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Blue Tara;

Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot

Like a Tibetan Goddess?


Part One Blue Tara Trilogy


Book One Princess Tara Chronicles


By Michael Ostrogorsky


Copyright 2018 Michael Ostrogorsky


Third Edition



Dedicated to the Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Princess Tara, my favorite witch. And yes, she really is a witch. I should know.



Special Mention to the Blue and Gold Macaw Parrot Aboo, Princess Tara’s sidekick. Princess Tara is a hard act to follow, but rest assured, Aboo will get his special place in the spotlight.


A special thank you to my editor, Helen O. Jones, for catching my mistakes.


Table of Contents


Introduction

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue



Introduction


I originally got a parrot because an old black guy with parrots convinced me it would help me pick up chicks. And I don't mean the poultry kind. Picked out a parrot at this old black guy's bird store here in Seattle that was big, blue, and loud. And a princess. The loudness I didn't learn about until it was too late. But that was the least of my problems. First of all, turns out I didn't actually pick out the parrot. The parrot picked me. Not only was the parrot big, blue, and loud. And a princess. The parrot was a witch. Not a figurative or allegorical witch. A literal witch. A witch of the spell casting kind. The abracadabra kind. A witch with a coffee addiction, and a penchant for pizza and beer. Once I entered the bird store the parrot cast a spell. The kind of spell that caused me to clean out my bank account for a big, loud, blue-feathered witch. The kind of witch that did not abide with girlfriends. The kind of witch that did not abide with not getting her way. The kind of witch that turned out to be my guardian angel and the proverbial albatross around my neck at the same time. A witch named Princess Tara.



Chapter One

Part One


Driving makes me hungry. Driving up Aurora Avenue in North Seattle I craved a cookie. Any kind. I just wanted a cookie. I wasn't particular when it came to my cookie obsession. I pulled into the PCC parking lot. PCC. Puget Consumers Cooperative. One of the many lefty cooperatives that sprang up around Seattle back in the fifties and sixties of the last century. Like geoducks after a hard rain.


Maybe not like geoducks. Geoducks aren't flora. Or fungi. Geoducks are giant mollusks. The macaws of the mollusk world. I like to throw geoducks out in conversation because what separates true Seattleites from the countless immigrants flooding the city to work at Amazon or Starsucks or Microsoft is knowing how to say geoduck correctly. But back to cookies.


I just wanted a simple cookie. Oatmeal raisin. Chocolate chip. Gingersnap. Didn't matter. I have a weakness for cookies. I admit it. Snickerdoodle is one of my favorites. And PCC makes one of the best snickerdoodles in Seattle. I parked and walked up to the door thinking cookies. What would it be? Snickerdoodle? Or chocolate chip? Or maybe I’d splurge on a chocolate biscotti?


Guy standing at the door stopped me. He was hard to miss. Besides the fact he stood in the doorway with his arm outstretched and the palm of his hand stuck into my chest blocking my entrance. A stunningly brilliant blue and yellow parrot perched on his shoulder, a piercing black eye pinned on my face. Properly called a Blue and Gold macaw (Ara ararauna) I later learned. One of the largest and most brightly colored of the macaws. Hard to miss. Especially when there's one right in front of you perched on a guy's shoulder blocking the entrance to the store that sells the cookies you're currently craving.


On this day I knew nothing about parrots. I'm an historian. Got a Ph.D. in history. And another Ph.D. in archaeology. So I know Ph.D.s. I've gone through life collecting academic degrees like some people collect cars. I've got a bunch of them. Bachelor’s. Master’s. You name it. Certificates I can't even remember now. Pretty useless. I never enjoyed a particularly stellar academic career. I wrote a lot. Mostly reports people never read. Published some. Traveled for research and field work. I had my ups and downs. Mostly just downs, now that I think about it. I could never achieve tenure, so I bounced around living out of a suitcase as an adjunct professor. Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, California. Finally Seattle. But it kept me from making pizzas or washing dishes for a living. Not that I didn't make pizzas or wash dishes while I was collecting my degrees. But don't get me started.


I can regale you with countless stories about Seattle history until your eyes glaze over. But parrots? On this day, the day I had my heart set on a cookie, I didn't know a damn thing about parrots. Sure, I knew people with parrots. Knew one guy who even went everywhere with his service parrot, one of those big white cockatoos, perched on his shoulder. To the gas station, grocery store, everywhere. He even brought his parrot over to my house once. But he's strange. I generally thought people walking around with parrots were strange. I’d occasionally see people strolling through the Ballard Farmers Market in my Seattle neighborhood with their parrots on their shoulders. I thought they were strange. My mom even had parakeets when I was growing up. My little child mind thought they were strange. Remember them fluttering around the house and landing on my head. Mostly I remember them pooping in my hair. Then mom would make me wash my hair out after she corralled the parakeets back in their cage. My early association with birds was not uniformly positive.


Back to the guy with the parrot perched on his shoulder, standing between me and a cookie. Had never seen this guy before. Had never seen such a gorgeous creature before. Not the guy. The parrot. Stunning. Stopped me in my tracks. And what's really strange. This guy. This guy with a large colorful parrot perched on his shoulder. Someone I've never seen before. He physically gets between me and my cookie. I ran into him because I was so focused on my cookie. This guy put his hand out to stop me and said, "There's a blue parrot at Charlie's Bird Store you need to see."


Part Two


Charlie's Bird Store occupied a small part of the catacombs in the lower levels of Seattle's Pike Place Market above the downtown waterfront. Several levels below the standard tourist haunts. The arcade with the Seattle t-shirt hawkers. The flying fish. The flower mongers. The Russian bakery. Did I mention cookies? The geoducks. The brass pig. Down the block from the first Starbucks ever. And it goes without saying, every time I visit the market I duck into the Three Sisters Bakery to snag a chocolate pretzel.


