You’d think my Aunt Ebba would own a cat. One of those fluffy Persians that could sit on her lap as she stroked its fur with her scarlet finger nails. But no, she owned an obnoxious cockatiel named Pikachu.
Aunt Ebba loved to talk—she spoke three languages. So did Pikachu. He was all that she had left in her maze of a Victorian house. They’d watch Spanish soap operas together; Pikachu would recite French poetry as he stood on her shoulder, nuzzled up against her chin. It was astonishing, but quite sad. Aunt Ebba was lonely.
She hadn’t worked since her job at the florist as a teenager. After that, she went to college to study literature, but no career came from it. She married straight out of college, into a wealthy family. Her first husband was my Uncle Ty. He was a stock broker from New York. Aunt Ebba was in love with him; she gave up everything for him. She moved from her close-knit family in Jamestown, Rhode Island to live with him in his luxury apartment in Manhattan. He led a stressful life, and died young of heart failure. They had one son, my older cousin, Winthrop.
After Uncle Ty died, Aunt Ebba was depressed. She wouldn’t eat, she couldn’t sleep. She’d call my father, her brother, and cry to him on the phone about how she saw Ty in her dreams, and how she thought he was leaving her “signs from the other side” wherever she went. She’d talk about how Winthrop looked so much like him, with his curly hair and small lips. My father would twist the phone’s cord as he gently spoke, and glance over at me and my mother, who stood behind me, hands on my shoulders. She would take me into another room when my father was on the phone with Aunt Ebba. I was a little girl then, and the sad tone in my father’s voice would upset me. My mother, with her teal watery eyes, would take my wrist and lead me away.
“Aunt Ebba has that really bad cold again, Liliane. Daddy needs to talk to her to cheer her up,” she’d say as she squatted down in front of me to stroke my hair when I asked why my father was unhappy.
Winthrop was so distracted in class, that Aunt Ebba pulled him from private school and had him home-schooled for the rest of his elementary days. Aunt Ebba and Winthrop became inseparable during those times. Once middle school came around, Winthrop was ready for change. Both he and the psychologist Aunt Ebba brought him to convinced Aunt Ebba to let him attend public school, which he absolutely loved. It was important that he “got out more.” And he did—he fit right in and formed a close group of friends within his first year in public school. He often went home with one of his friends, or would stay after school to play kickball on the baseball field.
Aunt Ebba joined a yoga group (she did yoga when she was a teenager). She made close friends with two of the women, who were just like her—lonely with too many stories to repeat. The three of them would go out during the evenings, dressed up younger than they were and drenched in perfume.
She met her second husband, Bennett, at an Italian restaurant on a rooftop.
By the time Bennett came around, I was old enough to get a sense of the kind of person he was. He was always awkward—he was fake. He was tall and stood stiff, with his chin pointed up. He’d raise his chin higher when he laughed. His laugh didn’t have a sound to it—his pointy jaw would hang down and the top of his cheeks would engulf his eyes. His slicked-back brown hair shined, along with the glimmering watch that weighed down his arm. He often wore dark, long sleeved, pin-stripe shirts. Most of the time, the sleeves were carefully rolled half way up his arms. He shook hands; he wasn’t a hugger, not even when it came to his family.
Bennett was a real estate agent from Long Island. He owned a house on the beach in East Hampton. Happy that she had found love again, Aunt Ebba sold Uncle Ty’s apartment and moved in with Bennett. Winthrop had no say in the decision.
Not even two years later, Aunt Ebba and Winthrop found Bennett sitting at a bar in a restaurant when he was “at work,” running his hand up some young blonde’s thigh.
That was the end of that jerk.
Aunt Ebba said she was through with men. She only needed her Winthrop and that was it. The two of them moved back to Rhode Island, but then Winthrop went to college across the country, in Arizona, and Aunt Ebba lost her mind. She stayed indoors. Her olive skin turned pale, her blue eyes turned gray, and her thick, layered, chestnut hair stayed in a messy bun.
She didn’t want company. My father would call her, leave her messages offering to go out for dinner, my mother would ask her to go shopping. She always had an excuse. She was tired, she had Chinese yesterday, she had to call Winthrop, she went shopping last week.
