For each of the six months that she’d been a member, Susan had managed to find a reason not to host the next monthly meeting of the Seaview Drive Residents’ Book Club. But at the end of last month’s meeting Fiona had said “who’s house next month?” and Harriet had said firmly “Susan’s. She hasn’t hosted one yet, ” and that was that. Harriet was the unspoken leader of the group, and having her tell you that they were using your house was rather like the FBI telling you that they were commandeering your vehicle. You didn’t get to say no.
So they were all here, all four of them, and so far all was going well. The wine had been poured and the ladies had complimented Susan on her lovely home. Now all they had to do was discuss the book briefly before starting into the real business of the evening, which was to finish the wine, bitch about their lives, husbands and children, and gossip about their neighbours, the ones not fortunate enough to be invited into this circle.
This month’s choice was The Book Thief. Harriet said that the book did a wonderful job of describing the beauty and destruction of life in Germany during World War II (she hasn’t read it, thought Susan, that’s just taken from the first sentence in Wikipedia).
Fiona said that having death as the narrator had been a great idea (uh-huh, thought Susan, also taken from the same sentence).
And then, to Susan’s horror, from beneath the cloth that covered the cage in the corner she heard stirrings, as Joey the parrot began to wake up. Please, she thought, please behave.
“Mickey,” said Joey.
At first it had been funny.
Susan had been in the pet-shop with her three-year old twin boys. They had been trying to decide between a gerbil that looked like a brillo-pad and a gecko that looked like, well, Gordon Gecko, when from a cage in the corner they had all heard the squawked word “fa-a-r-r-rttt”, rising in pitch as if in enquiry.
The boys had giggled helplessly, then begged for the parrot. The shop-owner had promised her that fart was the parrot’s only swear-word, the boys’ entreaties had become pleadingly tearful and then bordered on tantrum, and she had given in, on the basis of anything for a quiet life.
A quiet life was not what had followed.
The twins had set out to teach the parrot more naughty words, which in fairness she had seen coming, but luckily the scatological vocabulary of a three-year old is fairly limited, so all that happened was that the words “poo”, “bum” and “pee” were added to “fart”, making Joey, whenever he was excited, sound like an explosion in a fireworks factory, or as if he was trying to sing a Bjork song.
But three-year olds become four-year olds and start going to school, where they come into contact with ruder, longer boys who know ruder, longer words.
Such as “Mickey”.
At the sound, the book club all turned to look at Susan, who went and took the cover from the cage.
“It’s our parrot,” she said. “His name’s Mickey.”
She was fairly positive that Joey glared at her, but the women relaxed. It was Maura’s turn to speak next about the book. She said that she couldn’t add anything to what the others had said (wow, thought Susan, hasn’t even googled it) and then Joey spoke again, as if commenting on Maura’s comment.
“Willy,” he said.
“It’s his name,” said Susan quickly. Harriet opened her mouth, but Susan carried on. “Mickey Willy is his full name,” she said. “After my grandfather.”
“I see,” said Harriet slowly. “Anyway, we haven’t heard what you thought of the book yet.”
They all turned to Susan. She wanted to say that she thought it was the most wonderful book she’d ever read, that she’d cried during it and then cried because it was over, and that if she ever had another child she would name it Liesel, even if it was a boy, but she’d learnt over the months that the group grew uncomfortable whenever she revealed her true passion for the books they’d been allocated, so now she no longer bothered, hiding her love of reading behind self-deprecating humour.
“Didn’t get to read it,” she said. “A book thief stole it.”
They all laughed at this, and the atmosphere grew more relaxed. Then Joey spoke again.
“Boobs”, he said.
It was unfortunate that Fiona had just taken a mouthful of wine as Joey said this. After they had all finished thumping her on the back she stared in shock at Susan and said “did he just say -”
“Books,” said Susan firmly. “He’s very astute.”
“Books?” sneered Harriet.
“In a Dublin accent,” said Susan.
Harriet stared hard at her. Susan stared calmly back. Then Maura, the appeaser of the group, stood and walked over to the cage.
“He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?” she said. “Ask him if he wants a cracker.”
Joey regarded her, head on one side, for a long moment.
“Axe me bollix”, he said.
They had gone.
Into the stunned silence that had greeted Joey’s last remark Harriet had said “gosh, is that the time, I must be off” without even looking at her watch. The others had stood too.
“What about next month’s -” began Maura.
“We’ll organise it nearer the time,” Harriet had said quickly, and Susan knew that, when the organising came, her name would not be featuring among the invitees.
Having waved brightly at them from the door, she had turned back, and sighed.
And noticed that, because of the abrupt ending to the meeting, there was still a lot of wine left. She set about remedying that.
And as she sat, glass in hand, she realised how relieved she was. She’d joined their book club when she’d moved onto the road and was keen to meet her neighbours, but she admitted to herself now that they were snobs, and that their “book club” was as pretentious and superficial as they were, something that they had heard sophisticated people did and so had pretended to do themselves. Besides, she’d met a lot of the other neighbours now, mostly through having to drag the twins out of their flower-beds, and had realised that they were much nicer people.
She was better off without the book club.
“F’kawff!” yelled Joey suddenly. Susan raised her glass to him.
“Well said, Joey,” she said. “They can f’kawff indeed.”
(I’ve started going back to the Inksplinters Writing Group in the Irish Writers Centre on Tuesday, and this is built on what I wrote for a recent prompt, which was “a foul-mouthed parrot”.