The Parrot's Bell: flash fiction by cam
Burl Johnson wanted to make a powerful statement to the small city in which he lived. While ramblers and ranches were the craze in home construction across America, he built a three thousand square foot stone victorian on a hilltop overlooking the town. It was his way of reminding the people down there who the wealthiest and most powerful person around really was. The message they got was slightly different. When they looked at the house on the hill, they thought, what a jackass.
Burl built the house with his own hands, except for the rafters. He made life miserable for the crew he hired to put them up. He watched from the yard and yelled that a rafter wasn’t plum, even though the carpenters’ levels proved him wrong. They claimed he never paid them in full, he claimed he paid them what they were worth.
The house was finally finished in the fall of 1955, and Burl moved in just before halloween. He placed jack-o-lanterns in two upstairs windows that, according to the townspeople, looked like yellow eyes peering out of a gigantic skull. He had no visitors on All Hallows Eve or on any other eve for that matter.
The only relationship in Burl’s life that resembled love was with a parrot named Boris. The two had an understanding in which Boris was allowed to live on a roost next to Burl’s recliner rather than in a cage. In return, Boris acted as Burl’s alarm clock, waking him each morning by pecking three times on a bell suspended like a pendulum from the ceiling on a length of string.
Peanut shells littered the floor beneath the roost, remnants of Boris’s reward for waking his master.
One morning in 1995, the bell did not ring, and Burl did not roll out of bed. Man and bird had passed away during the same night.
Aryanna sat in the lone, dining room chair while her husband, Stephen, and a realtor named Jack stood during their discussion about the dilapidated victorian. Jack searched musty kitchen drawers for a rag to wipe twenty years of dust from the table.
“What’s the history of the property since the old man died?” said Stephen.
“No relatives came forward, so the place reverted to the State,” said Jack.
“No bank held a lien?” said Aryanna.
“Johnson owned it free and clear,” said Jack. “A development company bought it five years ago, but they’ve had no luck selling it.”
The three visitors walked into the living room. Crumbling remnants of peanut shells lay scattered on the floor beneath a wooden rod supported by a simple, two-by-four frame.
“A bird roost?” said Aryanna.
“The old fella had a parrot is what I’ve been told,” said Jack.
Aryanna picked up a bell from the floor beneath the roost. She looked up and saw the string dangling from a hook in the ceiling.
“A toy for the bird," she said. Using the kitchen chair as a step stool, Arianna reached out and touched the string. It crumbled into pieces which drifted to the surface of the recliner where they were lost in the accumulation of dust. She went to the kitchen and returned with a roll of string and a pair of scissors. “Stephen, could you put it up? I can’t reach the ceiling, even from the chair.” She cut the string and handed it to her husband. A moment later, the bell was swinging gently from the ceiling.
“The place is in rough shape,” said Jack. “That’s why the price is so low.”
“How low?” said Stephen.
“One twenty five,” said Jack.
“We’ll offer a hundred,” said Stephen.
“That might be considered low balling,” said Jack.
“We’ll consider the difference to be full payment for the rafters my Grandfather put on the place,” said Aryanna.
“Well, nobody else seems all that interested, so it will probably be accepted,” said Jack.
“Sold,” said Aryanna as she tapped the bell three times with the scissors.
The visitors left through the front door, and Jack secured the padlock on the outside.
A hush settled over the old victorian as the bell swung back and forth beside the parrot’s roost. A voice drifted down the staircase, barely disturbing the silence.
“Boris, I think you were late ringing the bell this morning.”