Short Stories

The Bird

«I think something is wrong with it,» exclaimed Owen over the phone. «I mean this thing doesn’t move, doesn’t talk, doesn’t eat. It’s like a zombie bird that stands on a corner and doesn’t give a shit about anything.»

He was stooped down as he was scrutinizing the little parrot, seating in his white cage with the dark-wooden sticks piercing its body like a piece of jungle that had been cut out of the forest and moved untouched within civilization. The branches were bumpy and surged with streams of fluid lines as if they had water inside them and they were about to burst out with the first pinch of a needle. In various corners, there were little nests made of twigs that pumped out like the electrified hair of an old lady and made for a soft bed out of their awkward protrusion. Right through the main railings, there was a wobbly, rope ladder that was stretching with a limb curve from the top to bottom, with its thick, wooden rungs as if mocking sarcastically with its unsuitable purpose in the whole concept.

And at the center of it all, from the middle of the roof, as if finishing the cake with a cheerful cherry, there was hooked a hanging bell swing, filled with colorful balls under which a beautiful, proud cockatiel was posing like the star in a theatrical scene.

It was a proud bird, shy with two red pimples in its cheeks as a young teenager visiting his first party. It had a long yellow plume on the top of its head like an active fire that keeps burning and a grey wholesome fur, passing over its body which resembled a custom-made suit on top of its body that could be switched off at any moment rather than something of its own.

It was given to him as a gift a week ago by his grandmother Jennie, a sweet old woman with short orange hair and multihued style, its eccentricity of which resembled quite well the one of the bird, and her progressive attitude was always a point of wonder for all those that had the chance to meet in person and see how someone in her age could be so into everything around her.

«I thought parrots were supposed to do stuff like speaking words or bent their heads up and down. This one is like it is a broken toy.» He exclaimed as he continued scrutinizing the bird leaning forward.

«I wish there was a way to give it back but I guess I’m stuck with it now.»

He stood up and walked towards the glass windows as he observed the hydrated fogginess blurring the opposite building in an obscure little shape as if existing at the bottom of the ocean.

«But anyway enough with that» he uttered disdainfully. «What matters is that starting tonight we expect this place to be swamped with customers. This restaurant will offer something for the holiday season, that everybody is going to be speaking about, and let me assure you it took the better of us to re-vamp it to such a point.»

He scanned the whole room around him, noticing the carved, oak tables as they were covered with the white sheets, encompassing the area in carefully arranged diagonal lines. This was the restaurant that had a long history in the family and was inherited to him by his father that he worked on it since he was a child working on the side of his parents. Throughout the years it always stood as a prominent place in this part of the town for people to visit and was always in the good position to receive delightful critics and have the respect of people, yet during the last period, it seemed that it had lost some of its lure and customers had become somewhat more scarce than what they used to be.

«There is literally nothing in this place that hasn’t changed during the last two weeks, I’m telling you. We got a totally new set of tables and chairs to be more stylish, we refurnished the walls, and the counters, and we brought new lighting and decoration just to top everything off. This place is literally as good as new .»

He raised his hand and swept over the window glass with a single movement that marked an interrupted curve in it, as he glanced over the clearly distinct restaurant on the opposite side of the road. People were already starting to gather at its footsteps as the steams of their breaths were fusing above them in the cold of the winter, and their thick woolen jackets were long enough to cover them well below the knee.

«Plus, the radio ads were ruthless the last few days playing ads almost daily.»

They kept the conversation going for a few more minutes before Owen hanged up and marched onto the kitchen to find a number of men dressed in full white dresses and long hats rushing around as they were making the necessary preparations for the night. If it wasn’t for the colorful plates with the well-justified food in them to betray the real purpose of their gathering, they would resemble a science research team that was making experiments in an isolated room away from all the indiscrete eyes of the public.

The man at the center of the counter was a chubby, frowned man that seemed to be displeased with everything around him before he even got the chance to lays eyes on them. At the moment Owen entered the room, he was berating the wrong efforts of a younger man that put the wrong number of green leaves in the presentation of a plate that was mostly arranged with beetroots and pomegranate as its main ingredients.

