top of page

CIARA ALFARO

Ciara Alfaro is a Chicana writer, romantic, and descendant of magicians from Lubbock, Texas. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southeast Review, Passages North, Mid-American Review, Swamp Pink, Best American Essays, and more. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a BA from Colgate University.




THE SADDEST BARBARA WALTERS PARROT IN THE WORLD

—after Gabriel García Márquez


The south street parrot’s name was Pepito. He had blue-yellow feathers, a violent beak, and deep lagoon eyes. When tourists passed him, they let themselves think he was a toy. Then they saw his feathers had no fakeness to them and they thought he was taxidermy. But when they finally crossed the street, walked closer, beat the window-shine glare, they realized they had been mistaken. It was only after the bird opened his mouth and left the tourists flinching back tears that they saw he was a bastard.

To locals, Pepito was known for sitting outside the southside butcher shop, calling phrases I won’t even entertain memorializing. Sometimes, he handed out compliments. Each morning, as Melinda walked the hot path to mass, Pepito honked across the street that her thang was thangin’. Or, that Princess’s hands were so nice, they could wrap him up all night and squeeze him until he purred and screamed and cursed and [redacted]. Those types of compliments.

The neighborhood was set to the taste of oranges. The smell of meat gave the air a tangy punch which settled between pedestrians’ lips and gums, turning into a hiss that bit beneath their tongues. The people of the neighborhood were unsure if they enjoyed this smell or if it reminded them of their childhoods, licking pennies and biting bulbs of fresh dreams. But what remained true was that, at all hours, Pepito sat perched in front of the meat shop, gnawing on Tootsie Roll-sized cigars, quivering with rage as he discriminated against the day.


He enjoyed barking. Some days it was the ring of a Chihuahua, others the dull bell of a Doberman. Pepito’s voice, unmistakably, was the voice of Barbara Walters. It was a voice that leaked into neighborhood folks’ dreams, shooting them awake in the night. When Pepito wolf whistled, it sounded like the sound barrier breaking. His noises had a way of running down the street, tagging the brick mural wall at the bottom of the block, and bouncing right back again.

The neighborhood folks lived terrified of the bird because he knew every one of their secrets. And worse: he was hellbent on releasing them. The bird’s vendetta against humans was simple. Humans would not stop being idiots. They would never stop having those big tongues and they would never use them to say what they mean. Once, just before Christmas, Pepito told Saul Hernandez’s wife that he’d been cheating on her in the back alley of their apartment. It had been going on for sixteen months.

In the alley? Really? Lucille Hernandez said, stone faced, rolling her eyes. She did not believe the devil bird. Saul was her prom date twenty years back, her Cuddle Bear, her history and her future. How would sex in the alley even work?

Pepito narrowed one lagoon eye.

The Chevy, Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said. Just in time for Pilates.

Lucille Hernandez clasped a quick hand to her mouth. She had felt guilty about the twenty-thousand-dollar Pilates package. They couldn’t afford it; she was only a bank teller. But her husband insisted—take the class, take extra even. They would put it on the card. They would figure it out. Together; get out of the house for several hours each week and we will figure it out together, he’d said. She thought it was an act of love, this gesture, but now she felt that the love was pointed in the wrong direction.

Such as, in the direction of their alley.

Lucille Hernandez knew the evil bird was true. By the time her mouth emerged from under her hand—her lipstick smudged, teeth shivering, pulse hurting—she was back to Lucille Barry.


Pepito’s tiny cigars had been made by his keeper, the man who put him up but staked no claim to the bastard bird. He was a city butcher named Jacques. Jacques had inherited the bird when he was given his dead neighbor’s meat shop, El Pollo Burned. Pepito came with the property because he had been there first. Jacques had offered him ways to leave—promises of blue coral beaches; swollen papaya gardens; tropical, practically oppressive heat. He would have given the bird anything, even a first class million-dollar ticket, if he could just keep the butcher shop in silent peace.

Hearing the offer, Pepito spit on Jacques. He nicknamed him Butch Colonizer, then cursed his entire family line, and the one before that, and the one before that. The devil bird started greeting shop patrons with the slogan, Welcome to Butch Colonizer’s Meat Slinging Paradise!

When this did not warn tourists off, he added, Where botulism comes free!

El Pollo Burned was in the jaws of death. To make Pepito more palatable, Jacques set out to transform the bird into the best version of himself. He hit all the movie montage beats. He bathed him in the porcelain tub. He cut small cucumber circles for the bird’s Spa Sundays. He groveled, spending long evenings after longer shifts rolling those bird-sized tobacco sleeves. He even forced the bird to the exotic animal vet 92 blocks from their neighborhood, claws digging into his neck the entire walk because Pepito did not do trains.

How long does he have left? Jacques asked the doctor, refolding his damp cuff sleeve several times over.

