They called him the Physics Macaw now, an inherited title, apparently more concerned with tradition than taxonomic accuracy. Jacob and the rest of the MIT scientists were nice enough, for people; maybe a little bit of a letdown compared his old celebrity crowd, but at least when Jacob had emotional breakdowns he could be counted upon to keep the crackers coming.
Well, he could, right up until the second-Jacob-who-smelled-wrong showed up.
Eric Idle had gifted Physics Macaw—then affectionately named “Shut That Bloody Bird Up”—to George Harrison after the latter’s messy divorce, so Physics Macaw knew about lovesick people crying in your feathers long before he met Jacob. But he also knew exactly how humans behaved when their ex reappeared without warning. This interloper might look exactly like Jacob, but Physics Macaw knew a band-breaker when he smelled one, and after five minutes of Jacob and wrong-Jacob staring at each other, he couldn’t keep his beak shut any longer.
You might not feel it now
When the pain cuts through
You’re going to know and how
The impostor shook himself. “Is that bird…singing?”
“Uh. He does that.” Jacob tried to placate Physics Macaw with a cracker, his hand shaking. Tasty, but Physics Macaw’s sage musical advice would not be drowned out by Club crackers. Jacob never had learned to respect his elders. Physics Macaw tucked the whole thing down into his gizzard and got back to making his point.
I’ve got a word or two
To say about the things that you do
Jacob-that-smelled-wrong blinked. “Is that bird singing Beatles songs?”
“Yes.” The real Jacob glared at the bird. Physics Macaw wasn’t intimidated. He’d almost been on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for fuck’s sake, and if the Standards people hadn’t been on set that day John Cleese would have made Physics Macaw a genuine ex-parrot. But here it was, thirty years later, and Physics Macaw was still here—looking much better for his age than Mr. Cleese, if he had to say so himself. Jacob Glaser didn’t scare him in the least.
“Sounds more like Yoko sings the Beatles,” Jacob muttered, and that just wasn’t fair. There was only one person allowed to call Physics Macaw ‘Yoko,’ and Jacob had spent a very long night, ages ago, explaining why George would never come back to call him that again.
You know I feel a pain
I’m tired of playing games with you
“I don’t recognize that one,” said the Jacob-that-smelled-wrong, and if he’d seemed like an ignorant yokel before, well…
“C’mon, Jimmy, I thought you liked solo work,” said Jacob, in a strange tone that Physics Macaw didn’t understand. He produced another cracker and gave the bird his full attention, feeding him the treat and stroking his crest, and that was better; that was doing it right. “Cloud Nine was the last album George Harrison recorded before he donated our friend here to MIT. But he had his moment in the sun, didn’t you.” Jacob turned. “Remember the video for Got My Mind Set On Youthat was on MTV all the time when we were kids?”
“You mean the one with the moose head that moved and all the swords and—he’s that bird?” Jimmy didn’t seem to know what to do with his face. “You have a Beatle’s bird?”
Jacob grinned. “Not just a Beatle’s bird.” Physics Macaw knew a cue when he heard one.
I cut down trees. I skip and jump.
I like to press wild flowers.
I put on women’s clothing
And hang around in bars.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“He knows The Lumberjack Song back to front,” said Jacob. Physics Macaw continued to preen. “According to department legend, back when George’s wife left him for Eric Clapton, Eric Idle apparently thought it would be funny as hell to give George a pet to keep him company. He neglected to mention that he’d been trying to get rid of the loudmouth for almost six years by then.” Physics Macaw chirred indignantly, but Jacob ignored him. “Mr. Harrison was a more patient kind of guy and put up with him for almost twenty years before he chewed up the neck of one Les Paul too many. Then he pawned mini-Yoko off on us.”
Not only had Jacob been warned about the Yoko thing, but he was fool enough to reach into the cage right after saying it again. “Ow!” yelped Jacob, pulling back his bleeding fingers. Unrepentant, Physics Macaw hopped up to the central bar and started creeling.
Number nine, number nine, number nine…
Jimmy looked horrified. ‘Will he just keep on…”
Jacob glared at them both, wrapping a paper towel around his bitten finger. “Now that I’ve got him started: yeah, he’ll keep going all day if he thinks it will get to you. And it always gets to you in the end. He’s convinced half the department that Paul really is dead.”
The expression that passed over Jimmy’s face rivaled Jacob on his worst benders.
The way Jacob touched him, just a light grip on the shoulder, looked more comfortable and less hesitant than the bird had ever seen Jacob touch another person. “Why are you here, Jimmy?”
Jimmy let out a laugh—not a real one, Physics Macaw could always tell—and rubbed his eyes. “Can we not…do this in front of the singing bird?”
“Yeah,” Jacob said instantly, sealing the fate of his remaining fingers as soon as he got close again. “Yeah, sure, I’ve got an office. I mean it’s about the size of a broom closet but uh, we can go there.”
And then the twin humans left him alone, marching together out the heavy latched doors. Out of spite, Physics Macaw kept repeating ‘number nine’ until he knew they were gone. There was something about the way they’d moved that spoke of endings: the end of crackers, of chocolate fountain baths, of surprise guest spots on the radio show.
Too bad. He’d had many owners in his long life, but only a few he considered truly special. Most humans came and went, fell in or out of style almost as fast as their clothes or their music. Hardly any of them could ever be as classically cool as Physics Macaw (well, except for maybe David Bowie). Most spent their lives far too worried about the opinions of their flocks. Jacob had always felt different—but what did that matter? He ruffled his feathers and groomed at an itch under his wing that wasn’t there. All things, it seemed, must pass.
Stick around, and it may show,
But I don’t know, I don’t know.