Owen stirred himself up, straightened his face from any expression of confusion, and approached the counter with bold confident steps as he stood to the opposite side of the counter.

«Francois! how is everything going so far? I see you are some final refinements for the night?» he asked.

«Evyzing ezz okey bozz! We juzt preparin’ the exzepzional dezzert dizh! I call it ‘Fiha From Hell’!» he said with extravagant hand movements as he described his words like an artist would have over his painting.

«Nice, nice Francois! You never stop surprising me with your incredible delicacies so I can’t wait to see what people have to say about them over the night.»

«It’s gonna be..magnific sir!» he responded.

«So what is in for the night? Are we following the standard holiday menu?»

«Oh no no no no Monsieur, we have zome exzeptzional dizzes tonight, people are gonna zimply lov’it.»

He took a step forward and then continued.

«We are gonna ztart wizh zome zpizy zcallop tartare in zucumber rolls, together with some kewpie mayo and a tad of Sriracha to give zhat exztra czilli paper feeling to it. Zhen we are going to continue wizh zome Potato and trout roe ala dulse beurre blanc, zhat iz gonna make the herring simply pop up on itz flavor and for a main disz we have zomething very zpecial tonight,»

Francois paused for effect as his eyes continued to gaze somewhere on the roof, while Owen waited patiently for him to finish, holding his chin somewhat raised up. Although he was only added to the team recently as the chief chef, after a long search to find the right person that Owen had initiated the last months, he had won the trust of everyone with his incredible talent and strong discipline in the job.

«What is that?» asked Owen.

«Zome wild boar stew wizh porzini muzhrooms, braised slowly over zhe red wine for two days in zhe row, iz zimply going to make everyone lose their minds. Together witz zhe zweet zauze and zhe zmooth zmash is-gonna-be-zimply-de-li-zi-ouz!»

«Excellent Francois! I can’t tell you how eager I am to see your masterpiece in action.» he chuckled causing Franois to reciprocate.

He continued his conversation with Francois as he got the chance to see some of the preparation in action and got a good look at the multi-staged process of their cooking. The two chef helpers were much younger and inexperienced than their French counterpart, but they had been with him for many years now and he always enjoyed watching them run their magic as they would maniacally rush back and forth between the counters, making sure every dish was appropriately cooked. Most of all he was impressed by the fact that they were constantly successful in juggling through so many things at once without wasting any time or losing the thread as someone would expect.

He got out to the main lounge where he sat down in his usual spot somewhere in between the kitchen, and the main lounge-area where he would usually spend his time when he didn’t want to bother with the work of everyone else. His chair was of handmade wood, and although somewhat uncomfortable it was the only one that had remained through the years and survived all the refurnishments of the shop with some strange persistence.

He gazed right across him over the counter where the parrot was taking his place in the corner silently and whispered to him as the bird remained calmly ignorant.

«Hey, buddy. Is everything good for you?». he paused. «Well I guess you don’t have much to complain there, do you.»

He nodded. He took his notebook out and checked over the reservations for the night as he pointed to the single one that existed with his index finger. It wasn’t unusual for the restaurant to operate with little to no reservations but every now and then there would always be some sort of acquaintance or friend that would call to make one. He seemed to contemplate a little bit about it when the door opened and a flamboyant woman rushed in with the unrestrained charm of a star.

«Owen my dear, what a beautiful work you have made with this place,» she exclaimed as she wandered around with her eyes noticing every little area of the place separately. «This seems to be as good as new,»

Owen went on to expand on all the refurnishments and latest upgrades he made the last few weeks and it was with sheer excitement that they examined every little change from the new decoration to the wall, all the way to the beautiful combination of the dark oak wood of the tables and the rocky surface of the walls.

They both seemed pleased with it up to the point that she made a remark that took Owen by surprise.

«The Bradley brothers across the street seem like they did a great work to revamp their place as well,» she exclaimed. «They even hired a new chef and got quite a promotion out of the whole thing. I guess it’s that time of the year that renovation is a sort of thing,» she said with a gigglish tone but she stopped immediately once she noticed that Owen raised up from his chair and took a rather serious tone she was not used of.

«The Bradley’s have grown awry the last period I’m afraid. Things with them are not as they used to be some time ago,»

«Is it not?» asked Emma, «what happened?»

«Well, as of recently we would always have good relations with them and our work together goes back in history when my parents would work closely with the Bradleys and even make common efforts to revigorate the whole area and building a good name of themselves. But recently they have made a full turn and work against us trying to win more customers.»

«That’s so sad,» she exclaimed. «I thought they were on the good side,»

«That’s what I thought as well. But what they have been doing lately is simply a mark of evilness. They have been criticizing our restaurant to everyone, they spread rumors of improper practices, belittled our decision towards the french cuisine and even claimed that many of the people that set their foot here will be lucky if they avoid the hospital altogether. So yeah things didn’t turn out very well with them I’m afraid.»

«That is simply so terrible of them. I can’t believe they would do such a thing,»

«I’m as surprised as you are honey. There are no words to describe it.»

«But maybe there is a way I can help because it so happens to know their father and I’m sure I can sort things out for you. Oliver is simply the sweetest old man you can find in your way and if there is anything wrong there he will surely intervene to help. You can trust me on this.»

«Oh no no,» replied Owen sarcastically swinging his head. «This is not something I’m willing to simply let go pass like this with a little pep-talk from their father. I have something ready for them that it’s going to pass the message to them crystal clear.»

«Please tell me you are not thinking of payback Owen. This is just going to make things worse,» she pleaded.

Owen nodded ostentatiously with his hands folded on his chest.

«That is exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to give them a taste of their own medicine that is going to take a long time to forget.»

Emma plunged her head withing her hands as if hiding away from what was going on in front of her and remained silent as Owen continued.

«Within a few weeks their whole 5-star rating will have dropped below the level of the mud, and people are going to witness a whole different aspect of what they thought was their favorite local restaurant in the neighborhood. Just give me some time and you’ll see how fast things can change.»

He stood in front of the window as he gazed at the people who continued to gather around the Bradleys in the cold winter night and let a subliminal little chuckle burst out as if it was a little cough.

«But Owens are you sure it is them doing all this? Maybe there was some sort of misunderstanding that led to all this and they didn’t really do anything bad. If you let me have a little chat first with Oliver it would be much better and I think it doesn’t worth the trouble of going at it this way.»

Owen stood stunt before her. He silenced, thought about it, and declined it as he continued with his plan to handle the situation the way he thought was the best. If there were some characteristics he was known for, determination was definitely very high on the list and he didn’t seem willing to let go of the opportunity to bring dynamics back to balance.

The night passed and it turned out that the couple with the particular ugly sweaters and the strong inclination for extra fat in their dishes that had the reservation was the only customers for the whole night. Owen tried to keep his cool while listening to Francois talking about the ‘approaczing cataztropghy’, but it so happened that the next day was also quite scarce. And so was the day after till the end of the holidays that left the balance sheet on the negative side and made everyone quite anxious about the future of the restaurant.

It was only after long conversations with experts and friends that Owen had finally agreed to reiterate the nature of the store and go through a second round of changes and refurbishments till they get it right. And it was also the case that he was still stubborn on getting his revenge from the Bradleys for all the defamation that they had created and the decline that he was so sure they were responsible.

But it was a couple of weeks later that he got into the store and he took a completely different stand. To the surprise of everyone he cut out the process of the second overhaul with a sheer direction and he also reapproached Oliver from the opposite restaurant, re-heating the bonds with the family. Although unexpected, he ignored the past hatred and focused on setting things right, the same way they were in the past, by making sure they keep a common path and maintain their good historic relationships. Within time, it so happened that customers started visiting the store again more frequently, till the restaurant re-established its old past glory and it was both of these restaurants that gathered people from all around the town for their incredible culture and food. And it was somewhere along this process that Owen took the decision to get the cage up to the open-air where he raised up the little door to let the bird fly away on its own.