My Bird Bill
I was always an oddball, or so I’ve been told, first by my widely respected doctor father, and by various other persons of authority over the years. When I was a child of eight, my father was gone for a year, attempting to cure some disease in Africa.
Not a letter, not a telegram, not a phone call to his young son Chris. Upon his return, I received a pat on the head and a huge, live African Gray parrot that my mother donated to the Hartford zoo the minute my father left for Patagonia a week later. I had named him Bill and when my fifth-grade class took a field trip a year later I saw him perched on a high bamboo pole in the aviary. I don’t think he saw me, but I knew it was him.
Miss Collins, our teacher, arranged us in two rows, boy, girl, boy, girl, and even made us hold hands as if we were little kids. When I saw who my partner was I panicked. Debbie Zelf stared at me with clear blue eyes from behind her thick glasses, smiled sweetly, and held out her hand. But it wasn’t a real hand. It was a contraption that started at her elbow and ended in two curved metal pincers that opened up to accept my hand. I gingerly hooked one finger around them and tried to smile as we ambled along the zoo path. I stared at the ground unable to escape the revulsion I felt at the touch of her cold metal hook. Hours spent pouring over the pictures in my father’s medical books had produced in me a fear of human deformity of any kind. When we arrived at the vast aviary we broke rank and crowded around the high wire enclosure. I tugged at Miss Collin’s coat sleeve.
“Miss Collins, that’s my parrot way up at the top, his name is Bill!
Most of the kids laughed and someone called me an asshole. Miss Collins clapped her hands loudly.
“Alright class, settle down, let's keep quiet and respect all the animals. Line up please and we’ll go to the reptile house. Come on, find
Miss Collins looked at me like I was out of my nut, making me feel worse than I already did but then Debbie did something so sweet and kind I remember it still.
“Let’s switch Chris and walk on the other side, okay?”
The hot blush I felt was part shame and part relief and as I took her real hand in mine she whispered to me – "Bill is very beautiful Chris.”