Thursday 18 April 2024

Leo by Andrea Marcusa, hot chocolate

Home alone I hear a funny noise and my cockatiel, Leo, fluffs her yellow feathers, pecks at her tail, hops on my finger and says, “No one’s going to break into the house because criminals don’t like Northeasters and it’s raining cats and dogs.”

According to Leo, there’s no way there would be time to tie my bedsheets together during a housefire so I should save up my allowance and buy a 20-ft rope ladder from Amazon.

When I bring home a helium balloon from a birthday party, Leo tells me popping a balloon is bad luck and instead to let it deflate over time then cut it with scissors and toss. My mother wants to dump it as soon as it arrives. “Why save that thing. It’ll never look as good as it does now.” But I refuse, telling her Leo wants me to save it.

Plus, Leo says don’t believe or do everything everyone tells me, even my mom. “She’s the queen of data-free analysis.  Believe me I know.”

Last month she said that broccoli won’t make your hair curl and there’s no way when I cross my eyes that they will stay that way.  

Yesterday she whispered that my mom’s friend Barbara who texts and calls constantly is really a man called Bill.  “You know that sales conference you mom went to last month and you had to have mean Ms. Quizzard stay with us? That was the two of them going upstate for a weekend at a B&B.

One morning before school, Leo hops onto my shoulder, leans out, takes a poop, it lands on the floor and as I scoop it up, she says, “It’s okay to pretend to be sick and skip school.  It’s Hitchcock week on TMC.”

“I can’t Leo.  I have a math test today.”

“Don’t be such a lapdog. Those pathetic canines drive me crazy the way they’re always looking for a pat on the head and waiting outside their human’s closed bathroom door. It’s degrading.”

Mom’s already left for the office, so I stay in my P.J.s and flop on the couch with Leo on my shoulder.

While we’re watching Vertigo, Leo tells me when Jimmy Stewart runs up the Mission Church bell tower, that religion is for the birds. “Man created religion. Why would God want a bunch of men in robes acting important when birds run the world?”

That same day she tells me that Santa Claus is fake news. But I sort of already knew this. 

Then she says, “Metaphorically speaking, you need to make some friends. You can’t hang out with me forever and become one of those crazy ladies with birds.”

I can’t believe she’s said this. I thought Leo was my pal. Usually, she’s a lot nicer than the kids at school so I forgive her.

After Vertigo, we watch Rear Window, and when it’s over, Leo suggests making chocolate chip cookies. “I’m not supposed to use the stove or oven when mom is at work.” I tell her.

Leo gives me her one-sided, side eye and says, “It bakes at 350; it’s not like you’re using the broiler.”

I take out flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, eggs and chocolate chips and make the batter, pushing the spoon into my mouth as many times as I feel like. Leo doesn’t seem to care.

I pop them in the oven, clean up so there’s no mess for Mom to find when she gets home and then settle down with Leo to watch Netflix’s Botched about failed plastic surgeries. Leo loves commenting on terrible nose jobs.

“How can Dr. Nassif call that man’s hook nose a beak! He should lose his license!” She squawks.

I don’t think of the cookies again until smoke fills the den.

“Leo, why didn’t you remind me?”

But Leo remains quiet, busying herself with her tail feathers. I dump the burned cookies in the trash, open the front and back doors to the condo to clear out the smoke before Mom returns from work and then run upstairs for a sweater because it’s cold.

When I return, I can’t find Leo. I check the living room, the bathroom where she usually rests on the shower fixture. I race to the yard calling “LEO!” I pedal my bike around the neighborhood calling and calling. But she’s nowhere. I post on lost pet internet message boards, and tape paper fliers on telephone poles. I leave seeds on our front porch and pray each night for her return because it’s okay to pray to a being (bird or otherwise) even if religion is manmade.

How could Leo have left? I thought she liked living in my house. Enjoyed the treats of toast corners and bits of banana I always saved for her.

I thought she liked me.

When I arrive home from school each day, I keep thinking I’ll see her in the house flying about or hear her chirping.  But it’s dead quiet now.  Watching TV isn’t even fun when she’s not here. I find myself looking forward to school because there I don’t think about Leo being gone. And there are kids to talk to. They all felt bad for me, made a card with a drawing of a bird and every kid in the class signed it. One girl, Amanda, told me about losing her cat Skunky last year. She now saves me a seat at her lunch table and today she gave me half of her red velvet cupcake

A week after Leo’s disappearance, my mother finally realizes that my bird is gone.

“She flew away.  I tried to stop her, but she just flew took off out the back door.” I fib a bit, so she won’t get mad. Leo always said that a fib isn’t the same as a lie.

My mother frowns, sighs and says, “We can get another bird.”

But I shake my head, no. I’m old enough to understand that Leo wasn’t just any bird. Instead, I turn on Netflix to watch the episode of Botched where Dr. N. calls the man’s hook nose a beak. Mom joins me on the couch, something she rarely does.

When we reach section about the man with the hook nose, I say, “He can’t be much of a doctor. That man’s nose is nothing like a bird’s beak.”

My mother laughs. Another odd occurrence.

Then I add, “I think he should lose his license.” 

About the author 

Andrea Marcusa's writings have appeared in Gettysburg Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Citron Review, and others. She’s received recognition in the competitions Smokelong, Cleaver, Raleigh Review, New Letters and Southampton Review. 

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