The Fat Lady & the Macaw

‘Squawwkkkkk!’

Terry, the owner, yelled, ‘SHUT-UP!’

Then her seven small dogs began yipping and yapping about her as she laid her 250 pound frame down upon her bed, panting.

The macaw shrieked on and on.

“Ah, shaddup!!!”

Turning to her new renter, who had just entered her bedroom which also served as her office, she announced, “Coca’s lonely! She wants to be part of the conversation. Just a minute, let me go get her.”

Terry pushed her bulky frame from the bed twice, the second bounce enough to get her standing but she stumbled and her new renter, Ted, looked wide-eyed, fearing the worst.

But Terry moved her oversized bulk down the hallway to the Macaw’s cage and removed Coca, carrying the large bird back into her room, and setting her up on a perch which Terry had centered in the space off the side of her bed. Meanwhile, several of the dogs continued to circle around her, avoiding her ponderous feet while simultaneously submissively seeking to lick them.

“There she goes,” Terry asserted. “Now, she will quiet down, I hope.” And Terry again plopped down on her bed.

The Macaw turned its head and eyed Ted carefully. Its beak strong enough to snap off fingers or seriously inflict injury,Terry’s dogs gave it wide berth or just scattered keeping a distance, the perpetually open screen door allowing for a quick exit . Coca had had her wings clipped and could’t fly, Terry claimed, and acted perfectly content on her perch in any case.

The seven mixed breed dogs and chihuahuas made sure they were on their best behavior around the Macaw. They occasionally looked up at the bird while walking to and fro….intimidated and nervous.

“How old is Coca,” Ted inquired if only to be social. He was actually thinking, ‘Oh Gawd, I wanna get out of here!’ He was wondering if it was a mistake to stay there at all. Still the rent was very low.

Five of the dogs kept coming around and licking his bare feet. And Ted just hated small dogs, repeating silently to himself,’Those fucking rat-dogs!’

But he had to sign a contract that Terry pulled out from her bureau. Ted had agreed to a six month contract although he never had kept any such commitment anywhere for this length of time if something better showed up. He always made up some pathetic story. Three times he had told different landlords, “My mother is dying. I need to return home.” And each time he got a deposit back if he had put one down.

Although he had to put down another deposit, he would gladly sacrifice this amount if need be for his own sanity. ‘Life is too short’ had always been his motto when confronted by uncomfortable or unwelcome situations. And he could easily forego the one month’s deposit of 4000 pesos a month’s rent, a mere $220 in American dollars.

For years Ted had been traveling in Mexico and Central America and while others found it a paradise, majestic or wonderful, he knew the real situation was quite different for someone who had to live inexpensively and had gotten to know the cultures which, like every country or place, had its positives and negatives.

For every foreigner who claimed that he or she just loved Mexico, there was another who had sallied forth to evade the law or an ex or some other personal responsibilities. Many were alcoholics or simply owed taxes to the government. Some were single and bored and ventured down to try to find a partner. Others got married and found some security in what Ted surmised was a rather vapid existence at least in his estimation.

Of course, it was the mundane existence he wanted to escape….surrounded by neurotic friends and family and besides he had no other choice….at his age.

“Coca is only five years old. She’s a baby!” Terry declared loudly. “Macaws can live a long time, maybe even up to 70 years.” She says this in a heavy crackling voice.

‘No kiddin’?” Ted acted surprised if only to be pleasant.

‘Shit, I’m 66 and I doubt I will make it to 70!” Terry blurted out. “I’ll be dead long before she gets that old!” she guffawed.

Meanwhile, Ted was thinking, “No shit.”

Terry then told Ted about her terrible accident while driving a truck in Oklahoma some seven years ago. The accident had broken her back and the doctor who had fused her spine had screwed it up even worse.

Terry had sued him and won a million dollar lawsuit. Then she had had four consecutive operations over a period of a year and the competent doctor was able to undo some of the damage and now Terry could walk, even if she ambled a bit like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, lumbering around the house, head bent over and often ejaculating mild curses when she stumbled over one of the cats or dogs.

A big part of the problem was that she had put on a lot of weight or so she claimed during the past six years. Her legs and arms just bulged with unevenly dispersed chunky fat. She was at least 100 pounds overweight.

