Note: Most of you who have been reading my attempts to entertain y’all for these past 20 years or so probably realize that every October I write an odd, semi-spooky, Halloween story. I hope this one doesn’t offend anybody. Anyhoo.....
It was a dark and stormy night and the rain fell in torrents.....
“Doc” Benton finished up the afternoon shift at the plastics plant where he worked and splashed on out to the old Shovelhead he had named ”Blue” for some reason. The bike is red. But then he’s not a doctor either. His old Ford pick-em-up truck’s transmission has been slipping in and out of gear recently so he tried not to think too much about the sucky weather forecast when he rode the scoot to work that morning.
His thoughts wandered: "I don’t mind coming home wet so much....that’s just part of riding a bike sometimes....it makes it real. But pulling the scoot out of the shed into a downpour is another thing. Having to work in wet clothes that slowly turn to damp, well, that REALLY sucks! The thing is, until I get the truck’s tranny fixed I won’t always be able avoid it. But I arrived at work in dry clothes today.’ "
Then he squinted up through the pouring rain and continued thinking, "At least it’s not snowing yet. It IS October after all." As he started to wipe off the seat, he stopped and said out loud, “What the hell am I doing?” Then he shook his head, climbed on, fired her up, and headed home through the storm.
At forty-eight years old all Doc has to show for his life is his bike, his truck, a crappy rented trailer in an even crappier trailer-park, an incredibly old and stinky parrot, a ton of bills...and an empty bank account.
It wasn’t always like this. Twenty years ago he had a wonderful wife named Vera. They had been childhood sweethearts. Without acknowledging it to her or even to himself, he really loved her....but he took her for granted. Admittedly, he might not have always treated her the best, like when he was drinking, but he just assumed they’d be together forever. Hell, they grew into adulthood together.
Then after about ten years of marriage the unthinkable happened: First she started feeling tired often, and it became worse and worse. Little stabbing pains developed in her abdomen. He took her to their doctor to find out what was up and tests were done. Suddenly their world was turned upside down. Within two months she was gone and he was alone.
Doc eventually came to realize that she had represented everything that he thought was worth living for: A warm home full of joy, tenderness, honesty, and stability. She was his anchor and now he was adrift.
The guilt he felt about not giving her a better life, about not making her certain of the love he felt for her and even the guilt he felt for surviving her, drove him to start thinking of himself as despicable and perhaps even unworthy of a happier life. He began to drink more than he used to (which was a bunch). He ran up all his cards and ruined his credit. He began to think in terms of instant gratification and to hell with everything else.
As time passed he began to accept his loss. “Vera” came to represent more than just the woman he loved, “Vera” became the righteous “core” of things, the reality he was meant to have....not this. This just wasn’t what life was supposed to be. And so he partied on.
Every time something big or little went bad he would say to himself disgustedly, ‘Okay. Where’s the “Vera” in this?’ And when something went good, he’d say, ‘Okay, I can see the “Vera” in that’. Vera became his benchmark of what everything should be. To Doc “Vera” became a cosmic force, and at the same time, a standard of life and living. “Vera” became purity.
“AWK!! GO TO HELL ASSHOLE!!” he heard from the living room as he entered the trailer and threw his keys on the kitchen countertop.
“You go to hell Captain Jack.” Doc replied tiredly.
The bird’s name used to be “Polly” when he bought the scarlet macaw from a pet shop five years ago for companionship. “Who the hell would name him something boring like Polly....especially since it’s a male?” Doc asked the storekeeper when he first saw the huge, blazing-red creature.
“I dunno. You can call him what you want. Who knows what his name was originally. He has to be at least thirty years old according to our vet.”
“That’s why he’s so cheaply priced. But he still has plenty of life in him. These birds can live to be up to seventy. In that regard he’s not even middle-aged.”
And Doc never knows what the hell the bird’s gonna say or when he’s gonna say it next. It can be anything that the bird was exposed to over the past 30 years! Macaws are the most long-lived, largest, most aggressive, and unpredictable of all the parrot family.