I patiently circled the market until a parking spot opened I could fit my truck into. Chocolate pretzel in hand, I patted the brass pig on his snout for good luck as I headed for the top of the Pike Place Hill Climb. The flying fish and geoducks, the brass pig and chocolate pretzels are a good two hundred feet above Seattle's sea wall. And only about two hundred feet away. Straight up. And straight down. But the thing about parrots is, just follow the squawking. I could hear the parrots well before I found Charlie’s shop about half way down the hill climb off Western Avenue.


Charlie's Bird Store is gone. Part of Seattle history now. A legend and foundation story for many Seattle bird people. Charlie is an eccentric elderly black guy who pretty much keeps to himself these days. Tall. Wiry. Old school military. Fancied himself to be a bird whisperer. A born salesman. Today, if it wasn't parrots he'd probably be running a pot shop. Back then it was parrots. Charlie retired after all these events were said and done. Told me he had gone one parrot too many. One particular parrot too many. The closing of Charlie’s Bird Store was big on the local news, Charlie being the celebrity he was. Turned out to be quite the show when hundreds of birds needed to be moved out of the market to new digs.


∆∆∆


"Come In" read the sign on the door to the shop. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. The din of hundreds of birds, parrots, parakeets, and God knows what else rolled over me like the tide at Golden Gardens beach. I thought I heard someone say "Hello."


I paused in the doorway in an attempt to acclimate to the noise level. My eyes pressed shut involuntarily as if my eyelids could mitigate the noise assaulting my eardrums. Hundreds of birds. Small birds. Big birds. Loud birds. Parakeets, lovebirds, cockatiels, conures. I thought maybe retreat might be my best option. "Hello," I distinctly heard a voice say.


I forced my eyes open. The incessant chatter of the small birds muffled the source of the greeting. Low ceiling, brown concrete block walls, one bank of dingy floor to ceiling warehouse windows facing the water. In another room toward the back I could see larger birds. African Greys. Cockatoos. And the macaws. But no sign of Charlie. "Hello," the voice repeated from the rear of the shop.


Beyond the door to the back room the largest bird I had ever seen in my life sat perched in a stainless steel cage. Solid blue. The bird, not the cage. Cobalt blue from the crest of its enormous head to the tip of its long tail. Only parts of the parrot not blue were its gigantic black beak and glowing black eyes. If black eyes could glow. And these black eyes glowed. That and the reflector yellow skin ringing the eyes and lower mandible. "Hello," the parrot said, indisputably, its voice cutting through the din from the birds in the shop.


I stood in front of the cage frozen in awe of the parrot’s color and size. "Hello," I responded. That was it. That was all it took. The parrot entranced me. I reached my hand out toward the bird’s beak.


"Hello boss," someone behind said, startling me. My hand jerked forward. The parrot’s blue feathers ruffled. A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind me and yanked me away from the cage. I wheeled around. I could feel my face flush in embarrassment. "Three hundred pounds per square inch,” a tall older black guy sternly cautioned me. “Only takes fifteen pounds per square inch to take your finger off." The man dropped his hand to his waist. “Charlie’s the name. Birds are my game. How can I help you?” A wry toothy smile broke across his face, as if he dared me to ignore his warning. How do you respond when an elderly black guy calls you Boss? This is the socialist hellhole of Seattle, not South Carolina. "You looking for a parrot? You come to the right place," Charlie continued. He leaned forward. He raised his hand to pat my shoulder, trying to put me at ease. I stared up into Charlie’s face. His eyes seemed as inscrutable as the parrot’s. Three hundred pounds per square inch? Great sales pitch I thought. I stifled my tendency toward sarcastic replies least it be misconstrued as an insult. I was in a parrot store looking at parrots. Of course I was looking for a parrot.


"Hello," the blue parrot repeated. I spun around.


Part Three


"What ya know boss?" Charlie said as he stepped to the parrot's cage. "Tara here has never said two words to anyone before. She likes you."


I stepped closer to Charlie to hear him over the din of whistles and squawks and shrieks that reverberated around the concrete walls of the shop. "Well, it's one word actually.” I replied. “She just keeps repeating it. She probably hears it from every customer who walks in the door. Parrots don't actually know what they're saying, do they?"


"Tell the truth boss, most customers scared of her beak," Charlie said. “I haven't heard Tara say 'Hello' more than twice in the time she's been in the shop. Usually she just grunts or hangs upside-down and honks."


“What is she?” I asked. “I’ve never seen a bird this, well. . . blue.”


“Princess Tara is a macaw. Specifically a hyacinth macaw.”


The deep blue of Tara's feathers shimmered in their cobalt brilliance in the afternoon light streaming through the shop's dust caked floor to ceiling windows from the sun beginning its descent into Elliott Bay. One enormous paw grasped her perch. Head tilted sideways, she held a wing up in front of her beak like a Roman shield. One burning black eye peered over the top of her wing. She grasped one of her trailing flight feathers with her other paw. "Hello," she said.


Her black eye mesmerized me. "What did you say her name was?"


"Princess Tara. And she really is a princess. Her parents are a Duke and a Duchess."


"So she’s not a parrot?"


Charlie replied, "All macaws are parrots, son. But not all parrots are macaws. Macaws are the largest of the parrots. There's something like three hundred and sixty species of parrots on six of the world's seven continents." At least it was 'son' now. Guess that beat being called ‘boss’. "Of those three hundred sixty species the largest fifteen or so are macaws. And the princess here is a Hyacinth macaw. Ano - dor - hynch - us hyacinth - in - us. That's the Latin for it. Just love saying that. Ano - dor - hynch - us hyacinth - in - us. Hyacinths are the very largest of the macaws. Tell the truth boss, don't think there's a larger parrot anywhere in Seattle." Back to 'boss.'


Okay, I thought. "I'm really just looking," I replied. I caught my breath and took a step back from the cage. "Someone told me I needed to come see this bird." I noticed there was no price sticker on Tara's cage, unlike all the other cages I could see.


"You married boss?" Charlie asked.


"Married?" I replied to his query with a question mark, trying to give myself time to figure out if this was a conversation I wanted to continue.


