
“Jennifer,” she corrected using a slightly haughty tone. Her mother silently nodded her agreement.
“Sorry, Jennifer it is,” John submitted. “The waltz?”
“No,” Jennifer stated. “The Brahms.”
“Fine. Play then,” John said and put the music on the stand. He reached for the metronome but was caught by Mrs. Potworth’s comment.
“Jennifer prefers not to use the metronome,” she said from the couch.
The last comment had been one too many humiliations for John, and in spite of himself, he felt his anger start to swell. He restrained himself and simply said, “If you can play it in time, then you may show me.” He knew that she couldn’t and was looking forward to regaining his authority. Jennifer started playing, and John stopped her after the second measure.
“Not exactly correct. Let me show you,” he said and leaned forward to demonstrate the correct timing. As his hand just touched the keyboard, he heard the first clear squawk from the corner of the room, and the realization hit him that Budgie was loose and had occupied the studio as if it were a prize seized by a hoard of Vikings. John had the sinking feeling that this morning was not going to be a happy one. He stretched his neck and peered in the direction of the window. Budgie was looking back, his black unblinking eye focused on John as he squatted, prepared for rapid take off and evasion. Short of a death ray, there was no getting rid of Budgie and once the piano started playing again and Budgie relaxed, a chorus of cursing was sure to follow. And, John’s reputation, as well as his livelihood, was about to be determined by his wayward bird’s vocabulary, all explicitly pronounced as he circled above the fray, dropping four letter bombs as well as poop. It was John’s fault, after all, and he had no other to blame for what was about to happen. A slip of an angry tongue had been picked up by the sharp little recorder of Budgie’s brain. Somehow, the bird could divine really bad words from the ordinary, separating those key moments to memorize and repeat endlessly without regard to whose ears were listening. At first it was funny and unexpected to hear a vulgarism or profanity come out of a little bird, but Budgie didn’t just repeat the word, he spat it out with volume and venom, just as he had heard it the first time. Once the memory is in place, a bird never forgets. They love new words and, obviously, love the attention they command when repeating them. A string of remarkable words is even better than a single word and those extended phrases are saved for unique opportunities…such as this one. It was the perfect alignment of the heavens…an audience, heightened tension in the room, the electricity of piano chords, and from someplace foul, a command from the devil himself. Budgie was on the way to make history.
John’s mind raced while his student and her mother studied his face. They, of course, didn’t know the issue at hand, but they could perceive that something was amiss. A solution dawned on John, in fact the only solution possible.
“Jennifer, please get up; I want to play a piece for you,” he said while standing and leaning forward, obviously obsessed with some urgency. Jennifer obliged and moved to sit with her mother. Just as John’s hands touched the keyboard, Budgie took flight. John’s idea was to play so loudly, produce so much volume of sound, that the bird’s foul language could not be clearly perceived. The plan was well conceived and well executed but ran afoul of Budgie’s ability to fly close and squawk with even more volume than before. Budgie was excited, liberated, even encouraged. The louder he cursed, the more volume came from the piano and the faster and lower he flew. To Budgie, it was all connected, intermeshed, as it should be. John tossed a glance at the two perched on the couch and noted their startled expression and that their hands were pressed against their ears. It was working, the bird was being overwhelmed. Still…how could he stop playing? It was the one part of his plan that had no clear resolution.
The little drama continued, seemingly without end, Mrs. Potworth and Jennifer dodging the swooping bird while holding their ears and the demonic pianist pounding away with increasing ferocity. At last, a knock, or rather a hammering, on the back door could be heard above all. Immediately, Jennifer and her mother rushed toward it, thankful and grateful that rescue had come at last and just in the nick of time. Mrs. Potworth snatched the door open, her daughter in tow and still holding one ear, rushed past the next student, beating a hasty retreat toward their waiting Cadillac.
Young, stocky, and perpetually sweating Luthor entered and slammed the door behind him.