And her cockatiel, Pikachu. Plenty of people had heard of a crazy cat lady, or had seen a woman carrying her Yorkshire terrier in her Coach bag, but an insane bird lady? That was what Aunt Ebba turned into.
Pikachu was originally Winthrop’s bird. He picked him out after he had seen him in a pet shop’s window when he and Aunt Ebba walked to their car after lunch one afternoon. That was a few months after Uncle Ty passed away, the period when Winthrop got anything he wanted.
He named the off-white cockatiel Pikachu, after the tv show, Pokemon. Because of the bird’s bright yellow face and round rosy cheeks, Pikachu was the first thing that came to Winthrop’s mind.
When it was just Aunt Ebba and Pikachu in the echoing house, she became attached to the bird. Winthrop told me that Aunt Ebba even mentioned that Pikachu was a reincarnation of Uncle Ty. She had a strong attachment to the bird because of what he symbolized. Because of the time that they adopted him, he reminded Aunt Ebba of Uncle Ty. When Winthrop left, the bird was all she had.
Pikachu was crazy. He was loud—always squawking and ringing his bells, throwing them against his giant cage that even I could live comfortably in. He sung to himself in all eight of his mirrors, in different languages. Aunt Ebba left his cage door open and kept his wings unclipped, so the house was his as much as it was hers. Sometimes Pikachu would be on the kitchen table picking at the basket of fruit, or she found him on her bed near her cozy pillows. He liked to stand on the window sill and look outside, sometimes he flew back and forth down the halls.
Then came William Mortimer.
Aunt Ebba met William at the self check-out at Stop & Shop. Her can of tropical bird seed wouldn’t scan, and he came over from the check-out next to her and scanned it with one try. They joked about it, talked in the parking lot for hours, and their relationship blossomed from there.
William was a gentleman, he was polite. I couldn’t see how he was divorced. He had a tough look to him—his smoky hair was a bit long, but he was gentle, even with his broad shoulders and deep voice that could make the house shake.
A few months later, William invited Aunt Ebba to a Mortimer family picnic in Boston. They spent a few days there. It was the end of the summer, and I had quit my job at the card store to get ready for my freshman year of college. Guess who had to watch Pikachu?
I was busy that summer, getting ready for my freshman year of college and hanging out with my friends before we went our separate ways. I told Aunt Ebba that I’d watch Pikachu simply because I thought it was a nice thing to do. There was also the fact that she told me she’d help cover my college expenses. I loved my Aunt Ebba, but there was only so much of her I could handle. Watching her beloved pet as she went away for a few days was the least I could do.
“He doesn’t like sunflower seeds, but he’ll eat anything else—especially fruit, he loves apples and bananas. But cut them in tiny pieces, I don’t want him to have trouble swallowing, or heaven forbid, choke. Change the bottom of his cage every other day, unless he spills water or poops all over it, then change it right away. We don’t want a sick birdie,” Aunt Ebba’s voice said as I hung upside down on my bed. My long hair swept the floor. I had my cell phone on speaker, and I held it up above me.
“There will be no sick birdies here, Aunt Ebba.”
“Aw, thank you, Liliane, sweetie. I know you’ll take excellent care of him. He loves his cousin,” she said with a laugh. I heard the wheels on her suitcase roll across her wooden floor. I could picture her leaning her powdered face to the side, the phone between her shoulder and cheek, as William stood by the open door, patient and smiling.
“I open the blinds for him in the morning, usually pretty early. He knows when I sleep late, the blinds are still shut, and he goes nuts! He rings his bell and screams like a banshee.”
Aunt Ebba paused.
“Yes, dear, thank you,” her voice muffled to William.
Her voice was clear again. “So if you can, sweetie, stop by in the morning to open the blinds for him. If not, no big deal, he’ll know, I’m sure he’ll figure out that I’m gone. If you don’t want to drive home at night, feel free to stay, sweetie.”
“Uh-huh. Okay. I’ll see how everything goes.” I yawned.
“Alright. Have you talked to Winthrop, Mr. Arizona over there?”
“Only on the computer,” I said as I leaned up and sat cross-legged on my bed.
“Good. That’s nice, sweetie. So, you’re all set for Virginia. Do you know who your roommate is?”
“Yeah, I’m all ready. I know who she is. I found her online, seems really cool. Hey, get this! She’s from Montreal—she can speak French!”
