The Girl and the Parrot

A Short Story by Richard D. Hartwell

Bumping into each other as they did and finding that they were more alike than different, the girl — attired in her turquoise, orange and pink parti-colored coveralls and matching hair band — met the lost, rain-bowed parrot who was far from Amazonia. They touched lightly, pink nose to pink beak. Immediately they saw each other’s point-of-view, eye-to-eye, and both were not lost or lonely anymore. Actually they had not so much bumped into each other as flown into each other. The girl had been running down a narrow path at breakneck speed towards what had sounded to her like a waterfall. For its part of the encounter, the bird had been flying, truly flying, actually coming in for a breakfast landing on what looked to be a persimmon tree. They had collided and fallen in a heap at the point where the path curved around the orange-speckled tree and continued on to the west.

After a momentary flurry of misplaced feathers and displaced hair, the newly-met couple had started laughing; first in confusion, then in embarrassment, and finally in that self-conscious manner assumed by those who, because possessed of good manners and raised with proper breeding, know enough to introduce themselves. The little girl had giggled, as little girls will do when taking charge of a situation, and the parrot had squawked softly, as parrots will do when they are overcome with laughter, too. Because of their awkward position, heaped together in the middle of the path underneath the tree, both the parrot and the girl had inclined their heads in nodded greeting, not being able to curtsey or bow. That was when they had touched noses, so to speak.

The parrot was most enamored of its look-a-like and cocked its head from side to side and fluffed up its neck feathers. The girl was far too pleased to have a friend to question the what of their meeting. Neither did either of them question the why of the meeting and, by now, they were both too used to the where, having been running or flying in the jungle for quite some time it seemed. As for the who? Well, they introduced themselves quite properly.

“I’m Alicia. Who are you?” asked the girl of her miniature, mirrored image of color combinations.

At first the parrot was a bit put-off, having now heard human speech again after so long enduring only the non-silence of the jungle’s chatter. “Who are you?” the parrot parroted back, much to Alicia’s consternation. She had expected, apparently, far more of the natural give-and-take of discourse. She had expected a direct answer. The parrot’s response did not so much confuse Alicia as complicate her line of inquiry. She really wanted to know what to call her new friend. She thought for a moment, her mouth pursed in concentration.

She decided to try a different approach. “What’s your name?” she inquired.

Apparently this question was more to the point, or more likely the parrot understood what was required upon hearing the word “name” and promptly responded, “Orc-hid . . . Orc-hid . . . Orc-hid.”

Alicia was nothing if not a polite young lady. Without a single moment’s hesitation she addressed the parrot once again. “Oh Miss Orchid, that is such a beautiful name. Won’t you please call me Alicia?”

Orchid was an extremely intelligent parrot and readily took Alicia up on her offer. In fact, Orchid decided right then and there to practice the girl’s name several times over, “A-lee-shaa . . . A-lee-shaa . . . A-lee-shaa,” which may not have been exactly correct, but was close enough to more than satisfy Alicia. Three times of three syllables each seemed just right to her! Alicia’s face broke into a wondrous smile of appreciation. Everyone likes to hear their name.

“Thank you Miss Orchid. I’m so pleased to meet you; nine times as much,” and then Alicia giggled at her multiplication joke.

During all of these introductions, Alicia had managed to regain her feet, dust the dirt off the bottom of her overalls, and resettle her hair band after combing out her mussed up hair with her fingers. Orchid had straightened out one bent tail feather with her hooked beak and smoothed down some ruffled pin feathers as well, first flipping and then resettling both wings. Orchid had then flown up to Alicia’s left shoulder, perching on the wide coverall strap, and assumed what could only be considered a most natural pose. Orchid looked just like an accessory of Alicia’s colorful costume.

Alicia stood up taller. She was very pleased with herself and seemed to act more grown up with the responsibility of carrying her new friend. Orchid turned half around on Alicia’s shoulder to look backward — quite possibly at the persimmon tree — then turned half around again and faced forward. The parrot nibbled lightly at Alicia’s left ear lobe making her giggle again. The girl started west down the path, continuing on the way she had before, towards the possibility of the waterfall.

As they continued, the rush and whoosh of water grew louder, although not enough to hurt their ears. Alicia was very thoughtful and was concerned that Orchid might be scared. She kept saying softly, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She said it softly, trying to soothe Orchid. Apparently the parrot was quite used to the sound of the waterfall and was quite content to head-bob with each forward step the girl took in cadence with her words, one step for each beat of ‘It’s okay.’

There was one final hedge through which Alicia pushed, causing Orchid to stretch her wings above her head in anticipation of flight. As the shrubbery of the hedge closed behind them, fanned out in front of them lay the foaming base of the waterfall. Wavelets and ripples lapped at Alicia’s feet. Small drops of water splattered her orange tennis shoes. The waterfall seemed to surround them on three sides, which may have been just an illusion of the mist and the noise of the water.