Doc was once almost busted when he took Jack to his little town’s carnival perched on his shoulder. At first it was cool to have the little kids (and the babes) point, laugh, then ask all kinds of questions as they crowded around. Doc urged the bird to say a few funny things. And he did! Jack can put on a wonderful little show when he wants to. But then the damned critter started screaming all kinds of really filthy, obscene things! And he wouldn’t stop!
Doc had to literally muffle the bird’s head with his hand (and got multiple bites for the effort) and run to his truck to get him away from all the moms, dads, and kiddies. And then, when they got in the truck, Jack started laughing hysterically, and continued laughing loudly all the way home! Once there, Doc almost stuffed Jack into the micro-wave and cooked his ass!
After the usual somewhat “chatty” period when Doc first comes home from work and the bird has been alone most of the afternoon and evening, Jack finally settled down and Doc turned on the tube to relax. The movie was an old one, but one that Doc hadn’t seen. He rolled-up and lit a joint as he sunk further into the couch.
During a quiet moment in the film, Captain Jack suddenly let out a very serious, “Stop that!” which momentarily surprised Doc, but Jack yells crazy shit all the time.
“I said stop that!”
“Go to sleep Jack.” replied Doc absentmindedly.
“I don’t want to go to sleep. And I don’t want to see you sitting on your ass getting toasted and watching TV all night either! That’s all you ever do!”
Doc just stared at the bird with his mouth hanging open on the verge of freaking out. He stood up and slowly approached the bird’s cage.
“Are you actually speaking to me?” Then after a few seconds of silence he started chuckling to himself and started to turn back to the couch. “This must be some good shit.” He told himself as he began to sit down. Then came...
“You sit around here every night thinking about what life has dealt you instead of going out and doing something about it. Well, poor, poor you! It’s getting old and I’m sick of it!”
Doc rocketed to his feet and looked down to the doobie in his hand. “My damned parrot is actually speaking to me. In fact, he’s bitching at me.....and I’m talking to a joint.”
“Hey!! Are you listening to me?”
“........Captain Jack?” mumbled Doc as he looked up again.
“That’s the stupid bird’s name. Not mine! This is “Vera” Doc! I’m just using the bird to speak to you. I was told that parrots are the best way of doing it because their tiny brains don’t get in the way. I can’t do it for long before I have to let the bird have himself back again, but for a few minutes it’s ME. I thought I should finally say something to you. Ya know I’ve been checking up on you over the past 20 years ?”
“Yes you handsome man, it’s really me.”
Doc collapsed back into the couch. Nobody has ever called him “handsome man” like that, except Vera. Doc dropped the joint onto the floor and started sobbing into his hands. In a few moments he looked up and cried, “I don’t know what to think or say!”
“Then listen..... You gotta get over all this guilt you’re feeling! Toward the end of my time you showed me how much you loved me, and that was enough Doc. Now you gotta start getting your act together babe! Move on! You can be more than this. You ARE more than this. All you’re doing is feeling sorry for yourself, and THAT doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s like you’re stuck in some kind of a ‘twelve step program’ and can’t get past that ‘ninth’ step. Honey, I ain’t sayin’ ya gotta quit drinking or partying. I’m just asking you to get a grip on things, a grip on why you’re over-doing it, and to quit treating yourself like you’re a real shit because you’re not! Maybe you USED to be at times....but not now. Now you’re just....stuck.”
All Doc could think was that even now she was supporting him. Then she continued with, “I can’t come back again baby. This is my first, last, and only chance to get through to you. It’s just too bad I gotta squawk it to ya.” Then she started laughing really loud using Jack’s ridiculous voice.
Talk about unreal! Jack didn’t know whether to laugh with her or just go ahead and have a complete mental breakdown.
Finally she told him, “Goodbye lover man. Stay calm and carry on. Gotta go.” and with that she was apparently gone. Captain Jack was back again silently blinking his eyes and looking like he was confused.
The next morning Doc woke wondering if it all really happened. Then he decided that whether or not it was a dream, or if Vera really DID come to him, what was said made sense and Doc shoulda realized it a long time ago.
He went into the living room, looked straight into the eyes of Jack, and said, “Thank you.”
In reply Jack loudly squawked, “AWK!!” Then he quietly muttered, “Asshole.”