Where the African Grey Perches

Submitted into Contest #151 in response to: Write about a character who’s expected to follow in someone’s footsteps.... view prompt


American Sad Fiction

I’ve worked here for four months, and not once have I stepped into one of the break rooms. 

Once the clock strikes noon, several employees rise from their seats to get lunch. Many walk out in groups, making plans to get lunch at a cute café or a food truck. Others pull packed lunches out of their desks. I hesitate to get mine, some coworkers giving me steely glares on the way out. 

A part of me wants to go eat with Uncle Moore, but I know that would only make things worse. 

I took my lunch with me out to the main hallway, heading towards a particular conference room. Within a week of my employment here, I found the schedule for the conference rooms and could coordinate where to eat lunch so I wouldn’t be disturbed. I remembered considering the janitor storage closets, but on the chance that Uncle Moore or one of his close associates caught me, I don’t think I could deal with the ridicule I’d face for months afterwards. At least if Uncle Moore found me in here, I could come up with some bullshit excuse that he’d likely either believe or could go along with for the sake of image.

I opened one of the windows and nibbled on some of the grapes I packed, but I paused. 

A click.

“You followed the camera footage, didn’t you?” I asked, knowing that my guess was spot-on. Although my back was towards the door, so I couldn’t see them.

“As the owner of this company I have a right to know where my employees are during work hours. Including you.”

Uncle Moore stood with impeccable posture, despite the immense back pain that I knew he endured as a result of the War. He was too proud to show what it did to him. This was also one of the few times I had ever seen him without a Cuban cigar or a tall glass of bourbon. Drinking in the middle of the day at work doesn’t exactly paint a good picture. 

“My associates would like to meet you,” He said, leaning on one hand on the wood table. “Just a quick formality before we start to look into you becoming one of their assistants.”

I rose my brows, shocked. 

“I only started working here at headquarters a few months ago. There’s no way I’m qualified for something like that yet, especially considering the experience that my coworkers have in comparison.”

He sighed, “I don’t trust someone outside of family with this job. Besides, you and I both know I don’t have much time left.”

An unbearable, looming weight sat itself upon my shoulders, as if a heavy bird was perching there that I couldn’t shove off. Uncle Moore gave me a look- the one that I was unfortunately too familiar with, one of grim understanding and silent pleading. It was difficult to tear my gaze away. 

“Alright, when am I meeting them?” I asked, crossing my arms over my blazer. 

“We’re hoping to get together soon, perhaps Friday night to give you time to plan?”

“I am free tonight if that works.” 

He appeared somewhat startled by that, but looked pleased. Perhaps interpreting it as being eager, anticipation. 

“I’ll ask and notify you. On that note,” My stomach clenched. “How is my brother?”

I let the tension ease out of my body. “He’s doing alright. But my mother has a favor for you.”


“She would like you to know that the price of Cuban cigars has increased significantly again, and would like you to discuss with her your monthly order.”

“Of course. Thank you for letting me know.”

Seeing that there wasn’t much more to talk about, he turned on his heel and walked out the door, not a word about my lunch spot. Even in his absence, the weight didn’t go away, and it’s all that cycled through my head. 

In the corner of my eye, I swore I saw the silhouette of a big, gray bird perching on my shoulder. 

I never really minded getting ready for formal gatherings. In fact, I sort of grew to love it. 

Once I got home, I had an allotted hour to get dressed and do my makeup before I had to leave. Over the last few years of moving up the ranks in the company, expensive outfits and makeup brands have accumulated in my possession. And along with that, a honed style. 

Sharp eyeliner paired well with my black dress pants and blazer, and the centerpiece was a vibrant red tie and a spiked, gold wheel pin with gold lettering on the blue inner rim and a folded white umbrella behind. A striking symbol that only a select few could recognize, that only a few would need to recognize. 

Naturally, my Uncle would insist on the gathering being held at his house. Although he wasn’t the party type, he certainly didn’t want the spectacular courtyard to waste away. When I arrived, five of the seven expected attendants were there. All of them were seated at a large table, holding crystal glasses filled with expensive liquor. Some of them even smoked, but only my Uncle held a thick cigar between his fingers, the one thing that I knew he wouldn’t share. 

“Good evening,” I said, everyone turning around. My stomach clenched and my shoulders tensed. “I’m Charles Moore’s niece, Quinn Moore.”

A few of them extended their hands to me to welcomingly shake and introduce themselves. I couldn’t catch any of their names or meet their eyes. The others quietly smoked and sipped their liquor, eying me closely. 

One of these people I’m going to work with indefinitely.