The falls rose above them for what seemed like thousands of feet. Alicia had to crane her neck backwards to see the top. The moss-green water spilled over an unseen ledge high above. In the air, the water seemed to hang for a moment, suspended like a cloud, and then filtered off to a mist and dropped into a lagoon below the falls like a gentle rain in spring. The lagoon was not so much blue or green as it was a roiling cauldron of bubbling emeralds and sapphires.

Above the lagoon — stretching from one side of the clearing to the other side — arced a brilliant rainbow that tapered and disappeared in the mists at either end. The morning sun, continuing to rise behind Alicia, was just at the right angle to create a second rainbow. This second spectrum hung suspended above the first rainbow. It was softer and not as brilliant as the first, but with the colors reversed, or maybe inside out. Alicia cried aloud, not in fright but with pleasure and Orchid fluffed up momentarily.

“Sorry,” Alicia said and turned her head towards Orchid.

Orchid just said, “A-lee-shaa,” in that special parrot way she had and ducked her head up and down several times as if nodding ‘Yes’ to some question.

They both turned back towards the lagoon and the waterfall. Weaving in and out of both rainbows, ducking through the falling mists of the waterfall, were hundreds and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of parrots just like Orchid. Alicia turned her head again to the left, toward Orchid, and Orchid turned to the right and cocked her head to the side. The girl and the parrot looked at each other deeply. Reflected in each other’s eyes they saw a thousand rainbow hues, shading from ruby reds to almost obsidian violets. They saw the treasure of gleaming gems reflected from within and on the lagoon and feathered in the air above. There were the glistening facets of sapphires and diamonds. There were the smooth, soft, subtle tones of onyxes and opals. There were the deep darknesses of emeralds and tourmalines. This was the wealth each saw in the eyes of the other.

Orchid shook herself with joy and broke eye contact first. She stretched first one wing, extending it fully, then she did the same with the other wing. Just before Orchid launched herself into the air, she bobbed her head forward and again rubbed her beak on Alicia’s nose. Alicia moved her head slightly from side to side, rubbing her nose across Orchid’s beak. In this way they kissed and said farewell.

In a single motion, Orchid pushed off from the girl’s shoulder, spread her wings and swooped low over the crystal foam of the lagoon. She then flapped her wings twice and then a third time and rose into the cloud of parrots and water drops and sparkles suspended in the air halfway down the waterfall.

Alicia followed Orchid with her eyes as long as she could until the parrot disappeared into the mist and mix of feathers and colors of rainbows and birds. Even though she couldn’t see the parrot any longer, or couldn’t see a particular parrot, Alicia couldn’t help but wave and say softly, almost under her breath, “Good-bye Orchid. It was nice meeting you.”

From within the midst of the waterfall, perhaps confounded as much by the gurgle and splash of the water as by the chuckling of the parrots, the girl was almost certain she could hear Orchid calling her again, “A-lee-shaa . . . A-lee-shaa . . . A-lee-shaa.” Alicia closed her eyes and smiled with memories.

* * * * *

“Alicia . . . Alicia . . . Alicia.” Someone seemed to be continually calling to her.

“Uh huh,” was all she could manage to say.

“You were running, dear, and fell and must have knocked yourself out. How are you feeling?”

“Okay.”

“Are you all right? Does anything hurt? What’s your favorite number?”

“I’m okay. No. Nine!”

“Nine? But I thought your favorite number was four. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“No, it’s nine; at least from now on. I’m okay!” Alicia said with studied emphasis and a smile. The traffic continued to swoosh by on the street and there seemed to be a flutter of wings high above. Alicia continued to look for rainbows and listen for waterfalls; her eyes and ears were open to tomorrow.

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Veteran’s Day, 2015

This was originally posted on projectagentorange.com’s site.

https://projectagentorange.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/veterans-day-2015/

An Essay by Richard D. Hartwell

Project Agent Orange

The first time I was ever thanked for my military service by anyone outside family was in 1985, by a co-worker. This was eighteen years after I returned from Vietnam. The next time was in 2012 when I was in tears in front of the “Moving Wall,” the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial, and a fellow veteran, a docent, rolled up in his wheelchair, patted me on the back, and told me, “It’s okay; you’re home now!”

I don’t share this lightly and I don’t want to confuse issues: Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who did not “make it back.” Veterans’ Day is in honor of all America’s veterans, past and present. Well, I remember throughout the year those friends I lost and I feel nothing but support and concern for our military members.

But between these two commemorative days, not in space or time, but in meaning and emotion, we are missing acknowledgment of those whose lives have been too early lost or adversely affected by the effects of Agent Orange and its kin. Not just our military members and families but those Vietnamese lives lost and maimed by the effects of all the chemicals used during the American War.