Charlie could see he was losing me. "Women love parrots, is all. And women really like guys with parrots. I should know. I've got more women hanging over me than parrots have feathers," he grinned, slapping my shoulder. Yeah sure, ya betcha, I thought to myself. This conversation was getting noticeably unsettling. I stepped back toward the cage to get a better look at the parrot. I glanced over Charlie’s shoulder toward the door. I prayed another customer might come in to allow me to beat an escape. Tara's head turned in response to my moves to keep her coal black eye pinned straight on me. I started feeling a little bit uncomfortable. In my mind I counted the steps to the shop's entrance. Charlie could see me eyeing the door. He opened Tara's cage. He stretched his arm out to the bird. Brave, I thought. "Step up," he told the parrot. She stayed motionless on her perch. "She's particular about who she likes," Charlie noted, with a glance at me. After a moment’s hesitation, the parrot stepped onto Charlie's arm. She skipped up on his shoulder.


Without a pause, Tara morphed into a study of grace in motion. Before I could react, let alone step out of her way, she jumped off Charlie's shoulder and with a couple of graceful flaps of her two foot long wings, settled onto my shoulder like she belonged there. I felt strangely unconcerned about that giant beak next to my nose. "Hello," she said.


"That's different boss," Charlie said. "She likes you."


Now what? I thought. "What do I do now?" I asked Charlie. Tara placed her beak against my cheek. "You are mine," Tara whispered into my ear, or so I thought I heard her say to me. My head jerked back. "Did you hear that?" I asked Charlie.


"Hear what?" he replied. Charlie seemed genuinely surprised at the parrot's reaction to me, seemingly as mystified by her behavior toward me as I was.


Tara rubbed her big black beak against my neck. "Get me out of here," she whispered in my ear.




Chapter Two

Part One


I craned my head to peer into Tara’s eyes. I feared someone was putting me on. The sense of a primordial intelligence behind those gleaming black eyes sent a shiver up my spine. I shook my head to break the grip Tara’s eyes held on mine. I turned to face Charlie. "I'm almost afraid to ask," I said. "How much is the parrot?" I started to pull my wallet out of my pocket. The wallet slipped out of my fingers and hit the floor when Charlie told me the price. "I've never paid that much for a car!" I exclaimed.


Charlie bent down to retrieve my wallet. He handed it back to me. "And that's just the parrot, boss. Cage and stands are extra. But I'll throw in a free bag of parrot food to get you started."


"No cage," Tara whispered into my ear.


“What?” I muttered. I stared back at Tara.


“I’ll throw in a free bag of parrot food to get you started,” Charlie repeated.


"Did you hear that?" I asked Charlie. My eyes bounced back and forth between Tara and Charlie.


"Hear what?" he replied, trying to suppress an annoyed frown.


"I’m sure I heard Tara say. . ." I hesitated. I craned my head to study the parrot sitting on my shoulder with that huge black beak next to my face. "Do parrots actually understand what they say?” I continued. "Or do they just repeat what they hear?"


"Depends on the parrot, son. Some of the African Greys there," Charlie said, pointing across the room to the smaller parrots, "they're smarter than most. Can count. Can add. Know colors and shapes. Tara here, I've heard Tara say her name once or twice. Mostly just says 'Hello'."


"I can talk plenty," Tara said to me, her beak to my ear. I heard the words plain as the sunny afternoon outside. My eyes popped open wide as saucers. "Give me a chance," she continued. I detected a note of exasperation in the parrot's voice.


"Okay. Somebody's playing a trick on me.” I faced Charlie. “You didn't just hear her say, 'She talks plenty'?"


I thought I saw Charlie’s face blanch. Maybe it was the light through the windows. "It's probably the other birds, what with the noise and everything,” he replied. “You just think you heard her speak to you. These concrete walls play tricks on your ears." Charlie took a deep breath. "Course some people have a gift for communicating with animals. People have told me I have a gift for understanding birds. Maybe you have that gift too?" More a statement than a query.


Charlie winked at me. But at the moment I tried to comprehend if this magnificent creature perched on my shoulder could really be talking to me. "Get me out of here,” Tara whispered in my ear. “Please!"


Turns out I had enough cushion on my credit cards to cover the purchase. "So you sure, boss? No cage?" I nodded. "You want a pet carrier. I'm not responsible for anything might happen to your parrot once you step out the door. I think I got a carrier in the storeroom big enough for her. Let you borrow it if you promise to return it."


"No box," Tara said.


"No. . . wait. What?" My neck ached craning my head to stare into Tara’s face. My shoulder ached with Tara’s claws clamped into my skin. I felt flustered and more uncertain whether I was the butt of a grand joke or a giant scam.


"No box," Tara repeated.


I was about to ask Tara how I was going to get her home without a cage or a carrier, but thankfully caught myself. "Sure, I'll take the carrier," I told Charlie.


"No you will not," Tara insisted.


"Yes I will. Wait. What?" I stared at Charlie. “You didn't just hear Tara say 'No you will not'?" I pleaded with Charlie. Charlie shook his head as he retreated into his storeroom to find a pet carrier. "Don't give me any grief," I replied to Tara. Charlie returned with the carrier. "So how do we get her in there?" I asked.


"I could always throw a towel over her,” Charlie offered, “but let's try the direct approach. Put your arm out and place your hand in front of the carrier." I did so. Charlie pulled the carrier door open. "Now tell her, 'Step Up'."


I did as told. "Step up," I said. Tara sat on my shoulder, unmoving and seemingly not planning to move. I craned my head again to peer into those big black eyes above that huge black beak next to my cheek. I sensed the bird mocked me. "You know what?" I piped up. I shrugged my one free shoulder. "Let's forget this. This is crazy. I don't know what I'm doing here. This is getting too weird." Charlie slapped a hand to his face to try to hide his disappointment. Tara raced down my arm and into the carrier faster than I thought any bird could run. She pivoted and swept her long tail around behind her. Her black eyes glared up at mine. "Okay then,” I grinned euphorically.


