Photo by Hans Splinter

My phone rang early in the morning, waking me up to the sound of the coroner on the other end explaining Al Johnson was dead in the second story bathroom and Mr. Johnson’s family was ready for us to come and get him.  It was one of those calls that was close enough to breakfast time that I had to stop and think, “Do I grab some breakfast now, or do I wait until I get back from the house removal?”  I forget what I did that morning.  I probably went with the easy option of a breakfast bar instead of my normal protein and banana shake.

I called Nathan, the funeral home’s apprentice, who always sleeps right by his cell phone.  “Hello,” he said before the phone even rang.  His voice was groggy like mine had been only a few minutes before when the county coroner had called me and woke me up from sleep.  “We have a house call and I’m going to need your help.  Second floor.  The coroner says it’s going to be a tough one.  So eat your Wheaties”, I joked, something that isn’t always a great idea at 5 AM in the morning.

A few minutes later I was dressed and driving over to the funeral with a breakfast bar in my mouth.

Nathan and I arrived at Al’s house to find some EMT vehicles and the coroner’s Suburban.  We parked as close to the back door as possible so as to make our removal as short as possible.  We knocked on the door and we heard a voice, very loud and very clearly say, “Come in.”  It was an odd voice, not entirely normal but human enough that we opened the door.  We were quickly greeted by Al’s widow Liz who came to us with arms open for some hugs.  I embraced her, she started crying and in between the sobs, Liz told us how she found Al in the bathroom early this morning.  “He’d be saying he was tired lately, but I figured it was just this hot weather that was wearing him down” she recalled.

Liz pointed upstairs and just as she did I heard that same weird, humanlike voice from the other room say, “I’m hungry.  Feed me.”  Liz didn’t comment on the voice so I poked my head around the corner and saw a parrot.  He looked at me and repeated, “I’m hungry.  Feed me.”

“I think your bird’s hungry,” I said in jest to Liz.

“My bird?  No, no.  That’s Al’s bird.”

Some of the EMT crew followed us upstairs because they knew that getting Al downstairs wouldn’t be easy.  As we were going up, the Parrot kept saying, “Hey, girl.  Whatcha doing?”  It repeated that phrase at least a dozen times every time it heard us doing something upstairs.

When we pulled Al off the toilet, it was followed by “hey girl, whatcha doing?”

When we slide his body to the stretcher.  “Hey girl, whatcha doing.”

And on, and on, and on until we got Al out of the house and into our van.

It was weird for Nathan and me, but for Liz and the family and friends that were at the house, this talkative Parrot seemed a normal part of their life.

Nathan and I came back in, grabbed some paper towels and Clorox spray, cleaned Al’s blood up from where he bumped his head on the sink, gave the widow a hug and that was the end of the story.  Al was eventually cremated.

That story happened a couple years ago and it has stuck in my mind because of the Parrot.  That was the first and only time there’s been a talkative Parrot involved in a house removal.

Today, we had a prearrangement appointment at the funeral home.  I didn’t make the appointment and I didn’t know who was coming in.  One o’clock came along, the doorbell rang and my dad yelled, “Caleb!  I’m on the phone.  Can you get the front door?”  I walked down the steps from my office and there was Liz standing at the front door waiting for me to let her in.

“Hey, Caleb!” she said as she gave me a hug.  It took me a minute, but my mind started to piece everything back together.  I remembered the call.  I remembered Al on the second floor.  And I remembered that Parrot.

I sat her down and we started chatting while we waited for my dad to finish his phone conversation.  Dad was the one who was going to make the prearrangements with Liz.

“How are you?” I started out.

“Good!  Do you have any whiskey?” she asked.  “No,” I said, “but do you need some?”

“Oh, my.  I could use some.  This whole thing of prearranging my funeral has all my memories of Al coming back to me.”

We talked about Al for a minute or two and then I brought up the bird.

“Oh, God.  She said.  I love and hate that damn bird.  That bird was Al’s for 15 years.  He got it after he retired.  That thing came to mimic all of his sayings.  Everything like, ‘Can you turn the TV on, honey?’  ‘I’m hungry, feed me’ (which Al said as a joke), ‘Come in’.  The bird even knows the right context for its sayings.  Like if I’m upstair working on something, Al would say, ‘hey girl, whatcha doing?'”

“I hated that damn bird for 15 years, but now it sounds like Al, it talks like Al and it’s a daily reminder of Al.  Al’s soul is in that damned bird” she joked.  “As much as I’ll enjoy the peace and quiet when it dies, I dread that day.”

A minute later, my dad walked in, the conversation changed and I walked out of the room.

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