Jessica had never liked birds. Her dislike had grown out of an incident early in childhood. She’d been on a family holiday at the seaside and a huge seagull had swooped from the sky and stolen her ice cream. She’d had nightmares afterwards, disturbed dreams about the flapping of its wings against her face and the feel of its scaly clawed feet.
Also her grandmother had kept a parrot in a cage. A bird with immaculate green feathers and a sly twinkle in its beady eyes. This bird could talk, and when it spoke it sounded just like her grandmother, stern and unloving. She was not a nice grandmother. Her mother’s mother was lovely and soft like a marshmallow, always giving her cuddles and reading her stories. But her father’s mother didn’t seem to have much time for children. And nor did her parrot. Jess had only been trying to smooth its head, and it had clamped its vice-like beak on her finger, drawing copious amounts of blood. Jess had screamed the place down.
Grandmother had been quite unsympathetic.
‘You shouldn’t have put your fingers in the cage, silly girl. Now stop shrieking, it’s not that bad, really.’
Luckily Jessica usually had no real need to come into close contact with birds. The family pets were cats and dogs, which she loved. And when Jessica left school she trained as a beauty therapist, the sort of job that was unlikely to bring her into contact with birds of the feathered variety.
Had she been questioned, Jess wouldn’t have gone so far as to call it a phobia. Just a general dislike and lack of inclination towards birds of any type whether large or small.
Jess was pretty and much admired by men. She had the advantage of knowledge about make-up and grooming, and was always well turned out in fashionable clothes. Unsurprisingly, at twenty-two she had three men in her sights as potential life partners.
Jerry was a sharp young stock broker by day, and in the evenings sang lead vocals with a band. He was very good-looking, and he knew it. He knew he could turn the head of any girl, and had a bit of a reputation as a heartbreaker. Jess was very much attracted to Jerry, but deep down she knew he was bad news.
Then there was Peter. Also good-looking, but totally unaware of the fact. He worked in his father’s garden centre. Jess had thought he might be The One, he was sincere and clearly smitten with her. But there were two things that put her off Peter. Firstly he wasn’t at all materialistic and it didn’t bother him that he drove around in an old banger and wore scruffy clothes.
‘I work in a garden centre,’ he said when Jess tried to get him to dress up a bit. ‘I don’t see the point of spending money on designer clothes.’
She knew she was wasting her time pointing out that he didn’t work twenty four hours a day, and that some fashionable clothing wouldn’t go amiss when squiring her about town. Not to mention a decent motor. Jess was a bit superficial, you see.
The second thing that put Jess off Peter was his predilection for birds. They had an aviary at the garden centre, and Peter was the bird specialist. And his interest spilled over into his home life. When she visited the family home he’d proudly shown her his collection: everything from little finches to a big pink cockatoo like a feather duster. And he even had a green parrot very much like Grandmother’s.
So that was that. Two men deemed unsuitable. One bound to stray with dolly birds; the other keen on feathered birds.
That left Geoffrey. Ah, Geoffrey. Now he was something else altogether. At thirty-one he was a self-made man, an entrepreneur with fingers in lots of pies, none of them made of steak and kidney. Rolling in money, lots of nice clothes and not one but TWO fancy cars. And a lovely home with all mod cons including a swimming pool housed in a heated conservatory.
Geoffrey wasn’t as stunningly good looking as Peter or Jerry, but presentable enough. The bank balance certainly helped. He took her to smart restaurants and all the best clubs. Jess felt she could easily get used to life with Geoffrey. There had to be something wrong with him, but over several months nothing came to light so she accepted his proposal and they were married in a ceremony of excess and splendour followed by a honeymoon in the Seychelles.
Of course she gave up her job, there was no financial need for her to work. After a few months of wedded bliss Geoffrey confessed that he wasn’t too keen on starting a family, but that didn’t really bother Jess. She had no great maternal instincts and didn’t fancy stretch marks or sleepless nights.
Life went on for Jess and Geoffrey in a whirl of conspicuous consumerism. Then one day Jess went out to the conservatory for a swim and was alarmed to find a new addition to the décor. She went in search of her husband.
‘Geoffrey, what is that parrot doing in the conservatory?’
‘I got it yesterday, babe. Thought it would look cool by the pool. What’s the problem?’
‘I don’t like birds. I’m kind of afraid of them, you know? I wish you’d asked me first.’
‘Sorry, babe. Didn’t realise it was a problem. I kind of like the little fellow. His name’s Sparky. Hey, you don’t have to have anything to do with him, I’ll clean his cage.’
‘Oh, all right,’ said Jess grudgingly. ‘Just as long as you don’t let it out.’
Yes, you’ve got the picture. Geoffrey developed such a liking for Sparky he got him a couple of companions. A rare Hyacinth Macaw which he imaginatively named Hyacinth, and one of those pink feather duster things, a Moluccan Cockatoo named Molly. But by this time Geoffrey had learned how to get round Jess. Diamonds, after all, were a girl’s best friend.
Jess was by this time feeling less inclined to use the pool. The birds were noisy, and scattered feathers and seed all over the place. And there was always the underlying fear that somehow they would escape from their cages.
Then Geoffrey bought a large cage for the kitchen, and a large blue and yellow Macaw to go in it. He bought Jess a rare blue diamond pendant.
‘He’s great, is Jasper,’ said Geoffrey, tickling the Macaw under his chin. ‘We should get the kitchen re-done to match his feathers.’
Jess hoped he was just saying this to wind her up. She’d not long since finished supervising the kitchen’s renovation, and had gone to a great deal of effort sourcing accessories in eau-de-nil.
The following week two cages appeared in the lounge, each containing an Eclectus parrot. Jess didn’t even bother to enquire their names. She wasn’t even that interested in the massive pair of diamond earrings Geoffrey presented her with.
The bird count was now up to six with no sign of Geoffrey tiring of his pets. He was already talking of a Scarlet Macaw to go in his study.
Jess found it impossible to relax. Everywhere she turned, she could see or hear birds. She knew she had a decision to make. Should she stay with Geoffrey and try somehow to conquer her fear of birds, or should she burn her bridges, pack her bags and her collection of diamonds, and strike out on her own?
by Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015