I could see Charlie breath a sigh of relief. “Okay boss. We’re making progress.”


With Tara parked in the pet carrier Charlie pulled out a parrot stand and a bag of parrot food. I sensed he sped through the transaction before I changed my mind. He slid the receipt across the counter to me with a toothy grin across his face. I chugged the stand and the bag of parrot food up to my truck parked at the top of the market. I returned for Tara. Charlie waved me out the door as I exited the shop with a parrot in a box. As I climbed back up the hill climb with Tara’s face pressed to the carrier door I pondered how much poorer I was on what I feared was a snap decision. Tara’s eyes peering up at mine eerily reassured me I was much richer for the decision.


I had parked my truck directly in front of the Pike Place Market Starbucks. After buckling Tara onto the passenger seat the thought of an iced americano appealed to me. The delectable aroma of fresh brewed espresso wafted out the shop's open door. The repeated trips up and down the hill climb on this warm sunny Seattle spring afternoon with my heavy loads made me sweat. As I started to close the passenger door, I heard Tara’s voice from inside the carrier. "Do I smell coffee?"


Part Two


I live in the old Saint Charles Hotel off downtown Ballard, a delightfully eclectic village of two and three story turn of the last century red brick piles of Victorian commercial utility, and wood frame working class cottages. Seattle's charge toward world class modernity and sterility thankfully has passed Ballard by, for the most part. Ballard once was a free city of Scandinavian mill workers and Yankee mariners, and the battle against incorporation by its ravenous and larger neighbor in the early years of the last century played out fierce and bloody. Unfortunately the tradition of rigging elections is old and storied. Standing at the upper end of Ballard Avenue close by the marine supply warehouses, the old hotel gave a distinctly dowdy appearance, like a spinster standing in the back of old Victorian family tintypes. Built as a working man’s boarding house, the floor to ceiling bay windows on the upper floor provided the only relief to the unassuming facade of the two story red brick building. Local lore has it that the bay windows allowed women of the night to advertise their trade.


The first floor of the building long ago had been gutted and converted to self storage. The old rooms on the upper floor were converted to studio apartments. Mine is the studio in the northwest corner with a view toward downtown old Ballard. Few years ago I enjoyed some small success with the lottery. Enough that I no longer need to teach. Now I roast coffee out of one of the storage units below my studio. And I write. Mostly just snarky comments on political blogs. But I try.


From my bay window on the Ballard Avenue side I could look all the way up the tree lined street to the old Ballard City Hall bell tower, taking in the hustle and bustle of bars, restaurants, boutiques, and coffee shops. The trees lining the avenue burst with new buds, giving a green hue of expectancy to the village just coming out of the doldrums of a long dark soggy winter.


I placed the parrot stand, a stainless steel loop supporting a heavy manzanita perch, right in the bay window to allow the parrot an unobstructed view of the street outside. Charlie assured me the manzanita would hold up to the parrot's beak. The stainless steel loop had small rings attached to hang toys. I made a mental note to get on my computer and order some parrot toys. Tara had been eerily quiet since departing the market. As we drove north up Western Avenue toward Ballard I sipped my iced americano and surreptitiously peeked to observe Tara’s reaction to the ride. She fluffed her feathers out every time I peeked at her. She fixed one of her big black eyes on me as I drank the coffee. I seriously began to think I had fallen victim to an elaborate scam.


So now was the time. The parrot stand stood in the window. I placed some of the parrot food in a dish at the end of the manzanita perch. I lifted the pet carrier up to the perch and opened the door. Nothing. I looked inside. Tara looked back defiantly. "Step up," I said, remembering the command that Charlie had used. I waited. Nothing. "Step up," I repeated. "My arm's getting tired holding you up here."


"Put the box down!" Tara demanded. I almost dropped the carrier. I placed the carrier on the floor as commanded. Tara waddled out, her huge feet giving her the gait of a duck. I remembered Charlie saying something about Tara honking.


I tentatively put my hand down to her and repeated the command, "Step up." Tara cocked her head to peer up at me. She hesitated, then hopped on my hand and scurried up my arm. Her blue feathers fluffed out, glittering like cobalt crystals in the late afternoon sun streaming through the bay window. Stepping back to the play stand I again demanded that she "Step Up."


"What do you want me to do with that?" Tara retorted, so clearly and certainly I almost flung her off my arm. Sensing my alarm, Tara pressed her claws into my arm. Her nails nearly punctured my skin.


"Ouch. Dammit!" I cried out, shaking my arm. Tara ran up onto my shoulder and brushed her beak against my neck. "I love the way you smell," she said. "So much nicer than the dump I have been confined to."


"What did you say?" I said, knowing perfectly well just what she had said.


"I need a cup of coffee. Bad. Can we?" she pleaded. The spring afternoon was verging into evening, but still pleasant outside.


"But I'd have to put you back in the carrier."


"No. Please no. I have been stuck in that cage and. . ." Tara fixed one coal black eye on me. She gave me a forlorn look, if a parrot can be said to give forlorn looks. "Charlie let me out once after I got dumped in his place. And regretted it. I may have done something out of spite. Think he was scared of me. Think he suspected that I. . ." Tara trailed off. She asserted, "And rightfully so. He never let me out again. Until you showed up."


This conversation seemed so surreal I began to think I was dreaming. Either that, or I was nuts. Or this bird was different. Most likely I was nuts. I know I've developed a bad habit of talking to myself on occasion. Now I was talking to a parrot. At least with the talking to myself part, I manage to keep from answering myself. "But what's to keep you from flying away?" I asked, chagrinned that I would ask such a silly question of a bird.


"Why, coffee, of course," Tara replied. I thought I saw the parrot wink at me. "I promise I will not. Fly away. And if I do I will not go far. Promise. I will come back. Anyway, birds fly. That is what we do. So what is the big deal?"