Although me and Uncle Moore haven’t talked about it, I’ve made a solid guess on how the next few years are going to play out. All of these associates he’s having me meet are Chief Officers of something, and have been for forever. He’ll likely have me assist the oldest or sickest of the bunch, and when they pass or retire I’ll take over. And once Uncle Moore passes, I take his position. Simple as that.

Now it’s just pleasing these people. 

“Please excuse me, I’m going to go get a drink real quick.”

I walked up the brick steps to the balcony that peered over the entirety of the yard, and entered through the door that led to the kitchen. The room was open and was adorned in salmon pink, gold, sage green, and sunset orange. Everything about it was calming and looked like a kitchen from a reality cooking show. However, I knew that the fridge didn’t have much more than some eggs and leftovers sent from my mother.

Next to the fridge was a small counter filled with various liquors, with cabinets of crystal glasses above it and an ice maker below. I took one of the rocks glasses and poured in a generous amount of ice before filling the rest with my favorite cinnamon whiskey and a touch of the leftover spiced eggnog. 

Before I headed back outside, I decided to take a quick stroll through the house to check on things. I didn’t like the idea of snooping, but this house held too much sentimental value for me to not check the state it’s in.

The first thing I ran into was Aunt Lillian’s birdcage. 

For the longest time, Aunt Lillian was hellbent on getting an African Grey Parrot. She even tried to convince Uncle Moore by buying all the supplies and preaching about how it will be the entertainment for their parties. However, the lifelong commitment and lifespan was the dealbreaker. Especially when my father and Uncle Moore made it clear about what would happen to it if the bird fell into their hands when she wasn’t around anymore.

I sighed.

She was something.

I could remember helping her tidy up the courtyard, planting flowers and trimming small trees. She always promised a tall glass of homemade lemonade and hot cookies if I helped her, but I loved doing the work anyways. She would crack jokes and talk about her parties, anything to make the work fun. However, the best part was that at the end of the day, we would pull out easels and get to paint. 

Along the hallways were her paintings, gorgeous depictions of landscapes and even a few portraits. The light, calm colors of the house brought out the saturated colors she used, I just simply couldn’t get enough of it. I aspired to have that level of skill, to have that steady hand and sharp eye. 

I walked upstairs to the bedrooms and peeked into one of the guest rooms. It was completely covered in soft pink and white lace with a small crib resting in one end of the room. I knew that at one point, Aunt Lillian tried to have a baby and this room was the lingering reminder of that. 

I suppose that’s where I come in. 

Even the cute little dollhouse I used to play with still sat beside the nightstand. 

In a small hallway that led to Uncle Moore’s bedroom – where I would really be invading his privacy – was the finest of Aunt Lillian’s art. Every five years on their anniversary, she would gift Uncle Moore a portrait of himself. Although you could see him age, she captured the liveliness in him, the bouncing energy that was his own personal beat. 

What happened to that?

That bouncing energy that I remembered from my childhood was replaced by a slow, steady tempo that drove him through each day. At parties like this you could see some of that previous bouncing energy, but I had to remind myself that it was temporary. 

I suppose I should head back. 

I turned around and made my way towards the staircase, but stopped again when I spotted a cracked door. A glimpse of bright colors and white canvas drew me to it.

Aunt Lillian’s art room.

From floor to ceiling, paints and brushes and canvases were stacked high. Unfinished projects remained in their easels, waiting for their artist. Every brand name you could think of was somewhere in this room. In every nook and cranny was that bouncy, outgoing touch she had. 

The touch I wish I had in my own work. 

Being in here ignited this irresistible urge to pick up a brush and paint. I didn’t care what I painted or what type of paint I used, as long as I released this mix of emotions in me. As long as I could express this grief and pressure-

Uncle Moore walked in, a shocked expression on his face. 

There was moment of silence. We only stared at each other.

He finally spoke. 

“Your Aunt was a brilliant artist. An exceptional painter,” He said, walking into the room. His movements were slow, as if he was trying to move through thick mud. “But she was never able to make a living off of it. We could afford to send her to art classes and let her buy whatever supplies she wanted, but unfortunately she could never make it her career.”

I felt my throat constrict. Breathing felt laborious. 

Uncle Moore paused, and looked at me. I hoped that I had kept a plain, natural face.

“You remind me so much of her.” 

That singular sentence repeated itself in my head, committing itself to memory.

“Let’s go back downstairs.” 

As we walked out of the art room and down the staircase, Uncle Moore dug around in his pocket. When we reached the main floor, he pulled out one of his Cuban cigars and a lighter and offered it to me. It took me a moment before I accepted it, unsure of what to say.

I decided to light the cigar, and put it to my lips. 

June 25, 2022 03:36

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