As 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 performance theater.
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 lady.
"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 my ears.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her face furrowed with worry.
"What just happened?" I asked.
"Your bird 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 me nervously. "Tara's right here."
"No, not Tara. The old lady. The bag lady. She tried to attack Tara."
"What? What bag lady?"
"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.
"Okay," Jean 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."
"Okay," Jean 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.
"What just 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 away."
"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 possible.
"I promise," 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 myself.
"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 dinner."
"What's a caprese salad?" Tara asked with considerable interest.
"Cheese, peppers, 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.
"Okay," I 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."
"You what?" 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 awhile 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 existence!
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 could escape.
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.
Black nothingness 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.
"Tara?" I 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 really am."
In my shock I could barely muster a reply. "What are you?" I finally managed to ask.
"Everything will 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.
"For what?" was the best response I could offer.
"Come here," 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 ear.
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.