I stood flummoxed, my mouth gaping open, my chin dropped to my chest. The big deal was my suddenly empty bank account. "So you just sit on my shoulder while I walk down the street?" I asked.


"Promise."


Guess I was going to become one of those crazy parrot people I saw around town. With an emphasis on the crazy. And anyone who caught me conversing with the parrot would be certain of it.


Part Three


It took Tara and me a good half hour to walk the three or so blocks to Caffe Umbria, right by the old Ballard City Hall bell tower. The afterwork crowd started filling the sidewalks looking for food and drink and entertainment. Or just looking. Plus, I was a bit hesitant about making a spectacle of myself. But that couldn't be helped. Not with a breathtakingly beautiful blue bird on my shoulder.


"Is it real?"


"Is it a parakeet?"


"Can I pet it?"


"Will it bite?"


"Does it talk?"


"Polly want a cracker?"


Women seemed particularly attracted to the parrot. Maybe Charlie had been right about that after all. Guys that stopped me generally had parrots of their own. Having a parrot drew parrot people out of the woodwork. Or brickwork in the case of downtown Ballard. Total strangers who wouldn't dream of looking a passing stranger in the eye suddenly demanded my time and attention just because of a parrot on my shoulder.


I spotted empty chairs outside the coffee shop. I threw my jacket over a chair before heading inside to order coffee. My favorite barista worked behind the coffee bar. "Hi Jean," I said. Linda Jean looked up with one of those pasty local television news anchorperson smiles while pulling an espresso for another customer. Her smile warmed considerably when she recognized me. Her name tag read 'Linda', but she was Jean to her friends. Reasonably tall, her long brunette hair tied back in a ponytail, she looked athletic without looking like an athlete. She was at that age that was hard to guess. Not young. But not older. Her skin, what little was visible from under her clothing, denoted a damp and pallid Seattle winter long without sun. Brown brooding eyes matched her hair to give her a faintly Slavic mystic. Black boots. Printed flowery leggings under a very short tan canvas skirt. Plain white cashmere sweater. A strange ensemble but Jean had the body to make the ensemble work. She was one of the two reasons I frequented this coffee shop. That and she pulled a very fine shot of espresso.


"Oh. My. God!" Jean's face showed her surprise when she realized what was on my shoulder. "You have a hyacinth macaw!" She laughed. "Of course you know that already. You need to tell me all about it. I'm due for a break. What'll it be?"


"Double tall iced americano." My drink of choice. I drank iced americanos summer, winter, spring, and fall. "And for your friend?" she jokingly inquired.


"Coffee," Tara interjected.


"What?" I said, craning my head to look at Tara. The question was reflexive since I clearly heard what Tara said.


"And for your friend?" Jean repeated, thinking my question had been directed at her.


"Sorry Jean. I thought I heard Tara say something. You didn't hear her speak just now?"


"Coffee," Tara repeated. Customers ahead of me in the line stared at me. I could feel the stares of customers in the line behind me as well.


"You didn't just hear that?" I asked Jean, tentatively. Jean looked at me quizzically. "You know what, Jean. Just an iced americano. Double tall."


"You'll have to sit outside with the bird. Health regulations and all. Okay, hon? I'll bring the coffee out to you." Jean in all the years I've know her had never before called me hon. I started to feel good about my decision to get the parrot.


I stepped outside with Tara. I slid onto the chair my jacket held for me. Tara’s beak seized my ear. "Ouch!" I cried out. I jerked my head back. Several customers and passersby stared at me. I pressed my fingers against my ear to stem the throbbing.


"What are you drinking?” Tara blurted out. “The coffee is mine." Before I could respond, still trying to rub the pain out of my ear, Jean appeared with my americano and sat down at our table. She pushed the cup across the table to me.


A big grin broke across Jean’s face as she admired Tara. "Where did you ever get a hyacinth macaw?" she asked.


"Charlie's Bird Store, down at the market." Seattleites immediately know what you're talking about when you say, 'the market'.


"Wow. Double wow! My dream bird."


"Oh yeah? How did you know it's a hyacinth? Just this morning I would not have been able to tell you a hyacinth from a velociraptor. I didn't know anything about parrots before I walked into the store."


"I've shopped Charlie's. I have an African Grey parrot named Corky."


"You do? I didn't know that."


"No reason to. I didn't know you were a parrot person."


"Before today, I didn't know either," I grinned. "I just picked her up this afternoon."


"No shit!" Jean exclaimed, slapping the table top with her hand. I liked a woman with a loose vocabulary. "The wing's clipped?” she asked. “You have a harness?"


"By clipped you mean shortened?” Jean nodded. “No. She seems to be fully flighted."


"She? And she doesn't fly off? I'd be scared to death to take Corky out."


"Well, she hasn't yet. She promised she wouldn't."


"She what?" Jean studied my face, sure I was mocking her. I held my breath as I smiled weakly. "I like you. You're funny,” Jean continued. I resumed breathing. “Does she talk? You haven't told me her name."


"Jean, meet Princess Tara."


"Hello," Tara said.


Jean hand jerked out to grab my arm, almost knocking over my coffee cup. “She talks!" Jean exclaimed.


"You heard that?" I queried, hesitantly.


"Yes I did."


"She talks when she wants to. Sometimes I think I imagine her talking, but it's probably just in my head."


"What's with the princess bit?"


"Charlie says she's a real princess. Her parents are a Duke and a Duchess. Don't know if he means name or rank or what."


"Cool. You'll have to tell me more, but I need to get back to work.” Jean jumped to her feet. “Sure you don't want some water or juice for Tara. I mean Princess Tara. Excuse me, your highness."


"The coffee will be fine," Tara stated.


"She's joking," I said.


"About what?" Jean asked as she stepped away from the table.


"About drinking coffee," I replied, unsure if Jean heard Tara’s comment.


"You're funny. I like guys with a sense of humor," she said. A sly grin broke across her face. "Birds are so intelligent sometimes I imagine entire conversations with my grey." As she turned toward the door her eyes squinted at me sternly. "Doubt Charlie told you, but coffee is bad for parrots. Caffeine is a neurotoxin."