God know how many times she had slipped or fallen as she refused to use a cane or walker, determined to deny that her injuries, obesity and gravity might have some influence. Like lots of people getting older, the denial of a use of a cane made her think that she was younger, no matter than she looked to be at least 75.

Ted had answered an ad on Craigslist for her granny house after her last tenants, two young Mexican males and their girlfriends had had to move out due to financial complications so Terry had related. Who knows? Maybe they had gotten really tired of the screeching macaw, the yapping dogs and…..the feral cats who Terry fed out of her pitying love for all of God’s critters.

Finally, Ted was ready to sign a contract giving him the little house for six months at 4000 pesos per month which included all furnishings and electricity, water, and even a large-screen TV. Terry even had a washer and dryer Ted could use as well as a small dipping pool to cool off in.

All in all, it was a fine deal. The only small flaw was that there was no cable or satellite hook-up for the television but the internet hook-up was very good which allowed Ted to do business online as an editor which required significant skyping each month with various publishers in the U.S. in addition to old friends, ex-wives & girlfriends, and four children who were now grown and living in three different states.

The little house consisted of a decent sized living room and desk, an antique couch which was uncomfortable but which Terry kept because she had grown up with it…she had had it restored but the Mexicans did a bad job and besides….termites were eating away at the wood, unbeknownst to Terry. The huge chair on rollers which Terry had offered Ted had its leather peeling off and its bulk made it none too suitable for Ted who suffered from lower back issues himself. But Ted was used to suffering minor inconveniences as he had endured much of his life.

The kitchen had a fridge and an ancient stove with a gas leak which meant one had to keep the gas valve turned off until one used it. The knobs which turned the gas on the burners were squishy to turn and hard to regulate, the result of which was that Ted rarely used it. He had suggested to Terry that she buy a new one….but she had testily spouted off in her husky way: “Well, the past tenants used it and they never complained!”

Ted again refrained from a response but thought, ‘Did you ever think that this might be one more reason they left….La Gorda?’

Regarding the eclectic group of feral cats which milled around outside of Ted’s front door which let to the carport, they were skittish….even paranoid, and often fought one another for the scraps of food which Terry tossed on the ground in the mornings and evenings, only to draw the ants and during the night, cockroaches in a midnight feast.

During the night, the caterwauling of vying males looking for a mate often presented other problems to tenants who were trying to sleep. But this was Mexico where noise was to be tolerated if only because complaining did no good and Terry fit right in with her attitude of, ‘If you don’t fucking like it, then don’t rent the goddamn place!’ She actually told Ted she had used those exact words with past tenants.

Of course, her renters, like Ted, didn’t know what the were in for when they signed the contract. Like Ted, they probably had liked the small house which was separated by some ten yards or so from Terry’s bedroom, visually blocked by a gigantic aviary she had had built for some other Macaws she once owned but gotten rid of since they had made such an obnoxious acket that even the most tolerant of renters soon departed.

The oldest of the feral bunch of cats was a scrawny but tough, black alley-type cat, one ear permanently bent, with scars and injuries which had left him slightly lame. Often-times, in the morning, one could see blood as evidence of his latest fight.

Terry called him ‘Pops’. Over time, Ted was to gain some trust and Pops let him get pretty close. Normally, Ted wouldn’t feed the cats but he eventually was to feel sorry for Pops who appeared to be both partially blind and deaf and Ted would throw some bits of cheese his way but only rarely.

In fact, there must have been something special about Pops because three or four cats of varying ages would all sleep around him. Perhaps, he was their father or grandfather or great grandfather. He seemed to tolerate it quite well.

Regarding noise, generally speaking, Mexicans do not complain. They have learned to endure killings, tortures, threats, slavery, and beatings for some five hundred years…most of the population is mixed blood or mestizo and one of the truly amazing things is how little Mexicans complain about all sorts of things. They are accepting of nearly everything including mass corruption at every level and have no expectations that things will ever really change.

Occasionally, there have been Indian rebellions and student protests but really nothing ever changes even though the country goes through the charade of elections but there has never been one honest one and no one believes the results except for the one time the PRI party lost…its one and only time.

Everyone in Mexico knew the cartels ruled and bribed government officials or just threatened them and often carried out brazen murders. Journalists, lawyers, judges….were not safe. All police accepted bribes as is done in many countries of the world. All the politicians were corrupt as hell with few exceptions.

