Updated: Nov 9
The slick alley pavement suddenly felt cold under my paws. Slowly I turned and there, perched on a rotting wooden box, was the Cat. Its eyes were both cold and blazing hot in there dim light of the alley.Fortunately I was between it and the gun, but unfortunately it was between me and escape. And now it knew I knew about the gun. It looked at me with the unblinking eyes of a nip-head, but there was something else, a calm appraisal. Like it was judging me. Judging me! The not addicted, the no gun hiding, the not soft-pawed sneak who had nothing to hide! We stood there, Dog and Cat, frozen, watching each other. On the street beyond the alley a car horn blared. In the distance a baby wailed. And somewhere within a 2.3 block radius someone was cooking bacon.
Then, suddenly, a fluttering flash of blue and yellow, and before I could react there was a Parrot standing on my head.
I had seen parrots before. There was one a couple cells down from me when I was in rescue jail. I didn’t know exactly why he’d been locked up, but if it was for talking he was going to be there a long time. He would not shut up - always asking for crackers, crackers, crackers, then squawking “I could told you to not buy crypto!” whatever that means. So I know parrots.
The Parrot on my head, however, was quiet. Too quiet. I could feel the razor-edge of its claws tightly gripping, like my skull was the last squeaky toy on a lonely earth. But the Parrot was silent. And it was shaking, shaking bad. “Great.” I thought. “Another crackerhead,” like that poor soul in the jail. But this felt different. This parrot wasn’t chattering about its next hit. It was scared.
The Cat dipped its head in a nod, and the Parrot released my head and made its way down my neck, onto my back, and then hopped onto the pavement. Now I could see it fully, and the first thing I noticed, besides its brilliant colors, were its bald spots. Raw, scaly-grey, fresh, newly plucked. I’d seen the crypto-hating junkie jailbird nervously pull out its feathers, pull out its chest feathers, one by one in its cell. Crazy. This bird wasn’t as bad, but clearly something had it spooked. Its eye darted around, and it hopped from side to side like Good Girl does when we’re at the door to the apartment, she’s had too much coffee during our walk, and she cannot find her keys.
“Meow.“ The Cat said to the Parrot, staring intently. It wasn’t quite like I’d been forgotten, but something was going on that I wasn’t a part of.
“Polly and Grace! Polly and Grace!“ The Parrot suddenly squawked, its voice edged with panic. It looked up and down the alley furtively, like a puppy who accidentally missed the paper put down for it.
“Meow.“ The Cat calmly reassured it, and though its eyes still betrayed its fear, the Parrot settled a bit. It stood in one of the few shafts of light in the dismal alley, and suddenly it’s fear melted into something else. Sorrow.
“Polly and… Grace“ it wistfully whispered. It dipped its head for a moment.
“Grace…“ It said. “Who’s a pretty bird… A pretty bird…“
For the first time I could clearly see the tears glistening on the Parrot’s eye feathers. Parrots don’t cry like dogs. If we’re sad or lonely we let out a soulful howl, so the world knows our pain reaches to the sky and back. And to me sad parrots just sound like creakier, slower regular parrots. But this parrot’s voice… its heartbreak drenched it to the bone so completely I had to stifle a whimper. It would have howled to the moon and past if it could have. Then something unexpected happened; The Cat noiselessly jumped down from its box and sidled up to the Parrot, rubbing itself against the sleek feathers. It was the same move the Cat made with Good Girl and Down during its daily trip-hazard murder attempts , but with the Parrot it seemed unthreatening, comforting. The Cat circled the Parrot, gently holding it in a full body embrace, as the Parrot cried as best it could with that weird mouth parrots have.
Right then I could have escaped - but there was something about this encounter that intrigued me. There was a mystery here, and I couldn’t help but want to know what it was. After a minute or so, the Parrot regained its composure, and the Cat came to face it. Looking into its eyes, the Cat again nodded. The Parrot who took a deep breath. In. Out.
“Meow.“ The Cat said, slowly.
“Bedtime…“ The Parrot started. “Bedtime for Polly and Grace… Who wants a snack?“ The Parrot paused. “Who’s a good birdie, who’s a good birdie! Ding dong! Ding dong. Who can that be?“ The Parrot made a strange noise, a long low, squeaking sound. It took me a second to pair it with the dingdong. It was the creek of a door opening.