"Mind your own business," Tara responded as Jean hustled back into the shop. I couldn't tell if Jean heard that either. I wanted to be a guy that Jean thought was attractive funny. Not crazy funny. So people could hear Tara talk. At least some of the time. I hadn't gone totally nuts. Yet. This was the first time Jean ever took a break with me. I didn't want it to be the last. "Give me the coffee," Tara insisted, interrupting my daydream. Before I could respond she ran down my shoulder and plunked her beak in the cup. I had never seen a parrot drinking up close. Her black leathery tongue worked like a miniature paddle wheel, sloshing the coffee into her mandible. Then she raised her head and gurgled the coffee down her gullet. She easily drank half the cup before I thought to push it away from her.


"I want some of that too," I insisted.


"Did I ever miss that!" Tara added. And so it began.




Chapter Three

Part One


As the sun fell behind the old brickwork lining the west side of Ballard Avenue the fetid odor of salt water wafted over the street and assaulted my nostrils. The scent of salt water brought with it a distinct chill. I slipped into my jacket. Princess Tara rested on the table top, one foot tucked up into her feathers, her beak nestled behind her wing, her eyes half open. I appeared to be the coffee shop's last customer of the day. I noticed the 'Closed' sign hung on the door.


Music and muffled conversation spilled out of the assorted bars, eateries, and dance halls lining the street as the chill drove people indoors. The plaza around the bell tower emptied out except for one old bag lady. Elderly in appearance but probably not in age. Short. Squat. Stringy matted white hair stuck out of a green Seahawks wool cap pulled down over her ears. Soiled black dress about two sizes too big. Topped off by a frayed grey striped Pendleton blanket wrapped around her that dragged on the sidewalk. A pilfered shopping cart parked next to her carried probably every worldly possession she owned, her entire life metaphorically reduced to a stack of garbage bags.


I tried not to give too much thought to homeless people. Sure, I regularly made donations to the Ballard Food Bank. I participated in holiday food drives. I wrote checks to homeless shelters. I occasionally dropped clothes off at Goodwill. That's about as far as it went. Many homeless people are mental cases and I preferred to give them a wide berth when I encountered street people on their territory. Thanks to debit cards I rarely carried cash with me. It pained me to turn down the inevitable request for spare change.


Something about this particular bag lady unnerved me. Sitting on the steps under the old Ballard City Hall bell tower she seemed to stare directly across the street at Tara. I was certain of it. I tried to ignore her, but I noticed one of Tara’s eyes fixed on her. Every time I glanced across the street at her she grew more animated in response, jumping to her feet and waving her arms, in the way homeless head cases tend to perform their involuntary and unselfconscious street theater.


Slipping into my jacket seemed to be her cue to act. She jumped to her feet and scurried across the street with more energy and purpose than I thought possible for a hobbled old bag lady. "It's a devil!" she screeched, just like I imagined a parrot might. She pointed a gloved hand at Tara resting on the table top. "Don't you see?" she beseeched me. I sat frozen in stunned silence. Startled, Tara in turn awoke out of her slumber and fluttered down to the sidewalk. "It's a devil come to roost!" the bag lady yelled again. She darted after Tara. Tara excitedly flapped her wings as she scurried across the sidewalk to avoid the bag lady.


"What the fuck are you doing?" I yelled at the woman after collecting myself. Tara dashed under the table. The bag lady reached down as if to grab her. Thinking she intended to harm Tara I seized the woman’s blanket and flung her back. She fell on her butt, but with surprising agility and speed sprung up and commenced after Tara once again.


With a couple of sharp flaps of her wings against the pavement Tara hopped up on the table. The bag lady futilely tried to stretch across the table to grasp Tara. Tara ruffled her feathers as she raised her beak into the air above her head. Her beak gaped open. She screeched with a volume of sound I did not think possible. I clasped my hands over my ears to try to protect my eardrums. My eyelids squeezed shut so hard my eyes stung. My elbows sank to the table top as I leaned over, my head wracked with pain.


∆∆∆


I forced my eyes open as the last echoes of Tara’s screech evaporated from my skull. Jean stood before me. She grasped my arms. She pulled my hands away from my ears. "Are you okay?" she asked, her face furrowed with worry.


"What just happened?" I asked.


"Your bird screeched so loud I dropped the tray of dishes I was washing. Is she okay?"


We both turned to look at Tara, me fearing the worst. Tara sat quietly on the back of a chair preening her feathers. She ruffled her wings when Jean and I looked at her. "Where did she go?" I asked. I whirled around, breaking out of Jean’s grasp. I noticed the shopping cart still parked next to the bell tower.


"Are you okay?" Jean asked me nervously. "Tara's right here."


"No, not Tara. The old lady. The bag lady. She tried to attack Tara."


"What? What bag lady?"


"There was a bag lady right here," I insisted. I pointed across the street toward the shopping cart. “She tried to attack Tara. She was screaming some shit about Tara being a devil. Last thing I remember was Tara screeching." We both turned to look at Tara again. And then back at each other.


"Okay," Jean said. "Now what?"


"You didn't see her? She was right here. I swear."


Jean gave me that crazy funny look I feared. "With that screech Tara must have scared her off. Sure the fuck scared me. She can't be far. You sure you okay?" Jean asked, grasping my arms again. That was twice in one day. "Can I get anything for you and Tara before I lock up?"


Too shaken to recognize an invitation when one stared me in the face, I just said, "I think I should get Tara home."


"Okay," Jean said. I seemed too late to notice the note of wistfulness on her face. "You take care of the princess. I'd hate anything to happen to her."


Jean walked back into the coffee shop. I put my arm out and asked Tara to 'Step up.' Without hesitation, she hopped on my arm and ran up on my shoulder. "What just happened?" I asked rhetorically, to no one in particular, certainly not Tara.


"I made her go away," Tara responded.


