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Bird Calls

By Margaret Hermes
ART TIMES Summer 2016

Christine phoned her son’s house in Scottsdale (the one on which she had lent him the down payment) on a Sunday morning. As they were not a family of churchgoers, she imagined she could trap one or more of them into a little conversation. With the alacrity of someone viewing Caller-ID, Jeff announced an early tennis game and passed the cordless to his wife. Breathless, apparently caught in mid-stride, Hilary apologized but had to continue her dash to Trader Joe’s before the pesky weekend shoppers filled the parking lot. Palm ineffectively muffling the receiver and sounds of a testy mother-daughter exchange, Hilary thrust the phone at teenaged Jordan upon whom it proved incumbent to jump into the shower without delay or she would never be ready in time for something extremely crucial to her present and future happiness. Christine’s granddaughter tossed the phone to middle-schooler Lucas who couldn’t be bothered to produce an excuse and just growled “Wait” as he ordered three-year-old Marlon to say “Hi, Gummy” into the phone. Christine was never certain how she felt about Jordon’s early articulation of Grandma that had stuck, reinforced by her son and daughter-in-law. She talked for several minutes to her youngest grandchild before realizing he had wandered off, probably right after the greeting. She colored to find she’d been speaking to empty air. But not quite empty. Draco, their hyacinth macaw, rewarded her with a “Good girl!” Startled, Christine squawked “Hello, birdie” back. “You want a nut?” Draco asked and then followed up with “Come here!” Christine laughed. The bird laughed too. She remembered the macaw’s favorite game. It had been all her grandchildren’s favorite at one time. “Peek-a-boo,” she said. “Peek-a-boo” she received several times in return.

The following week, she asked to speak to the bird.
(Margaret Hermes’s collection of short fiction, Relative Strangers (Carolina Wren Press), won the Doris Bakwin Book Award and was given a special second place award in the Balcones Fiction Prize competition. One of the stories in that collection first appeared in Art Times. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.)