“Hello! Hello! Who is it? Who is it? Too late, bedtime. Too late, too late… Bang Bang! Bang!“
The Parrot stopped. It was breathing hard, and it eyes were hooded and dry, as if they had run out of tears forever.
“Wake up, Grace, wake up… Grace… a pretty bird…Polly and Grace… Bye-bye… Bye-bye Grace… Polly and Grace… Bye-bye… Grace…“
The sound of the traffic had fallen into a hum, as if nothing in the noisy world would, could ever sound as important as a parrot sadly saying bye-bye.
“Meow.“ The Cat asked.
“Who… who can that be?“ the Parrot cried. “Who?“
The Cat thoughtfully left the sorrowful bird, and started toward me as I stood, entranced. It brushed by me and finished uncovering the gun.
“Meow.“ It asked again. The Parrot shuttered as it looked at the cold steel on the ground, then threw back its plumed head and squawked to the uncaring clouds.
I don’t remember what the Cat said after that. I don’t remember if the Parrot cried again. I don’t remember running from the alley. I just remember hitting warm, noisy street as fast as my four legs would carry me. I cut back to the No You Can’t Have A Hot Dog box, hiding behind it, trying not to mark myself in fear. I peeked back at the entrance to the alley, expecting to see the Cat holding the gun, hunting for the only dog who knew its secret. But there was nothing, and the pedestrians clogging the sidewalk ignorantly continued on their ways to wherever as if nothing had happened. I was panting heavily. I had to calm down. I had to think. Murder!? What had I gotten myself into?
It was clear that Grace had been murdered, and that the Parrot - who I guessed was a named Polly - was a witness. But who would want to murder a parrot? “Who?” Polly’s voice rang in my ear above the sound of the traffic as I made my way home. And what did the Cat have to do with it? Had Polly come to the alley to accuse the Cat, to confront it? But if that was the case why was the Cat so kind to him, so gentle? Was the Cat gloating - cruelly showing kindness while also using the gun as a threat? Did it want something else from Polly? No, that didn’t feel right either. The Parrot was too trusting of the Cat, too comforted. That the gun was the murder weapon would have been obvious to even the densest of pugs. And I should have thought of this before - if the Cat didn’t have the thumbs to open the catnip jar it didn’t have the thumbs to use as gun. When I’d seen it carrying the pistol on the street before the Cat had it in a sort of holster, half-hidden under its belly where only other dogs and cats could see it. But if the Cat hadn’t committed the murder why did it have the murder weapon? And the meeting in the alley didn’t seem like the first time the Parrot and the Cat had met…
I’d been thinking and walking, my head ignoring my feet, not paying close enough attention to where I was. It was getting dark, and I needed to get home before Good Girl and Down found me gone, but when I looked up from my thoughts I realized I was near the park rather than home. I guess my auto-dog had kicked in and taken me where I could pee. But as I squatted over a patch of unmarked grass I felt eyes on me. I turned, and under a bush near the fence was a dog, watching me. I’d seen him in the park before, and he had a swagger that said no leash could ever really hold him. He quickly padded over to me, and it was a relief to have something as normal as a butt to sniff rather than a murder. He’d been eating beef, and recently some peanut butter. Lucky, I thought, and started to move away. But the Dog persisted, glued to my rear end. It had been a busy day, so I can only guess what smells were back there, but he seemed overly focused. Every step I took he was nosing me, even getting in the occasional lick. I was not in the mood for some quick park fling, but then I felt the Dog’s paws on my back, and before I could squirm away a little butt sniffing was turning into something I was not interested in. I could hear his passionate panting behind me, but suddenly, in the dark, I heard another sound - a sharp, crackling harsh hiss, like a tire on broken glass. A flash of Autumn, a flash of claws, the Dog was off me, and there in the light of the early evening was the Cat. The Dog stood for a moment, confused, but with another hiss from the Cat he quickly disappeared into his bush again. The Cat now turned her attention to me, her eyes clear and determined. She slowly walked over, and as she had with the Parrot, encircled my body with hers. Now I’m much bigger than the Parrot, so the Cat could really only curl itself around my leg, but it felt as if I was being held in a warm, all-encompassing embrace. She also started making that noise, that rumbling throbbing that she made when she Good Girl or Down stroked her. It had always been a rather disturbing sound to me, like the Cat was casting a spell - and maybe it was. But now, having the Cat rub against my leg after saving me from an unwelcome humping, it was the warmest sound I’d ever heard.