Part Two


I pretty much muttered to myself all the way back to my studio, trying to comprehend my question and Tara's answer. Mostly I was trying to pretend I had not in fact heard Tara say, "I made her go away." Unfortunately I distinctly heard Tara say "I made her go away."


Once inside I commanded Tara to ‘Step up’ and placed her on the play stand, thinking she must be getting hungry. I know I was getting hungry. As if reading my mind, Tara responded, "What you got to eat?" I froze, incredulous. I stood next to a parrot that first claimed to disappear people, and now wanted to see a dinner menu. Tara cocked her head, fixed one coal black, or one fiery pit of Hell black eye on me and asked again, "What you got to eat?" I shook myself out of my lethargy and pointed to the dish of parrot food on her perch. "Are you kidding me? I want real food," Tara exclaimed.


Without thinking I took my chance and asked Tara, "What happened tonight?"


"I made her go away."


"You said that already," I said, admitting to myself that she really did say that. "How can you make her go away? You're a bird." Seemed self-evident. Birds don't generally disappear people. Shit on them, sure. But disappear people? Not so much in my experience.


"I will tell you if you give me some real food." I stared at the parrot. Okay. I was losing it. I made a mental note to call my doctor soon as possible. "I promise," Tara said. "I will tell you if you give me some real food." What couldn't be happening was really happening. A parrot, a big blue beautiful parrot, was talking to me. More like at me at this particular moment. And not in the 'Polly Want a Cracker' sense. I tried to compose myself. "I want some real food!" Tara demanded, her voice tinged with exasperation.


"Well, I've got some caprese salad in the fridge I was planning on eating for dinner," I responded defensively.


"What is a caprese salad?" Tara asked with considerable interest.


"Cheese, peppers, tomatoes. . ."


"Yes. Yes. And yes! Please," she begged. Muttering to myself I stepped into the kitchen and retrieved the tub of caprese salad from the fridge. Returning to Tara’s play stand, I dumped out the parrot food and spooned some salad into the dish. Flakes of cheese and slivers of red veges started flying off Tara's beak as she munched down on her dinner. She scarfed cheese balls down whole. "Anything to drink?" she asked.


"Would you like some wine with your salad, your highness?" I responded, not wholly in jest.


"Would I!"


Without thinking of the absurdity of the situation, I retrieved a bottle of cabernet from the fridge. I poured some cabernet into a wide brim glass and held it up to her. Tara ducked her beak into the glass. Her tongue started paddling like a Mississippi River paddleboat as she tried to drain the glass. After Tara took several drinks, I raised the glass to my mouth and guzzled what remained. "Okay," I demanded. "What happened to that bag lady? Is she dead?"


Tara furiously shook wine off her beak as she appeared to collect her thoughts. "I made her go away."


"You said that already. Is she dead?" I repeated. Seemingly Jean and I would have noticed a body sprawled out on the pavement.


"I bent time and space and made her go away."


"You what?" I refilled the glass with wine and chugged the glass. Now time and space entered the equation. This could not be happening. Not to me anyway. I had two doctoral degrees. In history and archaeology. I believed in research and science. Not in parrots that talked about bending time and space.


"I am sure the woman is fine," Tara added. “I bent her time and space to the beach across the water.” Tara stretched her wing to point out the bay window across Shilshole Bay. “She will wander around until someone picks her up. They will take her someplace where she can get the help she needs. Can I have some more of that wine?"


"How can you possibly know that? How can you possibly do that? How does a parrot bend time and space?" I had to ask.


"Are you sure you want to know?" Tara replied.


I hesitated, but responded, "Yes."


"Okay. Do not say I did not warn you. But only because I like you. A lot!" Tara’s eyes seemed to twinkle. Tara continued, "Some people can see me for what I truly am. Some people who do not live in your reality, like the bag lady, can see me for what I am. I think that Charlie could nearly see me for what I am. He had a sense. Or he suspected. That is why he was afraid of me."


Part Three


The sun had set. Street lights twinkled through the heavy glass panes in my bay windows to cast eerie shadows across my walls. The cherry wood in my studio glowed softly from the vintage art deco wall sconces, sole surviving fixtures from the room's old hotel days. I studied Tara. Tara studied me. The lights blinked out. All light. Not just the light in my apartment. The room turned dark. Not dark as in absence of light. Dark as in absence of existence! I lost all reference to reality. I floated in a void. I felt weightless. Astronauts at least can see the world below their feet, albeit two hundred miles below their feet. I could see nothing. I sensed nothing. I heard nothing. Not even my own heart beating. It was as if a black hole opened in my apartment from which no light or existence could escape.


After a few moments, or it could have been a few eons, with no anchor to measure time or space; after a few moments a bluish orb formed and commenced glowing in the center of the room, if there could be assumed to be a center of anything in this blackness. The bluish orb commenced vibrating, then spinning, then growing. The blue orb encompassed the entire space of my existence. A damp pungent heat enveloped me and assaulted my senses, as if I had just stepped into a Savannah summer afternoon. I struggled to breath from the oppressive weight of this phenomenon, which pressed at me from every direction.


Black nothingness coalesced into a brilliant blue somethingness. My brain struggled to comprehend the new construction of space and time before me. The glowing orb became searing blue light and heat which turned into an apparition and then a solid construct. She stood before me. "Tara?" I nervously offered. My entire life's philosophy of existence and reality flew out the windows.


She stood easily six feet tall. With change to spare. Totally. Butt. Naked! Her only adornment was one huge battle axe hanging from a loop around her waist. Her long hair cascading over her shoulders shed light from its blackness. Her crystalline blue skin glowed, not from the light in the room, but from the heat emanating from her body. Her body rippled with muscles. Most frightening and entrancing of all, however, was her one gleaming yellow eye.


She sported one pendulous breast. Jagged scars cut across her face and chest where her left eye and left breast should have been. She appeared frighteningly beautiful. And beautifully frightening. "Do not be afraid," Tara finally said. Her voice had changed. Instead of a parrot's voice I now heard the sultriest voice ever spoken since Lauren Bacall's Slim asked Humphrey Bogart's Steve, ‘You know how to whistle, don't you Steve?’ I didn't even pretend to understand how she could speak a language I could understand. "You see me as I really am,” she added.


