Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess?
The Princess Tara Chronicles
2017 Michael Ostrogorsky
Edition, License Notes
Thank you for
downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of
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authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.
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.
Table of Contents
originally got a parrot because an old black guy with
parrots told 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. Once I entered the bird store the parrot cast a spell. The
kind of spell that caused me to open my wallet for a big, blue, loud
witch. The kind of witch that didn't abide with girlfriends. The kind
of witch that didn't abide with not getting her way. The kind of
witch that turned out to be my guardian angel and a proverbial
albatross around my neck at the same time. A witch named Princess
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 sprung 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
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 my
favorite. And PCC makes one of the best snickerdoodles in Seattle. I
parked and walked up to the door thinking cookies. Suddenly I started
Guy standing at the
door stopped me. He was hard to miss. Besides the fact he was
standing in the doorway blocking my entrance. A stunningly brilliant
blue and yellow parrot perched on his shoulder. Properly called a
Blue and Gold macaw (Ara ararauna) I learned later. 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 perched on his shoulder, to the gas station, grocery store,
everywhere. But he's strange. People with parrots seem stranger than
most. Occasionally see people walking around the Ballard Farmers
Market in my Seattle neighborhood with their parrots on their
shoulders. My mom had parakeets when I was growing up. 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. I'm as straight as they
come. Not really interested in guys. Okay, I might have fantasized
about a threesome once and again. I admit it. What guy hasn't?
Usually my fantasies run to a couple of girls in the sack with me.
But I like to think I'd be cool with one girl and another guy in the
sack. A guy threesome? Don't think so.
Yes, the bird.
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 gets between me and my cookie. I
mean, he literally put his hand out to stop me. I almost 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."
Charlie's Bird Store
occupied part of the catacombs in the lower levels of Seattle's Pike
Place Market off the downtown waterfront. Several floors below the
standard tourist haunts. 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 Pike Place Market I have to pick up a
chocolate pretzel at Three Sisters Bakery.
Chewing a chocolate
pretzel, I patted the brass pig on his snout for good luck while
heading for the top of the Pike Place Hill Climb. The flying fish and
brass pig and chocolate pretzels were a good 200 feet above Seattle's
sea wall. And only about 200 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 the shop about half way
down the hill climb.
Charlie's Bird Store is
gone. Part of Seattle history now. A legend and foundation story for
many Seattle bird people. Charlie’s an eccentric elderly black guy.
Tall. Wiry. Old school. 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 to new digs.
"Come In" the
sign read 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 an attempt
to acclimate to the noise level. Hundreds of birds. Small birds. Big
birds. Loud birds. Parakeets, lovebirds, cockatiels, conures. I
thought maybe retreat might be my best option. "Hello."
I definitely heard it
that time. Toward the back of the shop. 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
Adjacent to the door to
the back room stood a stainless steel floor to ceiling cage
containing the largest bird I had ever seen in my life. Blue. Cobalt
blue from the crest of its big head to the tip of its long tail. Only
parts of the parrot not blue were the gigantic black beak and glowing
black eyes. If black eyes could glow. And these black eyes glowed.
That and the reflector yellow highlights around the eyes and lower
parrot said. Indisputable. I stood in front of it in awe of its color
and size and heard it clearly over the din from the front of the
shop. I responded, "Hello." That was it. That was all it
took. I was entranced. I reached my hand out toward the parrot.
Charlie grabbed my shoulder from behind me and firmly pulled me back
from the cage. "300 pounds per square inch. Only takes 15 pounds
per square inch to take your finger off."
Boss? 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." 300 pounds per
square inch? Great sales pitch I thought. I tried to figure out how
to respond. I was in a parrot store looking at parrots. Of course I
was looking for a parrot. "Hello."
"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. 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 her say 'Hello' more than twice in the time she's been
in the shop. Usually she just grunts or hangs upside-down and honks."
The deep blue of Tara's
feathers shimmered in its cobalt brilliance in the afternoon light
streaming through the shop's 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 like
a Roman shield, with her burning black eye peering over the top of
her wing. She grasped one of her trailing flight feathers with her
other paw. "Hello," she said.