“Well that’s wonderful, Liliane! Great! She can teach you some French, then we can talk about things no one else will understand!” she laughed. “I hope the two of you will become life-long friends. College is one of the best times of your life, it goes by fast.”
I looked at my alarm clock. I was supposed to meet some friends from work for brunch at the diner in a half hour. I still had to shower. Aunt Ebba was known to keep talking—she’d never end a conversation.
“I know. Everyone says that.” I sighed. “Anyway-”
“Me and my roommate still talk. Caitlyn. Remember Caitlyn? You’ve met her before.”
“Almost, dear, I have to make sure the bird’s alright. He sees the bags, he knows I’m leaving,” Aunt Ebba said to William.
“Remember Caitlyn?” Aunt Ebba asked me.
“Yup. I remember Caitlyn. The one with the shamrock tattoo.”
“I hope you don’t do anything stupid like that. She wishes she can rub that big thing right off her back.”
“Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t do that. I don’t like tattoos.”
I heard the trunk shut and William’s deep voice bellow something.
“Alright Aunt Ebba, I have to get dressed. Have a nice time.”
“Thank you, I will. Hey, have a great time at college, and I can’t thank you enough for watching Pikachu. He’ll be happy that you’re there for him.”
Yeah, right. The bird wouldn’t stop screaming and smashing into things the moment I walked in the door. I thought he was going to kill himself. Even worse, he shit all over the place—on the walls when he smacked into them, on the newly shampooed carpets (I couldn’t walk on them with my shoes on), on the refrigerator, the counter, the wooden floor, everywhere but the bathroom.
Aunt Ebba always bragged about her cockatiel’s intelligence.
Real smart bird, I thought, as I looked at the green and white mush plunged in the carpet at my feet.
Pikachu landed on one of the ceiling fan’s petals and poked his tiny head over the edge to peer down at me. His feathers were ruffled and the yellow crown on his head stood straight up.
I pointed at him, holding a paper towel. “You better not shit up there.”
He tilted his head to the side and chirped. “Vous êtes joli.”
That was one of his usual phrases. I later learned from my roommate that “Vous êtes joli” means “you are pretty.”
When I finally scrubbed the shit out of the carpet, I stood up to clean the walls and realized that Pikachu wasn’t on the fan’s petal anymore.
I spun around the big living room. “Bird! Pikachu!”
My voice echoed.
I sighed and finished my cleaning, then went over to his mansion of a cage to give him fresh food and water.
“Hola, pájaro grande.”
I jumped up when his little voice sang. I had to laugh. I shook my head as I looked over at him on the lamp shade. His beady eyes watched every move I made as I placed his fresh bowls of food and water into his cage.
I turned to look at the frightened bird. Aunt Ebba was always around when I was there. He was never with somebody else without her or Winthrop.
I stuck out my hand and clicked my tongue, then whistled. “It’s okay, Pikachu, come here.”
He blinked at me. His little stomach puffed out every time he inhaled.
I didn’t want him to be scared of me. I felt bad, he didn’t know what was going on. And I certainly didn’t want to scrub bird shit out of the carpet and off of the walls for the next three days.
He stayed away from me, so I let him be. I locked up Aunt Ebba’s house and went back home.
I had plans with my friend Taryn to go shopping for school clothes early the next day, so I didn’t stop by Aunt Ebba’s until after. We took more time than we had planned at the mall, and I decided to stop by before dropping Taryn off. She wanted to see Aunt Ebba’s big house, anyway.
As we walked up the path, I saw the blinds flutter, and there was Pikachu, pushing his way in front of a big, heavy blind. Taryn and I laughed—she said he was like a dog.
As soon as we got in the house, my cell phone vibrated; it was Aunt Ebba—it was like she knew I was there with the bird.
Pikachu flew to the top of his cage and looked at us from across the room.
“Liliane, sweetie, how are you?” Aunt Ebba’s loud voice asked.
“I’m good. How is Boston?”
Pikachu chirped and stretched out his neck as he looked in my direction.
“Hi Pikachu! You’re at my house, how funny,” Aunt Ebba laughed. “Can you put me on speaker phone?”
Aunt Ebba clicked her tongue. “Hello my pretty bird. Hi pretty. Vous êtes joli. Who is Mama’s bird?”
