Cousin Julia

by Syd Peck


Our parrot was the reason we broke with cousin Julia.

Their car purred its way up our drive and the engine stopped. Julia waited till her door was opened for her, and stepped out gracefully. It would put the arrival of the Queen of Sheba in the shade, with husband George behind her, carrying a tiny pampered dog and a bottle of wine. Like the gifts brought to pharaoh by the Ethiopians, we half expected a Nubian dancer with ostrich feathers and a troupe of Moorish acrobats to pour from their Bentley.

Later we had tea while my sister Evelina played a few tunes on the piano. Evelina was a capable player by ear but could not read music. In truth it made little difference, for our piano had long since succumbed to the salty dampness of our Northumberland coastal habitat. In between remarks about the worthlessness of teabag-tea and how at home they only ever drank real leaf-tea made in a hot teapot and allowed to mash for five minutes, I could not help hearing Julia prattling on about the pleasant but mediocre quality of Lina’s piano recital. The parrot added, “Teabags are rubbish.”

My sister loved songs from shows like Oklahoma and could render them in a foot-tapping way which the typical listener could hardly resist. Julia was not typical. “My son Gerald, you know, is in the West End music conservatory. He is quite excellent − top of his class, you know, specializing in Mozart or Beethoven or some such thing… He’s in line for first place in the orchestra,” she confided to my wife, Winnie. The parrot suggested, “Gerald is in first place, you know.”

“Oh, I imagine it’s beautiful when he plays for you at home? Probably plays non-stop?” Winnie said.

“Oh dear me, no,” there was unmistakable disdain in her voice, “We never hear him playing at home − although we have a first class pianoforte (said slowly with affected Italiano pronunciation)… He’s much too busy to play for me at home… constant rehearsals, you know.” Parrot, ”Much too busy, much too busy.”

She droned on while Lina’s tinkling tunes spilled happily over the warm carpet. “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” was seamlessly followed by “Yellow Submarine”. Julia half-heartedly sipped her tea and rather noisily placed the cup on the saucer, and then noisily placed the saucer on the table. She was losing patience with the piano. The parrot was quietly singing, “…live in a yellow submarine…”

Eventually, as we knew all along she would, Julia suggested, “Well, anyone for a rubber of bridge?” And, as an afterthought, she added, “Oh hahaha…” she laughed falsely, and the parrot mimicked it exactly, “Hahaha, hahaha.”

“But I suppose you, Winnie, won’t be too happy to lose again, oh dear, oh lord, haha… Still it’s just a bit of fun, isn’t it?” she lied entirely unconvincingly. “George , you’ll play of course,” and pharaoh’s Ethiopian nodded automatically. Parrot, “Two no trumps, George is dummy.”

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