Ted had been living in Mexico some for some four years spending some stints in Nicaragua and Costa Rica as well. After deciding he had had enough of the United States and his mundane lifestyle, coming to Mexico was based on several factors: pure boredom and the high cost of living in the U.S. along with the inability to get a job due to his age. This was after the 2007-2008 near financial collapse and the consequent great recession.

Ted had decided on Mexico, and over the years had lived in several cities as well as having visited quite a few others, trying to find the right match for his tastes. And Merida had seemed to be a decent place even if it was too hot during the summer. For Ted, that was better than the high plateaus of Mexico where the winters were cold and the apartments devoid of any heat. Besides, Yucatan was considered the safest state.

Mexico city was out of the question due to the severe smog and even Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city had proved too polluted and congested for Ted. And, of course, many of the northern states and Pacific and Atlantic states had to be avoided due to the dangers inherent there with a dozen cartels exercising virtual sovereignty in those areas.

By now, Ted had heard too many stories of gun battles waged on public streets, abductions, and worse although, generally speaking, tourists were safe unless some stray bullet just happen to hit some unfortunate gringo.

Ted had been offered a job in Tampico but had refused because just several months earlier a gun battle broke out between opposing Cartels downtown. The principal of the school which needed a teacher kept this knowledge from Ted when they had interviewed but the story was on the internet.

Even in San Luis Potosi, a decent city where Ted had lived for a year and a half…he had heard all kinds of stories about cartel influence. Prior to his arrival, the bodies of four men had been hung from one of the bridges by one cartel as a warning to others of the consequences of challenging their authority.

Ultimately, Ted had chosen Merida which had appeared more suitable what with its Mayan history, cenotes and the fair number of foreigners that lived about. Ted’s Spanish was pretty basic and he needed some familiarity and so sought out English speaking types and there was a small community in Merida.

“So, you just need to sign here but you can read the contract if you want. It is just standard stuff,” Terry uttered. “The same old bullshit!”

Terry had a truck-driver’s mouth and added, “Hope you don’t mind my swearing.”

“Fuck no,” Ted chimed in. Terry laughed. Then he added, ‘Coca really has a loud shriek, eh?”

“Oh God, yes! Sometimes I have to close my bedroom door when she is in her other cage if I am on my computer talking to my daughter.”

“Have you ever thought of barbecuing her?” Ted had spoken facetiously. Women with truck-driver mouths typically liked this kind of humor, Ted supposed.

Terry had chuckled at that blurted, “Don’t think that I haven’t thought about that before!”

Ted had nodded his head and observed Terry who was sitting a bit awkwardly on her bed, two of dogs now joining her, one hiding his head under some rumpled blankets.

Terry had lived here in Merida some six years herself. She owned her home and property and had tried to sell it after four years but like lots of Americans who have come here, she could not find a buyer.

She had bought the home and fixed it up but after deciding to return to the U.S., she was unable to recover her investment even after she had reduced the price several times, She figured she would just remain in Merida until she died.

And from the looks of her…it could be any day.

“”I had stroke last year,’ she admits. And now “My damn blood pressure is causing me problems. I went to the doctor yesterday and he told me it was up to 200 over 150. Shit, I could have another stroke or heart-attack.

She continued, “And I don’t get along with my mother or most of my kids. So, fuck ‘em! I don’t need them!” she adamantly declared.

She told Ted that the doctor had given her some medication for her blood pressure but it made her tired. She also kept unusual hours, working a bit for some extra money, beginning at 4 a.m., early enough to talk with clients in Asia where the time difference was 14 hours.

The nature of her work was a mystery to Ted who hadn’t inquired, figuring that the less he knew, the less she would bother him.

So, the bottom line was that Ted could live on less than $500 or $600 per month and that included everything. Well worth it since he had just recently been paying some $500 just to rent an nice apartment near the central part of the city. It had been convenient and comfortable but just too expensive for Ted’s frugal budget.

Just before Ted had moved all his stuff in, the day before, Terry announced, “I slipped and fell and hit my head.”

“Wow. Really?” Ted had asked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, well, I think so, “ Terry had responded. “But my back hurts.”

The next couple weeks, Ted had worked during the morning and early afternoon hours…establishing a routine of a late lunch, a nap, and then a long walk. He later discovered a gym nearby, had joined and began swimming three times per week.

