He wanted to be a hero. He wanted to be a hero so badly he could hardly think of anything else.
The Parrot sighed, and thought. A lump the size of an orange had formed in his throat, and he wanted it gone. It felt suffocating.
As a child, he had fought, tirelessly, hadn’t he? To be better. Hell, to be something. Addison could back him up – please, just ask the dog. To practice his superhero practices the Parrot had flown the dog across the yard, chased him through the streets, swept him up into his arms. It had nearly been the death of him, the saving of his life.
Ask Addison, I beg of you.
His father was a drunk. When asked, his sisters would describe in detail their dad’s rugged good looks, his sense of style. But that was it. Better not to mention him again.
We’ll get to his mother.
He had grown strong, over the years. The practice, the flying, the running. He had grown tall and muscular. He had donned his blue, red and yellow costume, feathers on each side of his head. A cape. Of course, a cape.
The name hadn’t been too difficult. It hadn’t been difficult at all.
Fine, mother. His mother was a nut job. His sisters would scold him for saying it, but denying it was useless.
She had a thing for parrots. ‘A thing’. That sounded strange.
She hated parrots. Loathed them. Feared them. Wanted them dead.
Whenever she needed to go out, or wanted to go out, someone had to come with her. Even though no fucking person has ever seen a fucking parrot in a grocery store. Just traipsing to the pharmacy, BAM, parrot. God dammit.
His mother never went outside without an escort. Or without a gun.
After he had donned his costume he ventured out, you know, to save people. How the hell was he supposed to know that wasn’t an original thought. No one told him.
He remembered his childhood, out in the suburbs, pretty much confined to his room, their backyard, maybe their block. His sisters older, just older enough to be more like mothers. Addison a companion, but one that couldn’t talk. At least he was warm, and soft.
A superhero surplus. What in the world.
He saw some of them, sitting on a park bench, that first day. He’d never been to the city.
Their hairy bellies sticking out from underneath their too-tight costumes, they lounged in the sun. They appeared to be gossiping, a few open cans of beer scattered around.
He approached them. What did he know! They were heroes, for crying out loud.
“The fuck do you want”, they barked as he drew nearer.
An automatism kicked in. Something from his childhood. Home schooling. He shook off trying to remember.
“Excuse me, I was wondering… You are superheroes?”
They took in his costume, blue, red and bright yellow. The feathers, the cape. The shining red P on his chest. He stood a bit taller, broadening his shoulders.
“Yeah, what’s it to you, wannabe?”
He inclined his head. “I strive to become one as well. What can I do, how can I help?”
They looked at each other, and in the silence he could hear birds in the trees and children calling from far away. Then they burst out laughing. They roared with it, clutching their sides, slapping each other on the back.
The Parrot stood there, and endured it. He had endured much worse.
When they were done, one of them said sweetly: “What’s your name?”
Sweet like the nectar of a carnivorous plant.
The superhero smiled. “Well, Parakeet, as you can see there are enough superheroes in this town. All crime has been annihilated. You are not needed. You are not needed at all.”
He nodded, but his feet stayed where they were.
“So beat it”, another hero snarled. “Maybe if you look in the mirror, you’ll find something worth vanquishing.”
His feet finally worked. He tipped his hat, or rather his feathers, and turned around, all the way back to his home, where the lump in the form of an orange started to suffocate him.
On another day, he went to main street, reasoning that if there were lots of people, there’d be people to save. He looked for little boys out with their mothers, crying or being generally upset, but he saw none. He looked for teenage girls, frantically peering around for help, or burying their faces in their hands in shame – but nothing.
There was sound behind him. Laughter. He looked around, and spotted a shabby-looking, overweight superhero staring at him. He was wearing a silver suit and a blue mask that only covered his eyes and forehead. He had a five-o’clock shadow on his double chin, and was holding a cigarette in his right hand.
“Yo, Perry”, the silver man said.
“Hello sir, how may I help you?”
The hero blew a raspberry at him. An actual raspberry. The Parrot remained silent, his heart pounding.
“Perry…”, the superhero taunted, “oh Perry…. I hear you think you can mean something here. You wanna be a hero, do you? Perry.” He spat on the ground.
The Parrot gave a quick bow. “I’m terribly sorry, but I have to be off. Lots of work to do, you know. Bye now!”, and without waiting for a response, he stepped away.
Breathing hard through his nose, he started walking faster. Not looking where he was going, he focused on the weight of his body, the falling of his feet on the pavement, the air though his nose. When he realized he was only breathing in, he stopped, letting out a huge amount of air.
That’s when he heard it.
People, talking urgently, the shuffling of feet.
He looked up. When he saw it, something in him stirred. Something that had been put away very determinedly, a long time ago.
He strode towards the crowd.
“What is going on?”, he demanded.
Their answers came fast and panicky. It was enough. He needed but a few words. He knew enough.
As he stepped into the pet store, the thing inside him rose to the surface. He tried to push it down, but it was no use. All-encompassing fear took hold of him. God dammit, God dammit, God damn you to hell.
Children in dire need, was what the crowd had told him. Children, in the grip of death.
Inside, it was dark and damp. The thick fragrance of birds and fish hung heavily around him. Sounds of tiny scurrying feet rang ominously in his ears.
He crept closer toward the counter, the only source of light. Forms started to appear, silhouetted against the fluorescent lighting. Five big ones, one little one. Was the little one crawling?
Images of backyard-adventures flashed before his eyes. Years of fake-diving and mock-fighting. Practice for later life. For this life.
A dog. The crawling shape was a dog.
And then he knew. And when he knew, he felt relief. He almost wanted to drop to his knees, right then and there, knowing it was over. But there was one more thing he had to do.
He took a step forward.
As his mother took him in, every inch of his blue, red and yellow costume, every fiber of his parrot-like being, her eyes grew big. There it was. Her worst nightmare.
She had no choice. She might have known it was her son. She might have recognized her flesh and blood, in there, somewhere. But this enormous parrot drowned out everything else. This enormous, hideous, monstrous bird.
As the bullet ripped apart his shiny P, he was whole. As he bled, he cried. And he was home.
Somehow he was on the ground. Addison was slobbering all over his hands. He could feel the slimy saliva ooze through his fingers. He hardly felt anything else.
But he saw them. The superheroes. They were there, all of them. He took in their sheer numbers. Tens, hundreds. Each of them in a different costume, a wild array of colors and shapes.
The Parrot sighed and closed his eyes. He could hear his sister’s sobbing. He could feel the dogs’ wet nose to his hand.
The superheroes remained vivid in his mind’s eye. As everything else became darker, they remained clear. And they loved him. And they were proud.
In years to come, they would tell each other: “Remember Perry.” As their livers slowly cleared away the alcohol and the obesity steadily melted from their bellies, the superheroes gradually went back to being superheroes. And they owed it all to The Parrot.
Remember Perry, they would say.
Christopher Kuszajewski, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons