Sunday, November 13, 2005

From my novel THE CHRISTMAS KID, my favorite lie:

I should not have gone on and on...about working on the shrimp boat out of Key West and tending bar on Caroline Street and living with the girl who sang in the bar and who owned a 50-year-old blue macaw named Luigi. Every night was a party in the bar and we always slept past noon. Luigi woke us every morning with operatic arias, which he sang in the magnificent tenor voice of my girl's beloved deceased singing instructor. Key West is the southernmost piece of America, 375 miles farther south than Cairo, Egypt, and 90 miles north of Cuba. Summers get so hot there that the shrimpers sweat off their tattoos. The best time was the month around the autumnal equinox, after the worst heat and before the worst tourists - hurricane season. Key West is situated right in the middle of Hurrican Alley, vulnerable to Gulf, Atlantic, and Caribbean storms. After a hurricane Key West was a paradise of rainbows. There were rainbows everywhere, wherever you looked, of all sizes: rainbows in raindrops caught in spiderwebs; rainbows laced amid steaming frangipani, festooning the dripping branches of the ceiba tree (source of kapok), the strangler figs, the screw pines, the wishbone cactus; neighborhood rainbows reaching from block to block of the little town; transoceanic rainbows arcing over the entire island with one end out in the Atlantic and the other end out in the Gulf of Mexico. Puddles reflected rainbows in scattered pieces all over the streets. The sunlight, that blazing stormlight after a hurricane, was so amazingly, miraculously beautiful, with the air so clear and clean, that every time you saw it was like seeing things and pure colors again for the first time. My girl rode her bicycle up Duval Street under the rainbows, splashing through the rainbows with Luigi on her handlebars. Luigi was a bicycle expert, spreading his brilliant turquoise and yellow-flashing wings wide, wider than the handlebars for balance, yellow-breasting proudly into the wind in front of my girl and belting out Pagliaci. When hurricane season ended the tourists came and carried Luigi's fame back with them. Only Hemingway was a more renowned denizen of Key West. Hemingway had known and loved Luigi in the old days and had taught him a bawdy little Spanish ditty that Luigi still screached full blast exactly as he had learned it in Hemingway's voice. But only at dawn; and as a result the oldtime conchs, the born-and-bred native Key Westers, would swear they had heard Papa's ghost singing the sun up again. One night while my girl and I were away at work in the bar, robbers broke into our beach shack and kidnapped Luigi. When we came home feathers still floated in the air. Luigi had put up a fight. For heartbroken days my girl and I collected every feather and added them to the others we had always so carefully saved and never sold, not one, no matter how much the tourists offered. We searched the island, listening desperately for the slightest wisp of familiar melody, grieving, tormented by sudden false hopes from radios and the whole panoply of contemporary electronic musical reproduction. We couldn't eat. We couldn't sleep. One morning at dawn, lying weeping together in our hammock, we thought we heard Hemingway. Then we heard Pagliaci and Luigi flew in through the leeward window clutching in one talon what we discovered was a human ear. It was a left ear, savagely amputated with streamers of ripped flesh caked with the same blood that stained Luigi's powerful black beak and the black and yellow feathers of his throat. Ecstatic as he was to see us, Luigi refused to relinquish his gory trophy, viciously defending it from our attempts to take it away from him while he stood on it and ate it in shreds. We suspected transients, but kept an eye out from then on for a local van Gogh. After that came the star-crossed part of the story. My girl had a hit record and chose her career over me and Luigi. She became a household name. Luigi died of missing her. I buried him at sea and cast our fortune of his collected feathers to the Gulf Stream.


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