"What did you say
her name was?"
And she really is a princess. Her parents are a Duke and a Duchess."
"So is she a
parrot? Or a macaw?"
Charlie replied, "All
macaws are parrots, son. But not all parrots are macaws. Macaws are
the largest of the parrots. There's something like 360 species of
parrots on six of the world's seven continents."
At least it was 'son'
now. Guess that was better than being called boss.
"Of those 360
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
Back to 'boss.'
Okay. "I'm really
just looking," I replied. "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.
boss?" Charlie asked.
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, revealing a
pressing need for dental work.
Yeah sure, ya betcha, I
thought to myself. This conversation was getting noticeably
unsettling. I moved to the side to get a better look at the parrot.
Or a better look at the door, whichever came first. Tara's head
turned in response to my moves to keep her coal black eye fixed
straight on me. I started feeling a little bit uncomfortable, and
turned to see just how far I was from the shop's entrance.
Charlie opened the door
to Tara's cage and stuck his arm into the cage. Brave, I thought.
"Step up," he ordered the parrot. She stayed motionless on
her perch. "She's particular about who she likes," Charlie
noted. After hesitating momentarily, the parrot stepped onto
Charlie's arm and then quickly ran 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."
boss," Charlie said. "She likes you."
Now what? I thought.
"What do I do now," I asked Charlie as 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. "Did you hear that?"
I asked Charlie. "Hear what?" he replied. He seemed
genuinely surprised at the parrot's reaction to me, seemingly as
mystified by her behavior toward me as I was.
"Get me out of
almost afraid to ask," I said to Charlie. "How
much is the parrot?" I started to pull my wallet out of my
The wallet hit the
floor when Charlie told me the price. "I've never paid that much
for a car," I said as I bent over to retrieve my wallet.
"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."
Tara whispered into my ear. "No cage!"
"Did you hear
that?" I asked Charlie. "Hear what?"
"Tara said. . ."
and then I hesitated, craning my neck to look at 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 the 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
"I can talk
plenty," Tara said to me, plain as the sunny afternoon outside.
"Just give me a chance." I seemed to detect a note of
exasperation on the parrot's part.
playing a trick on me. You didn't just hear her say, 'She talks
Charlie seemed a tad
confused. "It's probably the other birds, what with the noise
and everything. You just think you heard her speak to you. These
concrete walls play tricks on your ears." He paused. "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 of a query than a statement.
I detected a slight
wink from Charlie. But at the moment I was trying to comprehend if
this magnificent creature perched on my shoulder could really be
talking to me. "Get me out of here. Please!"
Turns out I had enough
cushion on three of 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. . . wait.
What?" I was getting flustered and more uncertain whether I was
the butt of a grand joke or a giant scam.
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
"No you won't,"
"Yes I will. Wait.
What?" You didn't just hear Tara say 'No, I won't'," I
asked Charlie. Charlie retreated into his storeroom to find a pet
"Don't give me any
grief," I told Tara. Charlie returned with the carrier.
"So how do we get
her in there?" I said.
"I could always
throw a towel over her, but let's try the direct approach. Put your
arm out and place your hand in front of the carrier." I did so.
"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 neck again to look into her eyes above that huge
black beak next to my cheek and I thought I could sense a primordial
intelligence emanating from her glowing black eyes.
"You know what?"
I piped up. "Let's forget this. This is crazy. I don't know what
I'm doing here. This is getting too weird."
Before Charlie could
react Tara suddenly ran down my arm and into the carrier. "Okay
then. No cage." With Tara parked in the pet carrier I picked out
a suitable stand and chugged it and the bag of parrot food up to my
truck parked at the top of the market. I returned for Tara and I
exited the shop with a parrot in a box. As I climbed back up the hill
climb with my new charge I pondered how much poorer I was on what
suddenly seemed to me to be a snap decision. But I had an eerily
reassuring sense I was much richer for the bargain.
I had parked my truck
directly in front of the Pike Place Market Starbucks. After buckling
Tara into the passenger seat the thought of an iced espresso appealed
to me. The repeated trips up and down the hill climb with my heavy
loads were making me sweat. This sunny Seattle spring afternoon was
warming. The delectable aroma of fresh brewed espresso wafted out the
shop's open door.
As I started to close
the passenger door, Tara spoke up and said, "Do I smell coffee?"
I live in the old St.
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
hotel gave a distinctly dowdy appearance, like a spinster standing in
the back of old Victorian family tintypes. The only relief to the
unassuming facade of the two story red brick building was the floor
to ceiling bay windows on the upper floor.
The first floor of the
building had long ago 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. Few years ago I enjoyed
some small success with the lottery. So I no longer 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 down 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 parrot 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 see how Tara was reacting 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 been
the victim of 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.
I looked inside. Tara
looked back defiantly.
"Step up," I
said, remembering the command that Charlie had used. I waited.
"Step up," I
repeated. "My arm's getting tired holding you up here."
"Put the box
down," Tara suddenly said. I almost dropped the carrier. I
placed the carrier on the floor as commanded. Moments later 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
turned her head to peer up at me, hesitated, and then hopped on my
hand and onto my arm. Her blue feathers fluffed out, glittering
cobalt 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 grasped my arm so
tightly her nails almost punctured my skin.
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
bird shit I've been living with."
"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 afternoon was verging
into evening, but still pleasant outside.
"But I'd have to
put you back in the carrier."
"No. Please no.
I've been stuck in that cage and. . ." Tara fixed one coal black
eye on me and 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 was
so surreal it hadn't quite registered with me yet. Either 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.
silly man." I thought I saw the parrot wink at me. "I
promise I won't. Fly away. And if I do I won't go far. Promise. I'll
come back. Anyway, birds fly. That's what we do. So what's the big
The big deal was my
suddenly empty bank account.
"So you just sit
on my shoulder while I walk down the street?" I asked.
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.
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 parrot?"
"Can I pet it?"
"Will it bite?"
"Does it talk?"
"Polly want a
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 your time and attention just because of a parrot on your
Thankfully I spotted
empty chairs outside the coffee shop. I threw my jacket over one
before heading inside to order coffee. My favorite barista worked
behind the coffee bar.
"Hi Jean," I
said. Linda Jean looked up and smiled with one of those pasty local
television news anchor person 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
and gave 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
said, craning my neck to look at Tara. I clearly heard what Tara
"And for your
friend?" Jean repeated, thinking my question had been directed
"Sorry Jean. I
thought I heard Tara say something. You didn't hear her speak just
Tara repeated. More customers got in line behind me.
"You didn't just
hear that?" I asked Jean, tentatively. Jean looked at me
"You know what,
Jean. Give me a double tall latte instead. Hot."
"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 was starting to feel good
about my decision to get the parrot.
I sat down outside with
Tara. She gave my ear a hard pinch. "Ouch!" Several
customers and passersby looked at me.
"What are you
drinking? The coffee's mine." Before I could respond, trying to
rub the pain out of my ear, Jean came out with my coffee and sat down
at our table.
"Where did you
ever get a hyacinth macaw?" she asked.
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."
Charlie's. I have an African Grey parrot named Corky."
"You do? I didn't
"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
"No shit!" I
liked a woman with a loose vocabulary. "The wing's clipped? You
have a harness?"
"By clipped you
mean shortened? 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."
Jean asked quizzically. "I like you. You're funny. Does she
talk? You haven't told me her name."
said. Jean almost knocked over my coffee cup.
"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
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. Sure you don't want
some water or juice for Tara. I mean Princess Tara. Excuse me, your
"The coffee will
be fine," Tara stated.
coffee," I replied.
"You're funny. I
like guys with a sense of humor," she said, with a sly grin on
her face. "Birds are so intelligent sometimes I imagine entire
conversations with my grey." She got up. "Doubt Charlie
told you, but coffee is bad for parrots. Caffeine is a neurotoxin."