In my shock I could barely muster a reply. "What are you?" I finally managed to ask.


"Everything will be explained in due time," she offered. "We have all of eternity, if we choose it." I sensed that with her time and space really could be molded to suit her needs. "But now I want you," she said.


"For what?" was the best response I could offer.


"Come here," she commanded. I stood still, my muscles frozen with fear. The blue woman stepped up to me. It occurred to me she could have demanded that I 'Step up'. She placed her hands on my shoulders and pulled me to her. Her crystalline blue glowing skin seemed strangely cool and soft to my touch, like Tara's feathers, even though I could feel the heat radiating from her body. She stuck her one breast in my chest. "Do not be afraid," she whispered in my ear. Her black tongue flicked out of her mouth and swept across my chin. And then my lips. I reflexively put my arms around her, mostly to keep from falling over. I commenced shaking. She pushed her tongue into my mouth, like Napoleon's Grande Armée marching into Russia, broad, strong, and determined. She met no resistance from me. One of her hands went up inside the back of my shirt. The other hand slid into my pants. At that point my consciousness dissolved into a state of unconscious being. I passed out.


∆∆∆


When I finally came to I found myself sprawled out on my apartment floor. Night had passed into day. Light flooded into the apartment from the sunny blue day outside. I found myself totally naked. Not even any clothes strewn across the floor. I rolled over in an attempt to gain my bearings. Tara, the parrot, sat quietly and calmly on her play stand in the window, one foot up in a napping position, gently preening her feathers with her big beak. She ruffled her feathers when she saw me stirring. "What the fuck!" I said, not a question, but a statement.




Chapter Four

Part One


I wandered into the bedroom in something of a daze to find some clothes and get dressed. Slipped on my shoes. Grabbed my jacket and keys. I walked up to Tara. “Come on. Step up,” I sternly demanded. I stuck my arm out in front of her. “We're going to go see somebody." I didn't dare leave her alone. I feared I might find I didn't have a home to come back to.


I climbed into my truck. Tara hopped onto the passenger seat headrest. She didn't make a sound for the half hour or so it took me to drive down to the Pike Place Market. Not a peep out of her. Not a peep out of me. It took about four loops driving around the market before a parking place opened up. I parked the truck and gathered Tara up. This time no chocolate pretzel. No coffee. No cookie. I scurried past the brass pig and skipped down the hill climb to Charlie's Bird Store. I ignored the onslaught of questions regarding Tara from just about everyone I passed.


Strangely quiet before, Tara perked up when we got to the door to Charlie’s shop. Her claws dug into my arm. "No. I am not going back in there," she emphatically insisted. "You are not taking me back! What are you doing?" she pleaded.


"I need to talk to Charlie."


"I am not going in there!" Tara repeated. Couple of passersby gave me a strange look before darting across the street.


I opened the door to Charlie’s shop. Tara flapped her wings. Her claws released my arm. Before I could think to grab her feet she darted fifty feet into the air. My jaw dropped to my chest. I did not believe anything that big could fly that fast. I watched her in shock as she flew out of sight back over the top of the market. I ran out into the street in front of the shop screaming, "Tara!"


An oncoming car slammed on its brakes. The driver laid on his horn and yelled before swerving his car around me, "Get out of the road you stupid fuck!"


Charlie appeared at the door. "Tara?" he asked. He glanced around when he didn't see her with me. He already knew the answer. "You can't bring her back here, boss," he added. "I have a 'No Refund' policy."


"She flew off my arm and up over the building when I tried to go into your shop. I've got to go look for her."


"She'll be okay, son. Take my word for it.” Charlie motioned for me to get out of the street. “So why did you bring her back here then?"


I hopped up onto the sidewalk as a delivery truck roared up the street, its horn blaring. "Well, I didn't want to leave her at home unattended," I explained. "Something strange happened to me last night,” I continued. I peered into Charlie’s eyes. “I think you might have an idea what it is," I added.


Charlie frowned. “Maybe you should come in,” he directed me with a wave of his hand through the door. More a command than a request.


I stayed put on the sidewalk. "The weirdest thing happened with Tara last night," I continued. “I know you're going to think I'm nuts, but. . ." I paused, trying to think of the right words. "I might as well just say it straight out.” I took a deep breath. “Tara raped me last night." Charlie’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “There, I said it.” I paused. I took another breath. "Maybe rape is the wrong word, but she took certain liberties with me, and I'm not talking about the goddamned parrot."


Charlie stared at me for the longest time without any noticeable reaction. Okay, he hasn't fled into his shop and locked the door. That was a good sign. Finally he asked, "Tara show herself to you as she really is?"


"Yes, she did." I replied.


Charlie leaned back behind his door and flipped over his 'Come In' sign to the 'Closed' side. "Buy me a beer," he said, "and I'll tell you a story."


"Okay," I agreed.


We walked up to the next level of the hill climb and dropped into a Mexican dive called El Puerco Lloron. Apparently Charlie was no stranger here. Charlie called out to a husky tattooed Latino guy with a goatee and spiked black hair behind the counter, "Buenas tardes Raúl. Necesitamos cervezas. Dos para mí y dos para mi amigo."


"¿Su amigo está pagando por la cerveza Señor Charlie?"


"Igual que siempre hermano."


The guy named Raúl deposited four ice cold glass bottles of Negra Modelo on the counter. Charlie grabbed two. I grabbed the other two. We sat by the windows, looking down over Elliott Bay where we could see the ferry boats coming in and out of Coleman Dock. "This is going to be a two beer story," Charlie offered. He spread his lanky body over the metal folding chair and propped his back against one of the concrete pillars in the room. We drank in silence for a few moments. Charlie broke the silence. "So you know there's more to Tara than meets the eye?" he asked.


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