Generally, his life was uneventful. His social life consisted of visiting the local English library which had been established some years ago. In fact, the library had inherited a collection of books from many Americans and Canadians who had lived and then left the area. And it was a social, cultural hub for foreigners as well.

So, every Friday, Ted dropped by and that’s where he met some acquaintances with whom he began eating breakfast on Fridays. Then, on Saturdays, he would visit the so-called Slow-Food Market where vendors sold healthier foods, homemade, mostly organic, everything from breads and cheese to prepared food, fruits, veggies, pickles, and much more.

It was here that Ted met quite a few women, Canadian, America, German a few of which he had dated but most were stand-offish except for one American woman whom he took to dinner and got drunk and then went to her house and spent the night. As it turns out, she was embarrassed by the whole incident and couldn’t remember a lot. So, the next date…she announced that it was only a one-time fling.

That was okay as far as Ted was concerned. One night stands were fine, uncomplicated, and not messy.

Af few months earlier, on a week’s vacation to Valladolid and Tulum, Ted had visited a spectacular swimming hole known as a cenote midway between between two coastal towns of Tulum and Playa del Carmen. There were hundreds if not thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula and they were a major attraction for tourists which came in droves to see Cancun, the Caribbean beaches, the famous Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza and others.

So, on this particular day, Ted had enjoyed a perfect day at this cenote and then caught a collectivo van ride back to Tulum where he was staying for a few nights. Tulum had become the new hot spot for young tourists especially and had a hip quality to it now.

The van had picked up various people along the highway and dropped off others. At one stop, a younger Mexican woman got aboard and took a seat directly opposite Ted who sat in the back of the bus. They literally faced each other as her seat faced the back window where Ted was seated. For a few moments they stared at each other….and exchanged smiles.

After a few stops, with people exiting and getting on, the woman found seat right next to Ted but neither said anything. A few minutes later, the woman laid her her down on Ted’s shoulder as if she was napping but Ted realized this was all a ruse on her part.

By the time they reached Tulum, Ted moved to get out and the woman tagged along. At this point, Ted had to pay his fare and then looked at the driver and said, “Y ella tambien,” indicating that he would pay for her fare also.

They got off and Ted looked at the woman, “Como se llama?”

“Dujani,” she replied.

“Well, ven comigo,” Ted said.

“Te quiero,” she responded.

Ted looked at her, smiled and took her hand. They didn’t exchange another word until Ted got her upstairs the apartment he had rented. They quickly began making out and disrobed and got into the bed after Ted put on the AC. The love-making was slow and sweet and Ted quietly practiced some of his Spanish.

After a couple hours in bed including a nap, they woke up, showered together and enjoyed each other a third time while standing. Next, they got dressed and went out to get something to eat. After a typical Mexican meal and some quiet talk in Spanish….Dujani said that she had to go home.

Ted asked her where ‘home’ was and she indicated further south but did not say exactly where. Ted paid for a taxi to take her home, kissed her and she left, knowing she would probably never see him again. Ted didn’t know what to expect and was tempted to ask if she was married but didn’t.

One-night stands just seemed to be all to common for Ted who had labored through three unsuccessful relationships in the states. And in Mexico, he attracted not a few women. But nowadays, he preferred his privacy and living with a woman just was not worth the inconveniences at his age.

So, now, he dug his bachelor pad. That was until the squawking Coca wouldn’t shut up. Each morning, Ted was awakened by the screeching and then the dogs would join in, yapping and finally, he would hear Terry yell, “Shut up!” or even a litany of her fouled mouth cursing. Sometimes, it was the cat fights right next to his window which he had to leave open at night to get some air in the room since there was no air conditioner in that room.

It had been removed since Terry’s electric bill was quite high and she did not wish to encourage tenants to use it during the night and figuring that the low cost would be enough incentive to keep them there. Ted had bought a powerful high speed fan and kept it blasting during the night while he put in earplugs and took some medication to assure that nothing would disturb his sleep.

He endured all the animals and the perpetual drumming across the street issuing forth from a house that had been turned into a music center. But, that was during the day and at least Ted slept well and used headphones while talking on skype.The noises were not consistent enough to really drive him off. After all, if you lived in Mexico….you had to get used to noise.