"Mind your own
business," Tara interjected as Jean hustled back into the shop.
I couldn't tell if Jean heard that too. 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 said, interrupting my daydream. Before I could
respond she ran down by 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 two-thirds of the cup before I thought to
push it away from her. "I want some of that too," I said.
"Did I ever miss
that!" Tara said. And so it began.
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 smell of salt water brought
with it a distinct chill. I grabbed my jacket and started to clear
the table. I appeared to be the coffee shop's last customer of the
day. 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
whitish hair stuck out of a green Seahawks wool cap pulled down over
her ears. Soiled black dress about three sizes too big. Topped off by
a frayed grey striped Pendleton blanket wrapped around her that
dragged on the sidewalk. A pilfered shopping cart next to her looked
like a veritable leaning tower of plastic bags. 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
occasionally dropped old 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 never carried cash with me and I
dreaded the inevitable request for spare change.
Something about this
bag lady unnerved me. She sat under the old Ballard City Hall bell
tower and seemed to stare directly across the street at Tara. I was
certain of it. I tried to ignore her, but everytime I glanced over
she became animated in response, in the way head cases tend to be
animated with their involuntary and unselfconscious street
My packing up seemed to
be her cue to act. She suddenly scurried across the street with more
energy and purpose than I thought possible for a hobbled old bag
"It's a devil!"
she screeched, just like I imagined a parrot might, pointing a gloved
hand at Tara. "Don't you see?" she beseeched me. I froze in
stunned silence. Startled, Tara in turn awoke out of a slumber on my
shoulder and fluttered down to the sidewalk.
"It's a devil come
to roost!" she yelled again, this time running at Tara. Tara
excitedly ran circles on the sidewalk while flapping her wings.
"What the fuck are
you doing?" I yelled back at her after collecting myself.
Thinking she intended to harm Tara I grabbed her by her shoulder as
she ran by me and flung her back away into the street. She fell on
her butt, but with surprising agility and speed sprung back up and
commenced after Tara once again.
Tara stopped running in
circles and faced the bag lady. With a couple of sharp flaps of her
wings against the pavement Tara hopped up on the back of the chair I
had been sitting on. She collected herself and suddenly screeched
with a volume of sound I did not think could be humanly possible. But
Tara was not human. I clasped my hands over my ears to muffle the
sound and my eyelids involuntarily shut so hard my eyes stung.
I next thing I noticed,
Jean stood next to me grasping my arm and pulled my hands away from
"Are you okay?"
she asked, her face furrowed with worry.
happened?" I asked.
screeched so loud I almost dropped the tray of dishes I was washing.
Is she okay?"
We both turned to look,
me fearing the worst. Tara sat quietly on the back of the chair
ruffling her wings while she preened her feathers.
"Where did she
go?" I asked, whirling around. The shopping cart was still
parked next to the bell tower.
"Are you okay?"
Jean asked my nervously. "Tara's right here."
"No, not Tara. The
old lady. The bag lady. She tried to attack Tara."
"What? What bag
"There was a bag
lady right here," I insisted. She tried to attack Tara. She was
screaming some shit about Tara being a devil. The last thing I
remember was Tara screeching."
We both turned to look
at Tara. And then looked at each other.
said. "Now what?"
"You didn't see
her? She was right here. I swear."
Jean gave me that crazy
funny look I feared.
"Tara must have
scared her off. She can't be far. You sure you okay?" Jean
asked, grasping my arm again. That was twice in one day. "Can I
get anything for you and Tara before I lock up?"
Too confused to
recognize an invitation when one stared me in the face, I just said,
"I think I should get Tara home."
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.
happened?" I asked rhetorically, to no one in particular,
certainly not Tara.
"I made her go
away," Tara responded.
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 turned 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
"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'll 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
Tara said. "I'll 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
"I want some
food," Tara repeated, with a note of exasperation in her voice.
"Well, I've got
some caprese salad in the fridge I was planning on eating for
"What's a caprese
salad?" Tara asked with considerable interest.
tomatoes. . ."
