When Beau, with Lori, knocked on his neighbor’s door to ask permission to pick a gardenia, she invited them in for iced tea. Because they were neighbors who hadn’t yet met, in Key West terms, this was a festive occasion. Mrs. Bell brought a plate of molasses cookies and a pitcher of iced sweet tea out to her back patio.
“I have a friend,” said Lori, “who has three good lime trees in her yard,”
“ah,” said Mrs. Bell.
“And a good well.”
“So she made gallons and gallons of limeade for her family. Over time.” Mrs. Bell nodded.
“But she was using mangrove honey to sweeten it.” Mrs. Bell winced.
“She’s from Vermont.”
“Her husband’s from Baltimore.”
Mrs. Bell looked at Beau.
Beau had heard the story about Lori’s friend who accidentally stripped the enamel from her family’s teeth. He was looking at a very large and empty birdcage with its door standing open
that was set against a frangipani thicket at one end of the garden.
“There were two of them,” said Mrs. Bell. ”Parrots. My husband bought them as a mated pair from a dealer in Boca. We called the big one George and the little one Charlotte.”
Beau stood and walked over to the cage. He looked back at Mrs. Bell and smiled. The frangipani smelled like striped ribbon candy.
“We learned that Charlotte was actually Jon-Jon which didn’t really matter as we had never expected eggs.” Said Mrs. Bell. “George was…a social problem.”
“Because of the swearing?” asked Lori
“No. Well, partly. One expects that with a parrot. At first it’s funny, then it’s annoying, eventually you don’t notice. George is very vocal and all you can make out of what he’s saying is the curses. So we never got past being annoyed.”
“Is? Not was?” Beau asked.
“Oh yes. George is still around. That’s why I leave the cage door open. Maybe you’ve seen him…?”
“So what was the problem if not the cussing?” asked Lori.
“George was very abusive to poor little Jon-Jon. Screamed at him, bit him, kicked him, muscled him away from the food. Jon-Jon complained bitterly but never fought back. He took to plucking out his own feathers. It became rather worrisome. Then, one day George figured out the latch and flew away.”
“Problem solved!” Said Lori.
“Not at all,” said Mrs. Bell. “Jon-Jon finished the job of snatching himself bald and died of a broken heart.”
“That’s just weird,” said Lori.
“Yes, it is.” She agreed. “Now George just flies around the neighborhood, muttering curses.”
“Wait,” said Beau, “I have seen him. He flies around in the early morning. You never see him in the heat of the day or the evening. I always called him The Mumbling Parrot.”
“Yes, that’s Georgie. That’s our boy.” Said Mrs. Bell.