The Parakeet Box Ann Gottesman Cover by Oberon The research and development session was going well in his opinion. Boise’s invention, a death-rehearsal machine, would be registered as Z Gyroscopic Pin Camera. It could be embedded into the tissue of the Venus mound on either hand. But for now, it was in its preliminary stage. He laughed at the idea, knocking another box off the counter, which hit the floor and scattered dead bird parts across it. The Jinn on the machine jerked but didn’t remove her life retrieval goggles. Boise sighed and looked at the floor covered with dead plants and now dead bird parts. He would rather just leave the mess, but couldn’t, job regulations. Besides himself, the Jinn was the only other breathing organic form in the room. He was glad she had taken an interest in his invention. Topeka was a funny name for her, but her birthing well had popped through there.
16 pp, hand-sewn
She must have had an important funeral rehearsal session not to remove the goggles immediately. As he checked off the boxes of her responses on the inventory sheet, Topeka sat up and removed the goggles which were tightly strapped to her head.
“I like the Astro turf on the table. It reminds me of the forgotten outdoors,” she said, petting the green fibers. “Nice touch.”
“You ever go outside?” He said.
“No, it used to seem important, but I haven’t for years.“ She pointed at the mess. “When did that happen?”
“While you were virtual-enactment-reality traveling. Did you see anything new?” he asked, as he unhooked the probes from her arms. She continued to pet the Astro turf.
“It must be nice to feel something live and warm, don’t you agree?” she said, looking up at Boise. He raised his eyebrows above his glasses, examining her, but he didn’t smile.
“Any epiphany today?”
“Damn it. This machine is suppose to work on all types of intelligences, even Jinn. I’ve been tinkering for years, and you keep getting nothing.” Sulking, he strolled across the room toward a corner of the mortuary where he hit the wall with his fist. She got up from the table, walked over to him, and put her hand on his back.
“I told you Boise, I just love the light shows. I’ve imaged my funeral so many times I think I must have died more times than I have lived. You know, come to think of it, there was something a touch different today.”
“It reminded me of a Super Cathedral, just like at home, only green. I mean, the home where I come from.”
. “Let me enter this into the computer,” he said, rushing over to his desk and straddling the chair. “Go for it Topeka, pour it out, like you’re a sexy rock star on her guitar.”
Topeka lay down on the floor amidst the dead birds and plants. She folded her hands over her stomach to keep from laughing.
“One, two, three, four…” He tapped his index fingers together like they were drum sticks.
“I was watching myself fly through a star-filled video and then into a rainbow slide that swirled and looped through a gooey, watery film. Then, gauze fell before me. I broke through it like it was a spider web, entering a helix of twisting shapes. Quickly, it became flat, rather than three-dimensional, and I zipped through a series of light patterns, all with music accompaniment, mind you. You want me to sing it? Are you following this?”
“Yes, I’ve got it all down. Skip the song for the moment, but do continue.”
“The light patterns began getting denser until there was just pulsating color. But moments before that happened there appeared this…this thing.”
“What thing?” Boise said.
“It was a shadow of something, flying across the color. No, it was a silhouette of a huge bird.”
“Yeah.” She blinked and took several deep breaths before slowly sitting up. Boise was no where in sight.
Boise was watching her look for him, from behind the closet door. He watched her bend down and examine the dead birds. Her red hair fell in ringlets over her shoulder. She was small with thin bones, big eyes and slender fingers. She picked up the feathers and stroked them. She ran her finger over the bodies of the dead birds, gently. She sorted the parakeet wings by color, the bones by length, the feathers by shape. Then, she picked up a green parakeet wing and placed it next to the green parakeet. She waved goodbye to it and left the mortuary.
She worked in library section 198, subsection 4, category DLO—the Dead Letter Office. As she walked down the corridor, dragging her hand along the wall, she was thinking that she knew a little about everything yet was unable to do anything, except find out more about everything. Like collage boxes, her emotional wings were folded into one. She wished Boise would get a grip on what his invention was really about. The machine made her feel good, but he wanted it to do something other than what it did. Maybe it would one day, she thought, running into a huge black cloth suspended in the middle of the hallway.
“Yikes!” she exclaimed
“God, spirit, goddess, angel, guide, entity, alien, dakini, deva, ghost…did I leave anyone out? What am I? Who am I? Where am I? How did this happen?” an impish voice muttered from inside the cloth. “Fat ass chance there’s anyone here but lost souls. You should apologize for running into me.”
