Bonnie ZoBell has received an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and the Capricorn Novel Award. Recently included on Wigleaf’s 2009 Top 50 list for very short fiction, she has work included or forthcoming in Night Train, Storyglossia, American Fiction, The Bellingham Review, The Greensboro Review, elimae, Rumble, and Word Riot. She received an MFA from Columbia, teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and can be reached at bonniezobell.com.
I’m gardening, meditating, absenting myself from the world when a flurry of color—scarlet, turquoise,
mustard—zips past me, shrieking and hustling, from one North Park palm tree to another. The brilliance of these
neighborhood macaws flying through our Southern California enclave in formation, twenty-five of them together to
forage for dates, causes smiles and awe in even the most hardened citizen. Surprise visits from these flocks of
parrots remind me that the world isn’t that dull, that magic really does exist, that I need to get a new job.
My mouth hanging, a trowel in one hand, a flat of thyme at my feet, I savor their presence. The caw of the wild, the sliver of magnificence in my daily routine, a species with enough wit to thumb their beaks at our intensity, my intensity.
Until my neighbor’s head pops up on her side of the fence. “Shame they’re going extinct, isn’t it?” she says, as if the sole reason I’m in my backyard is to chat with her. She’s wearing eye makeup and a lacy blouse, two things that should be banned from backyards everywhere.
So little do I want her sensibilities in my head that I simply stare at her, an apparition.
“Extinct?” I say, though I know this is true. Our beloved macaws out on the town today, jesters, freedom seekers, have escaped so many unlatched cages, fled so many front doors left open only for a minute, chewed through screens when left alone too long, for they are truly social beings, not just here for show. Throughout the world their homes have been seized by construction, their numbers dwindle because people insist on trying to own them. And for all their humor, their intelligence, now this, extinction.
“You’ve heard that, haven’t you?” she says, determined to have a conversation.
“I’ve read the hyacinth and blue-throated macaws are seriously endangered”, I tell her. Why I have to be polite in my own backyard on my day off is beyond me. Not after a week straining to be harmonious while explaining to people why even though interest is down they still can’t afford houses.
What would the world be like without the colorful clowns? Their capacity to love. Their elegance. The sheer joy of the group today, with their relationships and screams echoing through the trees and telephone poles make them stand out more than anything else going on. What would happen if they were gone? Why are they here in the first place?
“Yeah,” she says. “Hey, you going over to the Brindels on Sunday? For that potluck?”
We glance at each other, and I want to step closer so I can hear better, but I don’t. Our shared reaction to the potluck—glancing heavenward—makes me consider that maybe she’s okay.
The roughhousing above increases, massive chatting in the palm fronds. Squawking. A fledgling pecks the beak of an older bird, who pecks back, a duel to the death, only they aren’t pecking very hard. Another playful pair bites each other’s feet, dancing all over a telephone wire to avoid getting bitten back. A twosome preens, grooming each other, licking the other’s face, then shares a snack. Still another dive bombs a kitty in my backyard then swoops militia style back up to the tree, squealing in laughter, swinging upside down from a leaf on the frond.
The utter fun the flock exhibits might make them seem insignificant to somebody, nothing but a noisy plethora of feathers, talons, and curved black beaks.
“Don’t they love each other for life?” she asks. I see now when I really look that her eyes are deep indigo, her blouse has spots on it, her nails have dirt underneath from working the soil, so I relax a bit.
“They do. They make long-term commitments.”
“Better luck than I’m having,” she says.
I step closer finally when we laugh.