The Green Parrot, story by Nelly Shulman at
Benaja Germann

The Green Parrot

The Green Parrot

written by: Nelly Shulman


All the nonsense started because of the damned bird.
Max arrived in the city in a good mood, undisturbed even by the grey December drizzle. On his way from JFK, stuck in a traffic jam, he alternately listened to a weatherman promising a rainy Christmas and a taxi driver talking about global warming.
Max worked in a place where global warming seemed irrelevant. His office, buried in the deep snow, was surrounded by the tin barrels where fuel burned around the clock. Torches scared away polar bears. In the summer, animals crept closer to the mine. Last August, Max got on the TV when his crew had picked up an orphaned bear cub. The animal flew safely to a wildlife refuge where it now lived in a clover.

Slamming the taxi door, Max sang off-tune, “I am dreaming of a white Christmas.”
He smiled broadly, which happened every time he remembered a simple melody. Last Christmas, having flown to New York on business, he sent a message to an old mate. Being barely awake, Max made a mistake in one digit.
The message, “And may all your Christmas’ be white,” went to an unknown number, which immediately responded, “Just like the ones I used to know?”
Grinning, Max typed, “With every Christmas card I write…” He resolutely pressed the button. The phone squeaked again, “May your days, may your days, may your days.” Max replied, “Be merry and bright.”
For some reason, he was sure that the number belonged to a woman.
“Now she will think me crazy,” Max got up from the sofa, “I should not impose myself on her anymore.”
The winter rain poured over the roofs of New York. The spire of the Chrysler Building rose into the foggy sky. His phone lit up with a rainbow of bright colors. Max almost dropped his glasses from excitement.
“I am in the subway,” he read. “On the way to Central Park.”
Max quickly wrote, “Where the treetops glisten.” He had no idea whom he would see in the Park, but Max has always told his crew that there was plenty of room for risk in life.

Now he was sweating under his parka, pertinent only beyond the Arctic Circle and looking out of place surrounded by skyscrapers. An elegant elderly lady with a tiny dog gave Max an unfriendly look. He has again forgotten the entrance code. Conjuring over the buttons at the door, he heard a stern female voice, “Who are you visiting, sir?”
The bay window on the seventh floor opened. A damp wind blew the curtain, revealing a slender frame on the windowsill.
“Mrs. Van Helden, please do not be afraid,” cheerfully shouted Madelaine, “The young man is my guest.”
Max, who stopped being a young man twenty years ago, gallantly let the woman through the door.
“You see, I have forgotten the entrance code,” he began.
Mrs. Van Helden pursed her rouge-painted lips, and the dog growled.
“The front door should always be properly closed,” she said. “The code is simple, one eight four three. The year of birth of…”
“President McKinley,” Max was delighted at his memory.
Mrs. Van Helden haughtily replied, “Of the great American writer Henry James, who…”
Max held the rumbling elevator door, “Lived in the building.” Mrs. Van Helden pressed the button for the fifth floor.
“He visited his friends here,” said the woman, “President McKinley also did so. Merry Christmas to you and Ms. Vionnet.”
Max was already on his way to her apartment, gleaming with polished parquet, temptingly smelling of his favorite apple pie, and crowned by a fragrant Christmas tree decorated with tangerines and gingerbreads.

