My Husband’s Other Wife
By Joan Lindsay Kerr
Rob was lured from my side by the come-hither gaze of a flamboyant platinum bombshell brazenly batting her large dark eyes from across the square. He and I were enjoying the morning at our patio outside the Kilauea Bakery on Kauai. I went inside for two short minutes to get Rob another cup of coffee. When I returned, Daphne had him wrapped around her little talon.
It was a fateful encounter. We came home from vacation knowing we wanted a bird. We did our research. Cockatoos, we learned, need attention for 35 hours a day and have a screech that can be heard for 50 miles. Our busy lifestyle would not accommodate one of them. So we headed to our local bird store to check out other options.
We were just looking.
We came home with a bird.
Lily was a Congo African Grey. She was supposed to be my bird. The first time I held her, she showed me she liked me by regurgitating her breakfast into my hand.
“Oh,” said the shopkeeper, “that’s a compliment! She’s never done that for anyone else!” It was my turn to be smitten.
But we made the mistake of bringing Lily home the day before Thanksgiving. I spent the next four days cooking, cleaning, and entertaining relatives, while Rob entertained the bird. By the end of the weekend, Lily had made her choice. She bonded with my husband and I was relegated to the status of, as Bird Talk magazine delicately puts it, “less-favored person.”
Lily thinks she’s Rob’s Number One Wife. Showers for two? My spot is now occupied by a shower perch where Lily joins Rob for her daily misting. Cuddles on the couch? Not while Rob is giving Lily her nightly neck rub. Romantic weekend getaways? Can’t go. Who will take care of Lily?
In her book, Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence — and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, Irene Pepperberg says her work proves scientifically what Congo African Gray owners already know: These birds are smart. They think and reason.
Lily can hold sensible conversations. On her first morning in our home, I uncovered her cage and opened the door. She climbed out, looked me in the eye, and inquired, “What are you doing?”
“I’m folding your blanket.”
“Aaah!” she responded with a satisfied tone.
Yes, African Greys are the Great Orators of the parrot world. Language helps Lily keep her superior position in the pecking order as she bosses me around.
“Wanna go see Rob!” Lily insists when she wants me to deliver her to our husband. “Come on, get over here!” she commands when she wants a peanut.
Like the lilies of the field, our Lily neither toils nor spins while I slave away taking care of her — scrubbing her cage, washing her dishes, buying new toys, scraping mashed blueberries off the ceiling. To her credit, she does praise my efforts with an enthusiastic, “You’re a good girl!” And I’m not on the lowest rung of her pecking order. That position is occupied by our unfortunate shih-tzu, Max. The minute he enters the room, Lily fixes him with a stern look and scolds, “No, Max!”
Lily’s facility with language has led to some embarrassing revelations. I was sure I always spoke to Rob in dulcet tones, but the first time Lily called him by name, she shouted out in a loud, shrewish voice, “ROB!”
“Could that be my voice?” I cringed. “Surely not!” I spent the next several days singing out sweetly, “Oh, Ro-ob!”
And singing is what got me back into Lily’s good graces. I sing while doing housework, and Lily loves it. She harmonizes with a sweet, tuneless, “Laaaaah laaaaaaaah laaaaah,” and I am now a fully accepted member of her flock. In fact, I can’t imagine life without our enchanting companion. She sends us off to work every day with a cheery “See you later!” and to bed each evening with an affectionate, “Night night. I looove you!”
If only I could convince her I’m Rob’s Number One Wife….
Joan Lindsay Kerr is a world traveler who has recently discovered a love of birdwatching. A former middle school English and history teacher, she now serves as the Curriculum Specialist for a school district in Bakersfield, California and as president-elect of the California Association for the Gifted. You’ll find more of her adventures on her online travel journal at travelswithrobby.blogspot.com.
Joan originally wrote this story for Dave Fox’s online humor writing class.