"Yes. Yes. And
yes! Please," she begged.
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.
Without thinking of the
absurdity of the situation, I poured some cabernet into a wide brim
glass and held it up to her. Her tongue started paddling like crazy
as she tried to drain the glass. After Tara took several drinks, I
raised the glass to my mouth and guzzled what remained.
demanded. "What happened to that bag lady? Is she dead?"
Tara 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."
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'm sure she's
fine," Tara added. I bent her time and space to the beach on
what you call Alki Point. She'll wander around for a while until the
cops pick her up. They'll 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 "Yes."
"Okay. Don't say I
didn't warn you. But only because I like you. A lot!" Tara
continued, "Some people can see me for what I truly am. Some
people who don't live in your reality, like the old lady, can see me
for what I am. I think that Charlie could see me for what I am. He
had a sense. Or he suspected. That's why he was afraid of me."
The sun had gone down
and 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 looked at Tara. Tara looked at me.
Suddenly the room went
dark. Not dark as in absence of light. Dark as in absence of
I lost all reference to
reality. I was floating 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
suddenly opened in my apartment from which no light or existence
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, eventually
encompassing 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 came on me from every direction.
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.
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 was so black it
shed light. 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.
"Don't 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
In my shock I could
barely muster a reply. "What are you?" I finally managed to
be explained in due time," she offered. "We have all of
eternity, if we chose it." I sensed that with her time and space
really could be molded to suit her needs.
"But now I want
you," she said.
was the best response I could offer.
she said, stepping 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. "Don't be afraid," she whispered in my
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. The time was well
into the day. 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 perch 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.
wandered into the bedroom in something of a daze to
find some clothes and get dressed. Slipped on my shoes and grabbed my
jacket and keys. I walked up to Tara and said, "Come on. Step
up. We're going to go see somebody." I didn't dare leave her
alone. I might find I didn't have a home to come back to.
I got in my truck and
Tara hopped onto the passenger seat head rest. 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 cookies. I ran past the brass pig and down the
hill climb to Charlie's Bird Store.
Tara finally perked up
when we got to the door. "No. I'm not going back in there,"
she emphatically said. "You're not taking me back? What are you
doing?" she pleaded.
"I need to talk to
"I'm not going in
I opened the door. Tara
suddenly flapped her wings and before I could think to grab her feet
she was fifty feet in the air and flying 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
Charlie appeared at the
door. "Tara?" he asked, looking 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
shoulder 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. So why did you bring her back here?"
"Well, I didn't
want to leave her at home unattended," I said. "Something
strange happened to me last night. And I think you might have an idea
what it is," I added.
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. Tara
raped me last night." There, I said it. I paused. "Maybe
rape is the wrong word, but she took certain liberties with me, and
I'm not talking about the god-damned parrot."
Charlie looked 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."
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
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 finally broke
the silence. "So you know there's more to Tara than meets the
eye?" he asked.
I wanted to say, 'No
Shit Sherlock!' I said, "she made somebody disappear last
night." Charlie didn't show the slightest surprise. "We
were in downtown Ballard and some old bag lady tried to attack her.
Kept calling her a devil. Then suddenly she just vanished. Into thin
air. And that wasn't even the strangest part."
"After we got
home," I continued, "she scared the shit out of me. She
transformed herself from a parrot. . . a parrot that just by the way
can make people disappear, she transformed herself into some sort of
freak that can bend time and space."
I half expected some
kind of reaction from Charlie. Nothing. "Not a freak,"
Charlie interjected. "Not hardly."
"Maybe that's the
wrong word. Extremely beautiful in a very frightening way. Did I
mention she was totally naked?"
Charlie looked up at me
with a bemused look. Finishing one beer he started the other.
"She had this skin
that glowed blue like cobalt," I added. "And then she made
love to me. Or at least I think she did. That's when I passed out."
"We may need more
beer, son," Charlie said.