Everything went wrong the next day.
Max wanted to do gift shopping and dine at a restaurant. Madelaine tucked opera tickets behind the mirror frame in the hallway. Max was sometimes annoyed by her habit of scattering everything around, but admiring the blue glass of her Venetian hairpin, as transparent as Madelaine’s eyes, he calmed down and asked where they were going. Madelaine put a black beret on her red curls.
“To Brooklyn,” she replied, “To the flea market.”
Max could never understand why anyone wanted to schlep into the wilderness and bargain for junk, but Madelaine was already getting into her coat.
“We are going gift-shopping,” she replied, “You will not find anything like that on Fifth Avenue.”
Max followed her, muttering, “What kind of gifts are there at the flea market?”
A light rain poured on the rows of sellers. Skillfully rummaging through all sorts of nonsense, Madelaine suddenly turned to him.
“Wait for me here,” she said absent-mindedly.
Her voice might have been distant, but Max knew her piercing gaze well. Madelaine went to an oilcloth-covered table. Max, who often neglected his glasses, could not see the goods sold by a woman in a plastic bag tied over a torn beret.
Putting something into her bag, Madelaine unexpectedly hugged the woman.
“That’s it,” she returned to Max. “I know you want to buy my present in the city. Let’s go, honey.”
Next to the subway, they stumbled upon a man hunched over a flimsy table. Madeline stopped.
“How much is your parrot?”
Max would not call a green creature with a pink beak and crooked legs a parrot.
“This is a toucan, made from jade and rock crystal,” said the trader creakingly. “The bird used to sit on an amethyst nugget, but it had been lost.”
Max has heard enough.
“Come on,” he nudged Madelaine.
“How much is a toucan?” she repeated stubbornly.
“Fifty,” the trader rapped out. Max would not have given a fiver for such nonsense.
“Let me make a transfer,” Madelaine pulled out her phone. The man shook his head, “Cash only.”
“Have you got some cash,” she looked at Max, “Please …”
Max had fifty and five hundred and even more, but he was not going to waste money. He threw his coffee cup into the nearest bin.
Madelaine pleadingly said, “I gave that woman all my cash,” she nodded at the seller in a torn beret. “Her daughter is in prison.”
Max rolled his eyes expressively, “No, and enough about that.”
Madeline dived into a corner bodega. Max expected to see her on the platform, but he had to return to the city alone. Madelaine appeared only in the evening, slamming the door heartily, sending her coat flying into the hallway.
“I have got a deadline,” she announced, “You will have to amuse yourself.”
Max passed the evening in the company of a pizza box and Netflix. At the end of the night spent on the sofa, he crept into the bathroom. The opened bedroom door revealed Madelaine curled up in a ball under the duvet. Books piled up around the computer. Something gleamed on the table.
She bought the damned parrot anyway. Picking the bird up, Max assured himself that Madelaine, who always lost everything, will not miss the trinket.
Leaning out of the kitchen window, Max swung his arm. Flying in a beautiful arc over Central Park West, the toucan landed on the ice of the small lake in the Park.
Max cursed himself. Putting on his parka, he forgot about the boots and flew downstairs barefoot. Max trusted the ice on the Arctic Ocean, but he doubted the one in New York. Feet slid down the stones around the lake. The ice cracked treacherously, but the toucan lay almost nearby.
“A little more,” he leaned forward.
Ice crunched, and Max found himself knee-deep in cold water. The toucan almost slipped from his fingers. His heart pounded.
“Gotcha,” he exhaled exhaustedly.
“Can I help you?” came a worried voice from behind.
Another dog lover, with a dachshund in a quilted overall, looked about eighty years old. Max somehow got out.
“I am all right, thank you. The wind blew my driving license from the windowsill…”
The icy branches of the Park trees stood perfectly still. Giving Max an incredulous look, the man shook his head.
“Your feet are wet. Go to the bakery,” he advised. “Drink some coffee.”
A girl in a green apron, packing croissants, wished Max a merry Christmas. The knee he had banged against the granite was hurting more and more. Max sat down on the front door steps. The toucan in his palm shimmered with magical light.
“I was a fool,” he said to the bird. “Please forgive me. I have remembered my parrot.”
Four-year-old Max received a celluloid parrot in the pre-school, having won the Christmas reading competition. He fed his best friend porridge and put him to bed.
Then his father, returning from a business trip, brought Max a plastic fire engine and a cardboard box with perforated parts and bolts. The parrot was gone forever. Max suspected his mother had thrown the toy in the trash.
The toucan pricked his palm, and tears dripped onto the paper bag,
“I was a fool,” he sighed. “How can I apologize to her now?”
Leaving the croissants in the kitchen, Max hobbled to the Christmas tree. Tearing a piece of golden ribbon from a package on the carpet, he placed the toucan among the tangerines and gingerbreads.
“It is warm here, almost like in the tropics,” he assured the bird. “I wonder if this is my present?”
Max did not hear Madelaine getting up at night to leave the present under the tree. He wearily walked to the sofa.
“What can you buy at a flea market,” Max yawned. “Only some nonsense.”

Emerging from sleep, he smelled the tempting aroma of the chicken soup. Madelaine looked into the room.
“I made the Waldorf salad,” she said, “The turkey is in the oven. I dried your pants,” Madelaine smiled. “Have you slipped while going for the croissants?”
Settling more comfortably on the sofa, Max wrapped himself in a soft blanket. The knee now hurts less.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Don’t worry, we will go to the opera,” Max added rather sheepishly. “Forgive me for yesterday.”
Madelaine waved it off.
“I am not a gift either. Speaking of gifts,” she stopped at the Christmas tree. “Ah, you decided to hang it.”
Max blushed, “If you don’t mind.”
She took the package.
“Not at all, because the toucan belongs here. Let’s not wait until midnight. Take your gift now.”
Max sat her next to him, “What is there?” Madelaine untied the gold ribbon.
“Remember you said you lost your favorite book while moving around?”
Max changed five or six schools in his childhood.
He gasped, “It’s the same one with the same pictures!”
Covering them with the blanket, Max opened the ancient book.
“But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely…”
Furtively glancing at his watch, Max decided he still had time for a dash to Tiffany.
“Madelaine will find a ring under the tree tomorrow morning,” he smiled.
The toucan swung among the fragrant needles, and large snowflakes swirled outside the window. The white Christmas embraced New York.

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