Marianne was an uncommon Common Hill Mynah. Hill Mynahs are native to Southeast Asia, but they can be hatched anywhere in the world as long as they are kept warm. This was the case with Marianne, who had been born in Norway, lived for a time on the Greek island of Hydra, then Asia, Canada, the American northeast and eventually wound up residing at a Bird sanctuary at the University of Southern California at Burbank. In her first six years, Marianne had seen more of the planet than most people see in a lifetime.
She was a well adjusted and happy Mynah, with a large, eclectic vocabulary drawn from several cultures. And all was going well until the following sort of thing began to happen on a daily basis:
“Good morning, technicolor Crow,” the sanctuary’s Assistant Director, Dr. Suzanne, would say every morning.
“Skuh-roo-yoo-sis-tuh,” (or something of that flavor) Marianne would dutifully reply.
Marianne did not like Dr. Suzanne. Every day began with the “Good morning, technicolor Crow” crack and ended with a sarcastic “So long, Marianne.” Although the daily crack and parting sarcasm pissed Marianne off, it was actually Dr. Suzanne’s blatant play for the affections of the sanctuary Director, Dr. Leonard, that upset her–the way the assistant director plied him with tea and oranges all the way from China was disgraceful. Especially when all poor Marianne had to give was love.
Dr. Leonard was an aspiring poet. But he was the kind of poet who just missed, the kind of poet just one syllable shy of profound, the kind of poet often described as being a stanza short of a full deck.
Only Marianne knew about the poetry. Dr Leonard had taken a shine to Marianne the day she arrived at the sanctuary. Out of all the birds in the aviaries (also known as “The Tower of Songs”), he had chosen her to keep him company in his office. And they were happy together; he helped her learn the English version of each profanity she knew in six languages, and he’d recite his poetry to her.
Then she came along.
Dr. Suzanne’s office was just across the hall. Right away Marianne had an idea that Dr. Suzanne had an idea. It all began with the goddam oranges and tea all the way from China. That’s just how she’d put it: “all the way from China”–like she had to go to the fucking Moon to get them. And then with the “technicolor Crow” remark. That mislanded like an Albatross on a frozen sea. Marianne was proud of her looks, her dark green, shiny perfect body, the bright reds and golds in her collar, her snappy yellow beak. And it also seemed to left-winged insult Marianne’s friends the Crows; it inferred that there might be something lacking in their blackness. No, Dr. Suzanne wasn’t a friend. Nor was she particularly good at her job. In gender pronoun-challenged Marianne’s mind Suzanne was a lazy bastard in a suit.
Then one night, when Marianne was feeling especially low, convinced that her rival was plotting to get her moved to the general bird population, a Major Muse Spirit entered the darkened office. Birds see Spirits, but they are an uncommon sight. The last time Marianne had seen Spirits was at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City (Oh yes, Marianne got around, and plenty), there were two of them engaged in a disgusting act on an unmade bed. Not your average Bird on the wire, sophisticated Marianne understood that this was a friendly and powerful Spirit.
The Spirit was that of a beautiful blonde Norwegian woman, much like any of those who worked at the Oslo Mynah hatchery. While in Norway, Marianne had assumed that all people were good looking; her subsequent travels gave that myth the needle soon enough.
“You’re sad,” said the Major Muse.
And for the rest of the evening Marianne told her tale of woe to the Major Muse. She told of her life, of her relationship with Dr. Leonard, the poetry, and of her evil nemesis. It felt good to get it off her green breast. Even though Marianne had used a veritable United Nation’s worth of profanities to get herself across, the Spirit was moved to glistening tears.
“All men are befuddled kings,” the Spirit said at dawn. “I have an idea. It’s time to play the secret chord.”
Dr. Leonard was in the habit of coming in early so he could work on his poetry in peace. He fed Marianne and slumped at his desk. The hidden words wouldn’t reveal, he was in despair.
The Muse Spirit hadn’t changed a lick, but she didn’t need to do anything to conceal herself, because living humans, no matter how sensitive, are the only creatures ever to exist that believe lies. Thus the wider truth of existence is out of their reach until death, the destroyer of lies, comes for them.
The Major Muse began to whisper secret words in Marianne’s ear. Marianne sang them out as clearly as she could.
Dr. Leonard sat up. He rose and approached Marianne as she sang to him from atop her roost. “My muse,” he said. “My sweet, sweet muse, please dance me to the end of love.”
Marianne was used to the bizarre things that Dr. Leonard often said, but she was also charmed by them. And as he spoke the lines he had written, she related the secret, hidden words spoken to her by the Major Muse and he wrote them down with a trembling, joyous hand.
Stringent international copyright laws prevent your author from quoting the passages written by Dr. Leonard, the Major Muse and Marianne, but they are freaking brilliant. They’re the sort of thing that’ll make you shake your fist at God and scream “I know something you don’t, ye Supreme Jackoff!” or forlornly comprehend the fleeting meaning of life as the women take their blouses off and the men dance on the polka dots at closing time. That quality of poetry. But laws are laws.
Dr. Suzanne knew that all was lost when she entered Dr. Leonard’s office later and found it empty. A sign, scribbled in the strangest hand, had been taped to Marianne’s vacated roost:
Dear lazy bastard in a suit,
Dr. Leonard and the Muses have gone on a world tour. Next time you want to see this technicolor Crow, buy a ticket.
Skuh-roo-yoo and the tea and oranges, too–sis-tuh.
The Amoral: You Can Learn From Someone Who Out Flew You