Another twenty years, the doctor said, wincing. At least.


The real problem with Pepito, the problem that he had never told anyone and never would, was that he’d been in love for thirty years, and his dearest had never once shown him any love back. She was all that he was not. She was big-boned where he was petite. She had dark pear-shaped eyes and dense, perfectly laid feathers. Unlike Pepito, his love did not sleep nor need foolish novelties like food or water; she did not move or blink or honk or yap every stupid thought that entered her mind. She was mysterious in her elegance. She was distingué. At the center of her face, her beak sat as a perfect talon, small and poised and plastic.

What I mean to tell you is that Pepito was in love with a garden ornament.

And had he not been so brave and cruel, had Pepito just mentioned his love to Jacques or anyone in the neighborhood, they might have placed him a yellow cab, handed a fabric-worn twenty to the driver, and sent the vehicle to the Snapp Park Zoo. They might have taught the bird to read so that he could follow the zoo signs as he walked tiny, crossing strollers and sandals. And under that big sign that read Owls, he could have seen that his love had come to life: eyes bright, golden, wide as a spotlight, finding their way to his sharp face.

Maybe, just maybe, Pepito could have been happy.


Instead, the bird knew only his reality, and his reality was this: the man who came before Butch Colonizer was a skinny Joe called Machete. Machete spent his mornings with Whitney, nights with P!nk, and all the moments in between at the radio’s mercy. He was a Black man who loved pop music more than anyone has ever loved pop music before. Because of that, Machete was treasured deeply and personally throughout the neighborhood. He wore black boot-chest waders to the shop and called, Heeeeeey! to every customer entering the store.

His death was an accidental drowning. Drunk jeans caught on the midnight ocean flooring. Though the rest of the world was crestfallen, Pepito was not particularly sad to see Machete go.

Somehow, though, Butch Colonizer was even more unendurable than Machete. Butch was desperate—for customers, for money. There was no more music in the meat shop, just the grunts of a French man who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He was new to the meat trade and Pepito had not one idea why he was here. The first two days, he stained his trousers with the shit-smelling rotisserie chicken solution. He had never heard the term rump and loin. When customers asked the man for their usual cuts, the ones Machete knew in his blood, he merely blinked at them and recited, Chuck, rib, loin, round, flank. Plate, brisket, shank?

At night, the sad pathetic man emerged from behind the counter stained red and pink in the face. It was an unnatural amount of stain that left him glowing in the shadowed dark like a bad lobster. Pepito watched him lock up the shop and walk the ten steps next door, where the man lived. He would not come back out until the next day. As far as the bird could tell, the man ate meat and only spoke to the people who entered the meat shop, which were becoming fewer and fewer. When he passed, Pepito yelled at him: Friendless loser, you’re a friendless loser!

Though he would never admit to it, the man’s existence depressed Pepito. He felt pain for the customers having to deal with the idiot. Machete was a carnivorous artist; Butch was a hack. The man was making Pepito feel emotions towards humans he had never felt before.

What he knew, above all other instincts, was that Butch Colonizer Jacques had to go.


Friendless loser, the devil bird recited to Jacques every night. But there was still one secret Pepito did not know. The secret was a ruby Jacques held his chest every night as he laid in bed, protecting it from the bird dictator.

Jacques and the man named Machete had been involved. No, not in love; not entangled or lustcrushed or cherry-red-hearted, no. Involved was how Jacques preferred to put it, just as any two people might be. They’d met shortly after Jacques moved in next door. This was back when he thought the parrot was annoying, but unthreatening. Jacques remembers his own face then: sweet, like a man who has seen just enough to believe the world will never run out of new goodnesses to give. (His face did not hold this quality any longer.)

The third night in his new apartment, after the butcher man had returned to his loft and the bird had turned his attention toward the night, Jacques pulled open his bedroom window to let in the September air. Through the frame, at the same moment, Machete pulled open his window, too. The men stood there, windows open, staring at each other. Machete’s face was scratched up, but surprised; Jacques’ was smooth and awakened. Jacques always thought Machete was too harsh a name for the man—obvious, yet incorrect. The name did not capture the streetlamp twinkle in the man’s eyes, the way he drank tea and never coffee.

Their buildings were close enough together that, even standing in their own rooms, the men were practically kissing. This made slipping between apartments without the bastard bird ever knowing simple. Jacques would silently stick one foot out his window, place it firm on the ledge of Machete’s, and pull his body across the long steep divide, flying for a mere moment—the ground an impossible thought below him—feeling invincible in love, er, involvement, before landing in the arms of his involved. This was before Machete drowned, before Jacques inherited his butcher shop and worked tirelessly every day to resurrect the man in his slices and movements. The men performed this trick every night, falling asleep intertwined, soft hearts pressed together.

All the while, the demon bird sat distracted—staring through the night at the woman-bird who would never look his way back.


It was through this same window that Pepito planned his entrance. After the heavy blanket of night pulled over the city and illuminated everything in dimness, Pepito opened his wings and flew two stories up. He landed silently at the man’s window, pressing his small face against the glass. The window did not budge, as it was sealed shut. There was a cold snap and Jacques did not open his window much these days. What Pepito needed was a work around to enter the building; another trick, another maneuver.

But there was no work around because Pepito was a bird.

Instead, he knocked. Jacques the Butch Colonizer woke to the sound of an evil beak tapping against his window pane. He rolled out of bed and over to the sound, scrubbing the night out of his eyes. He wrapped his cut-kissed fingers around the window latches, pulling them open.

A brush of cold air pressed into his room. What do you want, he said to the bird.

I have come to kill you, the bird said.

Jacques stared at him. The bird seemed to be serious. But before Jacques could say anything else, could even exhale a syllable, Pepito flew at his face, talons out, beak open, blood hungry, wings flapping and flapping, flushing air into Jacques’ ears as he fought for his life. Loose feathers flew. The big man fell backwards, tripping over a chair. He tossed the bird overhead as he went down, body slamming the parrot against the floor. They both rose, panting. The bird opened his wings wide. Jacques held a lava lamp between them, pointing it at the devil bird’s neck.

What the fuck, Jacques said.

But the bird was distracted. Machete? he said, staring at the familiar boot-chest waders, laid down in Jacques’ bed.

Jacques’ eyes flickered, then hardened. That’s nothing, he said.

The bird was evil, but he was no idiot. Seeing those empty waders—bodiless, flattened like drained skin, no Machete in breath or sound or sight—Pepito decided that maybe the stupid man was more interesting than he had thought.

The men caught their breath in front of the window. They sat still with the night air, watching through the frame Machete’s empty apartment remain empty.

After a while that way, Jacques asked the bird why he wanted him dead.

Because I hate you, the bird said.

Jacques thought about that. He decided it made sense for the little bird.

Finally, he said, Just go talk to them.

Go talk to who?

Whoever has you so bent out of shape, Jacques said.

Pepito puffed his feathers. Go talk your ass in the mirror, he said.

What does that even mean? I’m trying to help you.

I’m trying to help you, the bird parroted in his dumb voice.

Jacques sighed. You must be so miserable because you love someone, yeah?

The bird said nothing. He pushed his face out into the night. The moonlight lit his profile with a silver glow. His body had begun shaking.

All I’m saying is that you can live your life like Machete, or you can live your life like me, Jacques said. There was regret in his tone. Machete was scared of nothing, of no man and certainly not love or what he wanted. And he got it in the end, Pepito. He got it.

He got it, the bird said. He got it. He got it.

Okay, shut up. Go talk to them. Or don’t. By this hour in the night, Jacques’ voice had taken to quivering with the wind. He wished to be left alone. Just go.


In the morning when Butch Colonizer Jacques awoke, after he hung Machete’s waders up in his closet for the day, he swore the neighborhood glowed brighter. Pepito had flown across the street to the fence where the garden gnome owl lived. He had asked his love for her name, and she said nothing, so he called her Nothing. When Pepito asked Nothing if he could stay, if she knew she had a face he would be lucky to wake up to every day, she kept her gaze transfixed forward—right to the spot where he used to perch. He finally understood: his whole time behind her still eyes, she had been watching him, too.

The bastard bird’s hatred smothered dead, a hot ember stomped below a drowned man’s ocean floor shoe. And with Pepito across the street preoccupied, the people of the neighborhood—Saul and Lucille and Melinda and Princess and the tourists and the locals and even Machete’s ghost—came back outside, unafraid, ready to meet the new butcher and teach him their cuts. There was no longer a terror bouncing through the streets or the voice of Barbara Walters in their dreams. There was dancing and partying from the people; they came outside by the fistfuls, holding marigolds and love letters, no longer afraid of the evil little bird exposing them. The people of the neighborhood let the bird continue living with his love, wrapping his blue-green wings around her weathered plastic body, holding her tight, and they never once made fun of him for it. Because they also knew that their lives would never be the same—that their walks down First Place would be silent, uneventful, and sedate, as Pepito had infected them with a kind of trauma and bravery, an awareness of being seen and interacted with by the world that left them hungry for more drama, more alleyways, more running down the road to tag the wall just to feel their hearts racing the way the bird used to make them do, because they all had to keep searching for meaning in every corner of the world with or without the bird, and without his watchful eye, secrets came to live again near the southside butcher shop, tucked into the pockets of patrons and trims of meat alike, waiting, just waiting, to be sliced into. 






Kommentare

Kommentare konnten nicht geladen werden
Es gab ein technisches Problem. Verbinde dich erneut oder aktualisiere die Seite.
bottom of page