The Bird’s Word

The Bird's Word

Illustration: Inkshark

fiction by M.E. Bakos

At the funeral, I gazed at my poor deceased Astrid as she lay in her casket and remembered how she often spoke of her successful ex-husband. “Bjorn was a good provider,” she would say, with a wistful smile. Indeed, it was Bjorn’s generous divorce settlement that supported us after Astrid and I married. She failed to mention that he had dumped her for Heidi, a woman who was thinner and half her age.

Here was Bjorn now, a tall, blue-eyed, handsome, successful business owner offering his sympathy: “Pity about Astrid, dying in her sleep. So sorry for your loss.” Next to the Norwegian God, I looked and felt even shorter, uglier, and less successful.

“Thank you. It was quite a shock.”

Bjorn had Heidi there too. She was a statuesque, blonde bimbo, with a smile pasted on her face. She stood at Bjorn’s elbow, ready to do his bidding.

“Yes. Didn’t see it coming, even with Astrid’s family history of aneurysms,” I said. I kept my face fixed in an expression of grief, trying not to gloat.

“Say, would you mind if Thor came to live with me?” Bjorn asked. “I gave her the bird.” He chuckled. “I traveled so much. I wanted her to have company. Someone to talk to. He was like her child.”

“It’s true. Astrid loved that parrot. He was her constant companion,” I said, shaking my head. “Too bad we never bonded.”

“Oh. How was that?” Bjorn asked, showing genuine concern. Bjorn was a real charmer.

“He dropped the ‘f bomb’ whenever I was around. It was a problem. The bird was a foul-mouthed nuisance. He didn’t want to share Astrid. He was strictly a one-person bird.”

“Ah, he wanted attention,” Bjorn said, clicking his tongue sympathetically.

“I tried.” I shook my head. “I tried to teach the bird new words. Gave him special treats. Nothing worked. He was Astrid’s, and that was that. I gave up.”

“Thor and I had a decent relationship. He could be a little testy. I’ll give him a good home,” Bjorn said. “I’ll pay you for him, five hundred dollars. Okay?” he offered, plucking five bills from his wallet.

Of course, he would carry hundred-dollar bills.

“Sold. Thor is all yours.”

The next day, Bjorn and Heidi came to my house. I handed Thor over, a cloth covering the cage. I breathed a sigh of relief, joking, “You’re doing me a big favor.”

Thank goodness, I wouldn’t have to strangle the little monster. The bird’s cursing and squawking would surely give me an ulcer. Let alone cleaning the little turd’s cage. I’d come within an inch of letting Thor loose into the great out-of-doors, then decided it would bring too much attention to the unfortunate demise of Astrid. 

I had explained to one of the 9-1-1 responding officers the morning I’d found Astrid cold and lifeless, “Astrid had complained of a headache. We didn’t think much of it. She’d hit her head on the washing machine lid.”     

“Washing machine?”

“Yes. I know it sounds farfetched, but that was Astrid. She was clumsy. When I called her for dinner, she told me her head was in the washing machine while she dug out wet, tangled laundry. My yelling startled her, and she raised up; the washer lid fell and hit her cranium. We laughed about it over dinner. She took a couple of aspirin and went to bed early.” I added, “It was my night to cook.”

“Ah. A man that cooks,” the female officer said, with a smile.

“It was the least I could do. Astrid worked hard,” I said, hiding the gleam in my eye. “My company consolidated, laid off a bunch of employees. I’ve been out of work.”

“It’s the state of the economy. Hard for a lot of people to get a decent job.”

“Yes,” I agreed, and blurted, “If she suffered a concussion, I’ve heard death can be a delayed reaction to an accidental blow. A person can appear and act normally for a period of time, then the trauma to the brain causes headaches, nausea, blackouts, even death.”

“I can’t comment on your wife’s case. It’s up to the medical examiner.”

“Thank you, officer. I appreciate your help.” I shook the woman’s hand, and she left. Astrid’s body was loaded into the back of the attending ambulance.

Later, when the medical report came back stating “accidental death,” I’d fairly jumped and clicked my heels together. I thought joyfully about the money I would get from Bjorn’s considerable settlement to Astrid and her life insurance policy now that she was dead, dead, dead.

I eagerly made an appointment with Astrid’s lawyer and awaited my payday.

“Astrid left her estate to Thor, for his care,” the attorney said, reading the will in his office.

“What?” I asked, my breath catching. “She left everything to a bird? That’s impossible!”

“No, not really,” the solicitor said, “She put her entire estate in a trust fund, to be administered by her next of kin, Vincent Fratto. That would be you, correct?” He peered over his spectacles, seated at his desk, facing me.

“Yes. Yes, of course, it is.” I leaned in to sign the paperwork.

There was a knock at the door, and the receptionist entered, one arm holding back Bjorn and Heidi. They rushed past her, the draped birdcage in Bjorn’s hand. Another distinguished-looking man followed the two.

“I own Thor!” Bjorn declared.

“I saw Vincent sell the bird to Bjorn,” Heidi said in her high-pitched voice, “for five hundred dollars!”

“I had no idea Astrid changed her will! I’ll take the damn bird back. I’ll write you a check!” and whipped out my checkbook. I had spent Bjorn’s cash in a drunken celebration. No need for him to know my bank balance was nearing zero.

“Too late,” the man behind the couple said, “I’m Detective Mathison. Thor learned some new words.” He turned to Bjorn, “Have Thor repeat what he said to me.”

Bjorn lifted the clothed cage, and asked, “Thor, what did Astrid say?”

“Aaaawk. ‘Don’t hit me, Vinnie. Don’t hit me!’ Aaaawk.” The African gray parrot perched in the cage and peered out with beady eyes. He spied me and screamed “f-you!” letting out several screeches until Bjorn covered the bird’s cage.

“I taped it, as well,” the detective said. “You’re coming with me, Vincent Fratto. I am charging you with the murder of Astrid Fratto. Washing machine, indeed!”

M. E. Bakos writes light, humorous fiction and has published several short stories. Her first cozy novel, Fatal Flip, A Home Renovator Mystery, is available through Cozy Cat Press. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and a spoiled Morkie.

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.