This was nothing compared to the first place Ted had lived, a posada in Guadalajara where all the boarders were Mexicans and noise was the order of the day, and night for that matter. Buses whizzed by the busy street off which the posada was located. Cars were honking their horns during the day and during the night, and car alarms went off constantly, an index of the car theft problem in Mexico.

But the worst of the noise came from trabajadores….working men who sometimes resided at the posada while on a specific labor assignment during the days. Then, at night, beginning at 10 pm…they drank, played cards boisterously, laughing, shouting, and cursing each other in typical Mexican fashion.

So, Ted was used to noise and he had learned to make the best of it.

That is until one day, he heard Terry cursing, “God-damn, motherfuck! Shit!”
And then a bunch of mumbling, more cursing and such.

Later, Ted found out that Terry had discovered she had broken her back in two places once again and was trying to get some pain killers since her prescriptions were not sufficient to the task of masking her apparent suffering.

She also announced that she had to return to Oklahoma to get another operation in August and informed Ted that she would only be gone a week because she did not want to be away from her animals any longer.

When August arrived, she caught a plane and had her Mexican maid live in her house until her anticipated return. Weeks went by and the Mexican maid finally came to Ted’s door, crying, telling him that Terry had died while being operated on. Ted had figured that this might occur as he had had a friend who had died on the operating table a few years before he had come to Mexico. And Terry’s health had seemed worse.

The maid asked Ted in Spanish which he could barely comprehend something about all the animals and who would take care of them. Ted was a nice guy and all but he certainly wasn’t going to hang around and deal with the situation.

The next morning….there was no sign of the maid.

“Shit,’ Ted thought. ‘I gotta get out of here fast.’

The thought of living there by himself while Terry’s friends and family tried to sort out everything including her animals was just too much. But before he left….he opened Coca’s cage and using a stick…which she perched on rather eagerly, took her out and put her outside in the gigantic aviary but left the door open.

Ted figured the damn bird deserved better than being cooped up in a cage the rest of his life and so he was determined to liberate it. He hung outside for a hour waiting to see if the bird actually was capable of flying. After a half hour, the macaw finally flapped its wings and flew higher into some trees surrounding the property.

Next, he finished packing and called a taxi to take him to a nearby hotel until he could find a new place to live. On the way out….he passed Pops who appeared to be on his last legs. Normally, the old cat would at least turn to look at him but it appeared it was his time to go as well. Ted bent down to pet him and Pops just laid there.

By the time the taxi arrived, Pops was dead. And Ted thought of all the transitions that had taken place with Terry dying, Coca’s having been set free and Pops dying. Then he reviewed all the transitions he had been through in his life, having moved dozens of time….in fact…as many as 40.

He remembered that the famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus had been correct when he spoke of the essence of the universe as change.

“The only permanent thing in life is change’, Heraclitus maintained.The paradox of that fundamental bit of wisdom had always impressed Ted.

He got into the taxi and told the driver where he wanted to go….a pleasant hotel where he could enjoy himself for a few days and hopefully escape all the noise. He felt he deserved a break. When he got to the hotel, he paid for a room, put down his suitcase and backpack, then laid on the bed.

Suddenly, he heard church bells ringing loudly and realized that there was a church behind the hotel….and thought, “Oh shit. Here we go again.”

He laid his head back down and thought how one of the lessons of life was acceptance….the recognition that reality is what it is and sometimes you just can’t change things even if you try.

Change may be the only permanent thing but some things never seem to change…especially in Mexico. Ted smiled, and listened to the tolling bells and then they stopped. Soon, he had fallen into a deep slumber, dreaming of wild parrots and barking chihuahuas.

About Mikhail Branski

Mikhail Branski has written poetry, comedic skits and essays, and other prose sporadically during the last forty years. Much of his poetry he describes as political, social and philosophic commentary or simply “rants.” A self-described critic, he lambastes, especially, American society and political culture. Words such as “caustic and vitriolic” are often used in reference to many of his poems. His writing is also infused with humor and odd twists and tries to keep listeners on their toes. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Mikhail has taught in the ghettos of Los Angeles, and was a political activist and organizer during the 1980s and early ‘90s. He now lives in Mexico teaching Russians online while eking out a living while writing and exploring other realities.
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