I realize that with the establishment of the Order of the Silver Rose came acknowledgment of the extreme sacrifice of our service members who have died as a result of the deleterious effects of Agent Orange. In no way do I denigrate this award. However, there is little recognition outside the Department of Veterans Affairs for the ongoing suffering of American service members due to the ravages of Agent Orange and little to none for the hereditary defects passed on to veterans’ progeny. Oh! – and none at all for the Vietnamese military, north or south, and civilians and their generations of birth defects linked to Agent Orange.

I do not and would not advocate setting aside a day to commemorate these losses on both sides of the Pacific due to Agent Orange. Such deaths and “wounds” are equally the result of the war waged in the jungles, plains, rivers, blue waters, and air above Vietnam. They should be remembered and commemorated as such; remembered not as collateral damage but as the wages of war.

On this Veterans’ Day, and every Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day as well, remember and celebrate the lives of ALL the victims of war; regardless of country, politics, generation, or the nature of the death or “wounds” received.

Project Agent Orange

To see the original posting on Project Agent Orange’s forum, please click here:

http://projectagentorange.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=2.msg18163#msg18163

Micro Meteorology

A Poem by Richard D. Hartwell

The day heats up slowly,
molecule by molecule hot
air rises towards cumulous.

Cold air slips into the void.

Wind chimes tremble with
the music of the weather witch
casting spells over the garden.

Syncopated rhythms backbeat
the hush of trees, songs of birds,
and decanted exhalations of life.

To My Grandson TeJuan On Learning Of The Death Of His Hamster

An Essay by Richard Hartwell

TeJuan, life is sometimes far too fleeting. That’s a big grandpa word that means it is too short and over too quickly. I know you are sad and I heard from your grandma that you were upset. I understand, and I feel very badly for you. Some people may tell you that you will get over it, the “it” being the hurt you feel, and they may tell you that the hamster is in a better place, in heaven or with God. Well, it has been my experience that I don’t want to get over things, even the sad things, too quickly. I want to try to understand them, like you, and when I can’t, like you again, I try to learn to accept what I cannot change and to keep the thought of it in my mind to think about every now and then, later. As for the other part of what some people say, about your hamster being in a better place like heaven or whatever they choose to call it, well — I just do not know. And that is being very honest.

Different people all over the world have different ways of thinking about death and dying, for hamsters and for people, too. Some really smart people all throughout history have given a lot of study and sometimes a lot of words to this subject. And they do not have the answers either. Some really dumb people throughout history, and many still around today, seem to think they have all the answers and they are only too pleased with themselves and ready to share their special answers. Sometimes they will even share when you do not necessarily want to hear them.

I guess what grandpa is trying to say to you in his own plodding way is that your hamster is most likely where you think it is. It is there in heaven if you like that idea. Or it is there in the backyard if you like that idea better. Or perhaps a little tiny bit of it is left in your heart. I do not know exactly. I do not have easy answers and perhaps the easy answers are not the best answers anyway. One small thing I do know though is that your hamster is in your memory and in your thoughts. And that is a very good place for your hamster to be.

Perhaps it is not easy for you to think about your hamster right now. It should not be easy. But you will reach a point after more time when you can remember the good times with your hamster without automatically remembering this bad time. That is what makes life worthwhile, even a brief, short life. I wish I could tell you honestly that it is the only death you will have to think about. Sadly, there will be others. But maybe that is also part of the memory of your hamster. He can help you grow up just a little bit more, even if you do not understand things any better. Come to think of it, TeJuan, I get confused by it too. But I am here if you want to talk some more. I love you. Grandpa.

Flashback: An End Piece

A Poem by Richard Hartwell

I see two Vietnamese women, old, walking
Hand in hand, symbiotically connected,
Down a Southern California street,
Years away from the American War,
Yet somehow reminiscent of it;
Sisters? Mother and daughter?
What memories do they share?
What absences do they share?

Hand in hand with rifles slung, shoes tied together, over their shoulders,
Barefoot ARVN soldiers meandered down the highway.
Who wanted to fight? No one! Everyone. Someone?
It was to be a game of politics and posture, pressure and retreat.
Only with the push and prod of outsiders did the game turn ugly.

Paper-doll soldiers ”laughed at by some, related by birth and culture,
Connected by more than sweaty palms and common provinces ”
Were no match for organized masses from the North, or the East.
Divided by the War of Aggression, weren’t they still the same?
So what was the difference? What made their blood run thin?

I am so alien in the presence of these women,
I who should not be here, observing, questioning,
I who still belong deep in their native country, loving.
What do they remember of Vietnam?
What do I?
What do I think of their living here?
What do they?
Together, we three share so much that others will never know.
Too much has passed for us to acknowledge what losses we all remember most.

An end-piece first appearing in the novella “Flashbacks,” featured in Burnt Bridge’s “Those Who Served,” a D-Day issue published in June 2011, and now available in a Kindle Edition as Vietnam Flashbacks: A Personal Memoir.