Pikachu chirped multiple times, but still stood on the top of his cage.
“I hear him!” Aunt Ebba snapped her gum. “How is he doing? Hi Pikachu!”
Taryn raised her eyebrows at me and smirked. I felt embarrassed because of my crazy aunt.
“He seems fine. He definitely knows something’s up. He won’t come near me. He went crazy yesterday and crapped all over.”
“Oh no! On the carpet?”
“Oh, Pikachu! Ne pas faire cela (don’t do that)!”
Pikachu chirped again and stood at the end of the top of his cage. He wanted to come near Aunt Ebba’s voice, but was afraid, and most likely confused.
“Did he eat his food?”
I walked towards Pikachu’s cage. “I gave him fresh food yesterday. I’ll check.”
As I approached the cage, Pikachu hissed at me while striking his pointy beak. He leaned over and slightly opened his wings.
“Ooh! Pikachu!” Aunt Ebba hollered, surprised.
I squatted in front of the cage to get a look at his bowl of seeds and fruit. It didn’t look like he touched it.
Pikachu squawked at me. He bobbed his puny, yellow head.
“Pikachu, it’s okay, Mama’s bird,” Aunt Ebba said. She had a touch of sadness in her voice. “It’s okay my baby, I’ll be home soon. Be nice to Liliane, you know Liliane.”
“It doesn’t look like he ate any of his food.”
“Aw. He’s not happy.”
Really? I thought. “I know.”
I stood up. Pikachu began to chirp—loud, short, high pitched chirps that echoed down the halls.
“Alright, Pikachu, alright. Well, I don’t want to get him all riled up. Everything else is okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. How is Boston going?”
“It’s wonderful. William’s brother is great, such a nice man. His family is so thoughtful. They bought me a box of dark chocolates. William told them how much I love dark chocolate.” She laughed into the phone.
Taryn looked around the room, thumbs in her front pockets.
“That was thoughtful.” I forced a sigh. “Okay, Aunt Ebba, let me take care of this crazy bird.”
“Yes, I’ll let you go. Thanks again, sweetie, for taking care of my little guy. Enjoy your day. Goodbye Pikachu!”
I closed an eye and tilted my head away from the phone as Aunt Ebba repeated the bird’s name over and over again in a high pitched voice. I held the phone in front of Pikachu. He stepped backwards; his wings flapped.
“She’s in there,” I told him, and pointed at the phone.
I wasn’t sure if Aunt Ebba was still on the phone, but I felt bad about leaving Taryn standing awkwardly in my aunt’s living room.
“Bye,” I said into the phone as I pressed the off button.
“Noisy bird,” Taryn said as she walked over to me.
Pikachu chirped, then fluttered onto the lamp shade.
Taryn stopped and put her palms up. “Is he scared of me?”
“Yeah. He knows me and he’s going mad.”
Taryn placed her hands on her knees and looked at Pikachu. “Hello little bird, hello.”
Pikachu eyed her, beak slightly open.
Taryn stuck out her finger. “It’s okay.”
Pikachu flew down the hallway.
“She just lets him fly all over the house?”
“Yeah. He’s like her baby,” I said as I inspected Pikachu’s cage for any sort of mess. “He always goes back to his cage, though.”
“Cool.” Taryn wandered down the hall a bit. “This place is huge.”
“Yeah, right? Check out the yard. And upstairs—I don’t think she needs four bedrooms.”
“Maybe one of the bedrooms belongs to the bird.”
“Wow. What does she do with all of this land?” Taryn asked as she looked out the backdoor. She stared into Aunt Ebba’s tame, green grass that stretched out into the trees.
“She has a small garden on the side of the house, other than that, I don’t know.”
Taryn opened the back door and held it open as she looked around. I heard Pikachu’s wings flap, and I feared for the worst. And it happened.
Pikachu flew out the back door.
I felt my stomach come up my throat.
“No way! Taryn!”
The both of us raced outside after the bird.
I stopped. “Wait, wait! Don’t chase him, you’ll scare him. Stay still!”
Taryn stopped in her tracks.
We both watched as Pikachu flew. And flew. He kept going.
I ran after him, shouting his name. Taryn followed.
He flew into the trees and we lost sight of him. He was gone.