“Excuse me, cloth,” said Topeka, “but you ran into me. And I’m not a lost soul. Guess who I am?”
“Are you a fairy?”
“No,” she said rubbing her arm where the probes had been.
“Are you an elf?”
“No, I’m a Jinn?” Topeka said proudly.
A horrific scream reverberated in the hall and the cloth flew through the frosted glass door that lead to the outside. A non-thought nomad, she decided. Before opening the door, she glanced toward the mortuary.
“I already miss you Boise,” she said softly and entered her office.
Lights across her computer were lit up. An urgent message flashed on her screen. She punched her special key.
“I might be able to get you a live parakeet. Your friend, Boise.”
Topeka suddenly felt her heart beating rapidly. No one had ever offered to give her anything alive. But her excitement vanished when the door opened abruptly and in walked her supervisor, Detroit.
“How are we doing today, Toe-Peak-KA?” she said sarcastically.
“Fine, thank you,” Topeka replied, hiding Boise’s message.
“There’s another emergency, so you’ll stay all night, if I say so.”
“Naturally.” When wasn’t there an emergency? she thought.
“Naturally is forbidden word, anything to do with nature, you know that, naturally.” Detroit laughed heartedly.
Topeka did not like the way Detroit smelled or acted. There was no emergency, and all words were allowed now that the privacy acts had been changed again. Detroit was only 13, what did she know of the time when they only could speak in letters, not words. Detroit was New Guard, the experiment of children placed in adult positions. Topeka’s research showed that when this happened, the young person more often than not, was extremely controlling. Detroit did look like an adult, with a woman’s figure, but very stiff, very frigid. Topeka knew Detroit was jealous of her, at least that was what Boise said.
Detroit handed Topeka a box of requests, said she would return later, and left the room. A slightly oily scent remained.
The requests were inane:
1. How to walk if you had too many drinks?
2. What to feed your cat at midnight?
3. How long was the longest rat tail?
4. Who invented the screw driver?
5. What was the largest bubble blown with bubblegum?
6. Is there any nature left?
7. How old is too old?
8. How young is too young?
The library was quiet. Nothing new appeared on Topeka’s computer screen. Besides, she knew there was no one really requesting anything. It was just what she did. Even Detroit’s emergency requests were fantasies. There were no clients, no patrons. That’s why, when Boise had first shown up in the library months ago, she was both pleased and surprised. To find out he worked at the mortuary surprised her even more, since she thought that was also dead. Topeka noticed he had a mysterious way of never telling her where he lived. She figured that perhaps he lived in his work space.
She hurried through the inane requests. Time evaporated. She was absorbed, doing the job she did.
Boise stared at his computer expecting a message from Topeka. She always answered right way. What was keeping her? he wondered. He got up and went to his table to check his list of things to do. He was glad about one thing, that his supervisor hadn’t come to check up on him in a long while. She always wanted something from him. Then it occurred to him that Detroit might be down the hall. This made him perspire.
He ran to one of the lockers and opened it. There, covered in white cloth, was a cage with the parakeet in it that had been delivered only a short while ago. He pulled the cloth off, and the bird began chirping. He had bought the bird at www.parakeetsoasis/buynow.net. It promised, same day delivery.
Seeing Topeka fondle the dead bird parts, he wanted to do something to make her happy. It was a foreign concept, this idea of giving something alive to someone, but he felt ready to experience it, no matter the risk.
If he didn’t give the bird to Topeka in time though, it might suffocate in the locker. He felt a tinge of terror, so he checked to see how many credit coupons he had in his wallet, which usually calmed him down. He looked at the mess on the floor, which he needed to clean up. As he shoved his wallet back into his pocket and bent over to pick up the bird pieces, the door opened.
“Boise, it’s me,” said Topeka. “I couldn’t answer your message because of Detroit. I’ve got to get back soon.” She surveyed the bird pieces again. “Could I have those for my collage boxes?”
“Sure,” he said, not looking at her.
The bird chirped, and when she heard it, her eyes sparkled. “Oh Boise, where is it?”
He admired the exceptionally beautiful face that Jinn have and proudly walked to the open locker. The green parakeet bobbed up and down in front of a mirror, chirping to itself.
“It’s a boy, Monk parakeet. You can tell by the color of the beak where the holes are.”