"Looks like Tara
showed you more of herself than she ever showed me," Charlie
offered. "When Tara first came into the store her owner dropped
her off and ran. I mean ran away as fast as she could go. Was
supposed to just board the bird for the weekend, but the lady never
came back. Never called. Nothing. I mean who in their right mind
abandons a bird worth as much as Tara? So I'm setting up Tara's
cage," Charlie continued, "and this guy comes into the shop
and starts teasing the bird. Pokes at her. Tries to pet her. Touch
her. So she bites him. He's so mad he hits Tara with his fist."
I looked up at Charlie.
He continued, "I come running out of the back and I'm ready to
tackle this guy and beat the crap out of him. Before I get half way
there Tara lets out this tremendous shriek that stops me dead in my
tracks. And shuts up every other bird in the place. And the guy plum
Charlie chugged the
remainder of his beer. I motioned to the clerk to bring another
round. Charlie continued, "So I get on the phone with the aviary
over in Spokane that Tara came from. Just to see if I might get an
indication that something is different with her. It's run by this
Indian guy. Not Lone Ranger and Tonto kind of Indian, but Indian
Indian. From India," he added in clarification. I got the
Charlie said, " I
started telling him a small part of what happened and he started
blabbing to me about mantras and Buddhas and reincarnation and all
kinds of witches and gods and goddesses and shit. I decided I better
drive over to Spokane on my closed day and meet this guy. Long day
but it was worth it. I got him good and drunk and got one hell of a
story out of him."
The clerk brought four
more beers out to our table.
Charlie nodded and
continued, "See, there's this ancient race of warrior witches
that can take animal form in some of the most wayward and godforsaken
parts of the world, far away from normal people. Tibet. The Ural
Mountains of Russia. The Andes. The Northwest Coast. Tara is one of
those warriors. An Amazon. A Jason and the Argonauts kind of Amazon.
Not the bird kind."
I started thinking four
beers might not be enough.
Charlie continued with
his story. "This witchcraft was all fine and good when the world
was large and distances were great. Humans and witches kept to their
own worlds. But as the world got smaller and distances got shorter,
well then, the world of witches and gods started spilling over into
the world of men."
Charlie started on
another beer. "Then the most powerful of these witches, these
gods, decided they would enslave mankind to do their bidding. They
started hiding among us in positions of authority and power. Those
they couldn't subvert they killed. And took their place. See, these
witches are shape-shifters. They can take animal or human form and
hide among us. The only checks on their powers, the only protection
people had, were the ancient shamans who knew how to counter their
magic. Now, even the shamans aren't strong enough to stand up to
Thirteen years of
graduate school down the drain, I thought to myself.
"So this Indian
guy lets out that these warriors only reveal themselves when there's
a threat to their existence. Which means a threat to our existence.
And apparently there's a threat. A bad threat. A god of war, a
warlock, a really bad hombre, killed his shaman on the Canuck coast
and escaped his homeland and is extending his empire over the world
of men. This god of war is called Winalagalis."
Okay, I thought. What
the hell have I got myself into? "You know anything about him?"
I asked Charlie.
"Only that he
comes from a race of warriors in Canuck Land, called the
"So what do we
do?" I asked very rhetorically.
"That's where Tara
comes in," Charlie said. "Apparently there's a whole passel
of Taras. Twenty-one different kinds of Taras. But the Blue Tara,
what Tara is, is top dog. . ."
"Or top parrot,"
"Tara is one of the fiercest and most powerful warriors of them
all. Did she have a battle axe?"
"Yes she did,"
I responded. "And just one eye and one breast."
Charlie reached across
the table and grabbed my hand. "Tara is one of the most powerful
and one of the most secret of the warrior witches. She only shows
herself to special people." The hair on the back of my neck
bristled. Hell, all the hair I had left on my body bristled. "That's
why not everybody can see her the way she really is. But the people
she shows herself to, those people have a special role in whatever
game she's playing. Your seeing Tara as she really is is both a
blessing and a curse. For your sake," Charlie whispered, "I
hope to hell she's flown off and you never see her again!"