Burning Bright

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “deflagrate”, and yes, I do know what it means, now that I have looked it up…..


Deep within him he could feel it starting.

Polly the parrot sighed, rested his head against the bars of his cage, gritted his beak, and waited. The time was almost here.

He suddenly burst into a single, white-hot, searing flame, scorching a nearby pot plant and, to Polly’s brief delight, scaring the crap out of the house-cat, the imaginatively named Kitty.

Polly had deflagrated, living only a small pile of ash.

From which, a couple of seconds later, his head slowly re-appeared, then his body and finally his legs, like Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Doctor No, only smaller, less sexy and actually nothing like that at all.

Polly was not, in fact, a parrot. He was a phoenix, whose real name was Purefire.

He waddled to the front of the cage, looked deep into Kitty’s eyes and said “piss off, moggy.”

Kitty fled.

For Polly could talk. In a hundred and five languages, in fact. You don’t get to live through lifetime after lifetime, each over 500 years years long, without picking up stuff.

Nobody ever seems to find it strange that parrots can talk. Humans would be astonished if monkeys or dolphins, acknowledged as the planet’s most intelligent animals, suddenly decided to recite Emily Dickinson poems. Yet they find nothing odd  about the fact that a mere bird (and remember, they use the term bird-brain to mean dim-witted) can loudly demand a cracker.

Most parrots are phoenixes. As rare birds they were constantly hunted, for zoos, for their plumage or for the fact that, if you timed it just right, they made excellent barbeque firelighters. The birds eventually decided to hide in plain sight, concealing their mighty intellects behind a veneer of friendly stupidity.

As he began his newest incarnation Polly, as he always did, looked back on the one just gone. It had been one of his better ones. He had accompanied Columbus on his voyage, creeping out of his cage each night to turn the map around, trying vainly to get it through to Columbus that India was in fact in the other direction. He had been in Italy during the Renaissance, living a life of luxury in the house of the Medicis, though occasionally, if a hat needed splendour added, he would unexpectedly have one of his feathers plucked, an experience not unlike a bikini-wax.

For five glorious years he had been Long John Silver’s parrot as they roamed the high seas in search of treasure. He was encouraged to shout “pieces of eight” at regular intervals, although he had no idea what that meant. Still, as Silver’s vocabulary consisted mostly of the word “Arrr” he still felt that he was the more interesting conversationalist of the pair.

He spent much of his life, of course, locked in a cage, but a cage-lock was no problem to someone of his age and experience, so when the tedium of pretending to be thick got too much for him he would slip out and help to create masterpieces. He added the flowers to VanGogh’s “Sunflowers”, which was originally simply to have been a painting of a bowl (VanGogh was mad, he hadn’t noticed). He wrote “Kubla Khan” (Coleridge was drunk with opium, he thought he’d done it). He finished Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, though unfortunately the pages got lost down the back of a sofa.

He would occasionally pretend to be other birds. He had quoted “nevermore” at Edgar Allen Poe. He had spent a summer as a stork, delivering babies to villages that did not have a maternity hospital. He modelled for Christmas cards as a robin.

A brief holiday in Mauritius had not been a success, and he had escaped only through an emergency deflagration.

The 20th century was a golden age for him. He wrote “Yesterday” for the Beatles (Paul thought John wrote it, and vice versa). On TV he played Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn and Woody Woodpecker, though he discovered that the last of these roles was actually more dangerous than being a phoenix, since most humans, upon hearing his catchcall, felt the urge to shoot him.

He spent two wonderful years touring with Monty Python, playing the part of the dead parrot.

As he moved towards old age, getting into his four-hundred-and-eighties, he settled for a more sedate existence, becoming a house pet. He had accompanied a number of old ladies through their declining years, the only drawbacks being that they all owned cats and that they all called him Polly, since parrot-sexing is not an easy science. One of these ladies had left her entire fortune to him, and he now owned an old house in Norfolk which he would visit late at night, hooting like an owl and swooping like a bat, in order to give ghost-hunters something to get scared about.

He got to keep up with the news by reading the paper that was daily changed on the floor of his cage, and in most houses he had a view of the telly. When his owner went out he would drift around with the ducks in the pond in the local park, eating as much of the bread thrown to them as he could, since you can get really, really tired of sunflower seeds.

And had he found love during this existence? Yes, he had, with another phoenix called Flamina (or Polly, to her owners). They had enjoyed a passionate relationship, filled, appropriately, with the ardent fire of true love.

She was an older woman, and they knew that she would deflagrate before him, but they were still taken by surprise when it happened, at a most unfortunate time.

It was the night he wrote “Great Balls of Fire”.

9 thoughts on “Burning Bright

  1. Tinman Post author

    I know it’s a bit sad when you’re the first to comment on your own post, but I feel I should own up to the fact that I’ve just read it back and the fourth paragraph started “Polly had deflated”.

    1. Tinman Post author

      No, I had no last line for ages, it was only after he started helping with the masterpieces that I got the idea.


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