[folded pages from 425.]
My flatmate, for a little over a year, at 425 Parliament St, M5A 3A1, Toronto has been a marooned bellied conure: a small parrot. Bigger than a budgie, but smaller than a cockatiel. The truth is, he is ‘our’ flatmate, my fiancée lives with him too; Srim, me, and Loco. Srim named him Loco. His behaviour gave him this name. Srim later nicknamed him Coconut, again because of his behaviour.
I have heard Srim describe Loco as a squeaky toy. When she pats him (an action she calls ‘squishy-squishy’) she cups her hand and places it over him and gently presses on him saying ‘squishy-squishy’, his eyes close over and he squeaks. After this display of affection he’ll sit on her thumb and preen his feathers, puffing up like a ball and craning his neck to reach the feathers far down his back. Srim likens him to a green tennis ball. He does become quite tennis-ball like, his feathers ruff up blurring his otherwise sharp shape, the way a peach is furry, or a tennis-ball is fuzzy. Loco and Srim have a loving-friendly relationship. He looks forward to seeing her come home from work. She greets him in a chirping language she invented for him, it sounds like the speech of that English animated stop-motion plasticine man Morpheus. Together, they squawk and bob their heads up and down. After celebrating their reunion, Loco does this throat thing, as if he is choking. Srim and I found out that this is a regurgitating action that parrots are known to do as a sign of affection to their human friends. Loco wouldn’t actually throw up. He never did this action to me, not once. Finally he’d clamber up the front of her shirt and nestle on a breast, groping his head with one of his claws, his eye half closing with pleasure. Srim need do nothing. My relationship with Loco is different.
All Loco seemed to want to do with me was re-move the bristles on my face. Hoping to remove his temptation, I began shaving. He started biting my freckles instead. At first he began to nibble them, nibbling turned to pinching, pinching resulted in little sores that would bleed, which was worse than the hair pulling, I stopped shaving. He returned to pulling my hairs. This amused Srim. Loco learnt to mimic her laughter, joining her when he’d make me yelp.
Idiot I am, I decided to do Loco’s portrait. I lifted his large cage from its stand onto the floor, and put the cage it on its side. In a useless attempt to keep him still I put some of his favourite foods onto a plate: pear, apple, sunflower seeds, including his favourite treat: the bread crust. He plopped about and crawled around the cage. I did manage to get the contour of his form and other details – his left eye, the shape of his wings and the larger feathers. Happy with this I fetched the palette I prepared the day before. It was a palette of coloured pencils: greens, some yellows, some blues, and some reds, but mostly greens. These coloured pencils alerted something in Loco’s brain. Soon we were fighting. Loco tried to grab the pencil in my hand. The he grabbed a pencil waiting for me to use. I took it from him. He grabbed another. I took this from him too. He grabbed another and quickly went to work on it with his beak while clutching it with one of his feet-hands. Again I snatched it from him, this time we wrestled. Not wanting to hurt him I was careful not to whip it from his mouth, while also hastily wanting my pencil before he carved a chunk from its meat. I was yelling at him to give it back, my yelling and tugging at the pencil caused him to start shrieking and screeching at me in protest. In the end I won. I got my pencil. He charged my hand – he drew blood. I did a portrait of him the next day in watercolour.
Whenever I take the time to really look at Loco, I flicks over his colours, they throw light changing their tone, sometimes exaggerating the blue or the yellow in his greenness. But I’m always drawn back to his big dark eye with its reddish iris. His eyelids create a circle of super-white – a dry untarnished white, like a dog turd that has gone white on well watered lawn. I’m drawn to him looking at me while I look at him. But this is only ever one of his eyes. He turns and tilts his head so either his left or right eye is fixed on my gaze, while his other eye gazes out the window into the street. I’d like to know which hemisphere of his brain is given the most attention. Maybe both equally. How does he do that?
I did do a few pictures of Loco while we lived at 425. During that time I drew a lot, and wrote a lot, and regularly had psychoanalysis for my previous disappointments. I feel much better than I once did, but sometimes the world’s wall close about me and tighten, squishing me in such a way that I literally want to stop moving. When this happens my mind finds comfort in the thought that I must be accurate in the certainty that the life is something I to do until it sets me free. But there were many things I could do to push back the contracting walls. A walk proved best. Sometimes when I left the flat, I’d have to lock Loco in his cage for his own safety. Locked within a cage within the cage that is 425 Parliament Street. I’d always return with with cardboard boxes I’d salvaged from recycling bins. I’d make a few tiny adjustments and they’d become a house of sorts for Loco. He’d enter these shabby cubby-houses by chewing his way in. Once inside he’d chirp, whistle, and carry on mumbling to himself while slicing and whittling away the flooring and walls into confetti. Engrossed in action, he didn’t like to be disturbed. Interrupting him, he caught me on the left nostril–he drew blood.
Seeing him happy in a cardboard box, in a cage, in 425 made me sad for Loco. Sadder still was his clumsy body coach-roach like crawling across the floor, his claws occasionally getting caught on the carpet, there has been no co-evolution between marooned-bellied conures and carpet. His waddling about expressed everything to me. It was a bodily extension of a craving mind sullying forth for something, not exactly sure what, but something. Just as his beak is a bodily extension of his prying mind – quite literally. Watching him drag his tail feathers across the floor isn’t right. They were slightly tattered, mostly from him bending them hard to rub the side of his head in a tickling way. He’d found a new use for them. Seeing his on the floor is when he looks most permanent, an insect partly hatched from chrysalis form, somehow stuck, try as he might, he’ll never become his own. He is forced to perish through the reliance of others, and their stupid choices. No matter what he does, his life will be squandered. He’ll never elevate himself to anything more than a pitiable image of what he might have been, if only.
We like to keep his cage and perch near the large window of 425 facing West. Each new day pigeons would be eating their breakfast on the widow ledge: leftovers we’d tossed there the day before. Loco seems to watch. I imagine his mind oscillating in elliptical weariness in that subterranean tunnel that connects the halves of his brain. Loco yawns. I yawn.
His heart I cannot win, his will I cannot tame. I crave his carving my skin with affection and with blame.
[text from 425.]
[Loco and me.]
State Library of Victoria