“I’m going to call him Jupiter,” she said. The word was like an ancient magic word. As soon as she said it aloud, it was as if she were on Boise’s death rehearsal machine. She saw herself sitting at her table at home with her boxes all around. Bird feathers stuck to her fingers. A pile of broken glass, crumpled request notes, circles she had cut from old paper that she called globes, and the bones of birds. She would insert them into boxes that were made from empty cereal cartons. Question marks were her recent obsession. She added them to her mix, drawing them, cutting them from found printed paper. It had to be found, preprinted, recycled before she called it her material. After she met Boise, her boxes contained x’s. An x for a signature line. An x for a kiss. An x to remove, negate what was. An x as in x-ray to see through, or an x axis. An x, a place to indicate acceptance.
Jupiter chirped loudly, just as the door slammed open. A spike shot up and down both Boise’s and Topeka’s spines. Topeka woke out of her trance and was present in the moment and now full of fear. Boise didn’t know what to do for her and started to move towards his electronics table.
“Looks like you got a lot of dead birds on the floor,” Detroit bellowed. “I need you to tie my shoe, Boise.”
Boise motioned to Topeka to close the locker door.
Detroit walked to him oblivious to everything except her own need. She tapped her shoe. “Tie.”
He bent over and tied her tennis shoe, and Detroit began to whimper.
“My mother never did that, and I use to trip on my laces all the time. I figure a man would know how to take care of these things. Every man I see I ask him to tie my shoes.” Detroit lowered her head in shame.
Then, without turning around, Detroit said, “You both might be fired. Clean up this mess. If there’s anything alive here when I get back, you’re out of a job. This is a mortuary for nature not a nursery,” she commanded and left without looking at them.
Topeka hurried over to Boise. They examined the mummified parakeet on the floor. Its small neck was bent like a question mark. She turned the limp feathered body over. She couldn’t help but try and stick back the tiny white and black feathers that fell from its neck. She stroked the pure blue wings, recalling robin egg skies.
“Don’t you find that odd?”
“That the bird is dead?”
“No, that its neck is in a question mark, as if it’s saying, death is questionable?”
“But he is dead. Just like my job. And yours too if….”
Topeka looked at the retro-analog clock on the wall. Boise outlined the bird with his finger. He started undoing his coat and removing his shoes. A dark mood seemed to be settling into him.
“Jupiter!” And they both ran to the locker. When they opened it, the parakeet was very still. It no longer bobbed up and down. Boise took it from the locker.
“He’ll be alright,” he said, continuing to take off his clothes. “The trouble with parakeets is they don’t stop talking unless you cover them up,” he said as he off his shirt.
Topeka picked up the cage and held it. She opened the door to the cage, and Jupiter flew out.
There was an awful rustling of feathers, as Boise tried catching the parakeet.
“Let him go,” Topeka said.
“No.” He stood looking at her in his underwear and socks.
Jupiter flew back into the cage and Topeka shut the door. Boise made a move towards her, but she dodged him and ran out of the mortuary with Jupiter. She ran down the hall, opened the door and flung the cage outside. It crashed and rolled, causing the door to open again. She watched Jupiter fly away, as Boise’s arms wrapped around her.
The park had live plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers like the dead ones Boise had stored in the mortuary. Nothing died except nature. The park use to have birds. She had read about them. No one should keep birds in a cage, even if they can amuse themselves with a mirror. They need to have freedom to fly. Boise’s warm arm impression was still alive in her memory.
Back in the mortuary, Boise stood at his electronic table taking apart the life retrieval goggles and putting the pieces into a box. He had ordered new parts. He labeled an empty box with an X and a question mark. AcRo5 said they were interested in this machine and did he have data on it. He told them, no, he had gotten false readings.
Life is full of surprises, Boise thought, as he began sweeping up the remaining feathers.
The Parakeet Box
Cover by Oberon
The research and development session was going well in his opinion. Boise’s invention, a death-rehearsal machine, would be registered as Z Gyroscopic Pin Camera. It could be embedded into the tissue of the Venus mound on either hand. But for now, it was in its preliminary stage. He laughed at the idea, knocking another box off the counter, which hit the floor and scattered dead bird parts across it. The Jinn on the machine jerked but didn’t remove her life retrieval goggles. Boise sighed and looked at the floor covered with dead plants and now dead bird parts. He would rather just leave the mess, but couldn’t, job regulations. Besides himself, the Jinn was the only other breathing organic form in the room. He was glad she had taken an interest in his invention. Topeka was a funny name for her, but her birthing well had popped through there.