Friday, May 25, 2018

Turing Test by Roger Ley

Widower Mr Riley dislikes his former wife's parrot, who might be smarter than he thinks; by Roger Ley.

Mr Riley liked to start his day in the library. It was a short walk from his house, and conveniently situated at the top of the main street in the Suffolk market town that he and his wife had retired to. When they'd first arrived, he'd joined the local writing group which met at the library and he'd spent many happy, creative hours in its welcoming embrace. He told his wife that it was as much group therapy as creative writing, but sadly it was all gone now. People had moved away, lost interest, died, he was the only one left of the old crowd. He and the chief librarian Mrs Peterson, who was nearing retirement. Mrs Peterson had a soft spot for Mr Riley, she had known his wife Estella before she died and liked to exchange a few words with the widower, not every day, but most days. He was a fixture, in his corner, reading the newspaper.

Mr Riley finished reading the paper and rummaged around, preparing to leave. He checked that he hadn't left anything - gloves, hat, scarf, phone - then walked across the street to the "Hideout Café" for his morning coffee. It was a little life but a life all the same.

He arrived home at about noon, unlocked the door and stepped into the hall.

"Hello," called a cheerful voice, a voice, did he but know it, that sounded very like his own. It was Mr Riley's African grey parrot. He'd moved it from the lounge to the hall because of its constant interruptions to his television programs. It had been Estella's idea to buy one and now she had gone and he was stuck with it.

"Hello," said the parrot again.

"Fuck off," was what Mr Riley wanted to say but he imagined the inevitable repercussions if he did. He ignored the parrot and walked through to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich; he coughed several times. The parrot coughed back.

"Hello," it called. "Would you like a cuppa tea?" Riley came back from the kitchen holding a packet of seeds and filled up the parrot's feeder. "Hello," it said. Riley sighed.

Mr Riley was thinking about the little job he had planned for the afternoon. He'd heard scratching noises in the attic last night. It was September and he guessed that the mice had left their summer quarters in the garden and were making themselves comfortable ready for the winter in the eaves. The noises had come from above his bedroom at the back of the bungalow. He changed into a pair of overalls, put on a disposable dust mask and retrieved the rod that released the attic hatch from the hook on the wall of his utility room.

"That's the ticket," said the parrot. Riley hefted the metal rod in his hands as he walked past and thought briefly about braining the bird. "Hello," it said.

Mr Riley opened the hatch and let the ladder down. He climbed into the attic carrying his traps and a small quantity of peanut butter in an empty margarine box, he'd read that mice preferred it to cheese. He heard the parrot calling from below, "That's the ticket."

It was baking in the attic, it had been a hot day. He stepped carefully across the joists and then knelt down and crawled into the narrow space where the rafters sloped down and met the ceiling joists. He lay down sweating in the rockwool and began to lay his traps, pushing them into the eaves. It was then that the heart attack struck. His chest cramped, it felt as if it was being crushed in an enormous crab's claw. He lay back panting and called out, "Help me."

"What's the time?" called the parrot.

Mr Riley fell into a place between sleeping and waking, heat and cold and called for help when he had the strength.

Two days and two nights passed. Mrs Peterson was walking home from the library. She hadn't seen Mr Riley for two days and had decided to call in, to see if he was alright. She passed his house on the way home. She walked up the path and knocked on the door.

"Hello," called a voice.

"Hello," she called back, "Are you alright Mr Riley?" She heard coughing.

"Help me," called Mr Riley from the attic but his voice was too weak for her to hear. The parrot cocked his head. "What's the time?" it called.

"About half past five," called the librarian. The parrot coughed again. "Are you sure you're alright? I'm on my way home, do you need anything?"

"Would you like a cuppa tea?" called the parrot.

"Help me," called Mr Riley faintly.

"No thanks, I'm on my way home, George will be expecting me."

"That's the ticket," called the parrot.

Mrs Peterson walked back up the front path and on home.

Two more days passed and by this time Mr Riley was dead. He lay rigid and desiccating in the heat of the attic. Mrs Peterson called again. She knocked at the door of the bungalow. "Hello," she called.

"Hello," called a voice.

"Are you alright Mr Riley? You're not coughing as much, you sound better."

"That's the ticket," called the voice. She shrugged, turned and continued on her way home.

Another two days passed and Mrs Peterson called for a third time. She knocked and called, "Hello."

The parrot, standing on its perch, looked at its empty water bottle and empty feeder. It raised a leg, cocked its head on one side and began to scratch it.

"Help me," it called.

18 comments:

  1. A story in miniature - of 'a little life, but a life all the same' - gorgeous and poignant. Many thanks, Ceinwen

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  2. Thanks Ceinwen, I'm glad you liked it. There is some more flash fiction on my website rogerleywrites.blogspot.co.uk

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  3. Very good as usual. I always look forward to Roger’s new work. Bloody Parrot!

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    1. Thanks Barry, you might like my Sci-fi book 'Chronoscape' it's available on Amazon.

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  4. Not that it helped him much, but if he had taught the bird "Fuck off" Mrs Peterson may have never come back. Very creative and intriguing, I enjoyed reading it!

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  5. what an excellent story, so well written and credible with a super ending.
    Mike McC

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  6. Thanks Mike, if you enjoy my writing you might like my time travel novel Chronoscape.

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  7. Excellent! A creative blend of the absurd and the believable.

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    1. Thanks Dave, that's a very fair description.

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  8. Oh, man, I did enjoy this one. I was having a fine time even before we met the parrot ... and then. And then, oh my!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement. You might like to take a look at my two books on Amazon.

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  9. Brilliance in brevity once again. Mr. Ley has the touch and will one day be embraced by the literary world as "One who must be read". Positively delightful.

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    1. Modesty forbids.........but thank you Mr Z

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  10. I often look at my miniature Dachshund and think "I wish he could talk". After reading this......well I can only imagine! Great story!

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  11. I enjoyed this very much too. Poor Mr Riley. Love that the parrot gets the last words - and that they're the same as Mr Riley's last words. Makes for a bittersweetly humorous ending.

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  12. Yes, it saved itself, it knew what the words meant.

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