The surprising thing about animals is that they were a lot smarter than they let on. Alex Cho's parrot, for example, only says, "Polly wants a cracker!" because she actually wants the biscuit. "The fool thinks the poor excuse of a bird chowder that she feeds me tastes good," she said once, her wings fluttering distastefully. "It's like being forced to eat horse shit." For something so against droppings, Polly sure had a potty mouth.
There was also Drew Dunning's two year old pug, who secretly had more self-esteem issues than all of the kids at St. Ochlan's put together. "He doesn't understand what it's like to look so ugly," Barry wailed into my lap last week. "Nobody understands me!"
"There, there," I said, rubbing his tan fur coat soothingly. "I think you're adorable."
Barry lifted his snout, the wrinkles on his head deepening. "Don't be such a fool. Who can love me? I've climbed onto cabinets before. I know what a mirror is. Don't think I've been blind this whole time. My eyes are wonky and dilated." He moaned, covering his face with his paws. "I'm nothing, Luci, nothing. Nobody will ever love me anymore."
And then there was my pet goldfish Gloria. At eight years old, I didn't figure out that "she" was actually a "he" until two months later, but by then it was too late; the name was here to stay. Gloria hadn't been much of a talker when I got him in fifth grade for a birthday present, but we managed over time. Turns out he was a flirtatious little thing, more libido-driven than half the football team, and it became a sort of ritual for him to use a pick-up line when I would come home from school.
Today was no particular exception, and as I barged through the door, Gloria drawled, "Baby, you look tired. You can come swim in my water any time."
"Ha ha, good one," I huffed, throwing my bag onto the floor and flopping onto the bed. "Still trying to seduce this fine piece of ass? Never."
"You know you wanna break off a piece of this."
"How did you know?" I gasped, putting a hand over my mouth. "You and your scaly charm. How could I have resisted you this entire time?"
"You didn't. You were just suppressing it." He winked at me, and I flicked the bowl in retaliation. "Watch the glass, honey, or you'll be losing more money. It's bad enough you're sucking your parents dry for college." There was the fish I knew, ever so brutally honest. I used to hate his abrasiveness, and I had refused to feed him for a week after he told me in eighth grade that I had gained a noticeable donut around my middle. But looking back on it, I think it was a good thing that he said that, or else I would be rolling instead of walking.
"I know, I know," I sighed, rubbing my eyes. "But I'm working part-time, so I can always buy another one."
"But wouldn't you rather spend the money on food?"
"Yeah, that'd be a great idea if I weren't so swamped with studies. Second year is ridiculous, and don't even mention the walk to and from classes." I groaned as my feet throbbed accordingly. "You're so lucky you don't have feet, boy."
"I told you to get Bice," he said matter-of-factly, and if it had been anyone else, I would've been irritated by his tone. "But no, you just had to get Lambeth, didn't you? You—and I quote—'needed the bigger apartment.' Didn't I tell you that it wouldn't be worth it? Did you listen to me?"
"I have a lot of stuff that Bice wouldn't be able to hold."
"I don't know, like my snacks or something. Lambeth's cupboards are so much bigger to store more food."
"You don't even eat here," he pointed out, and I sighed irritatedly. Gloria was one smart fish.
"If you're worried about going hungry, don't be. You know I always feed you." Even if it was sometimes at two in the morning. "I mean, when have I ever forgotten? Minus that one time in eighth grade," I added when I saw his mouth open. "That didn't count because you called me fat."
"Shut up," Gloria grumbled, swimming into his fake castle. "That's not even the point. We haven't eaten together in ages, let alone seen each other. And I'm sorry, Luci, but Princess Plastic has the blandest personality I've ever met. Your comatose uncle is livelier than her, and that's saying something. So either you get me a change of scenery, or you make some goddamn time so we can sit down for once."
A pang of guilt hit me in the ribcage. "I'm sorry if you feel that way, Glo. It's not like I'm trying to avoid you on purpose or anything, really. It's just that I have a lot of work to do, and since the library's closer and all, I just go there. More convenient that way. Besides, it's not like you're alone. I let Polly and Barry in all the time, don't I? At least you've got some company."
Gloria poked his head out of one of the windows, his mouth agape. "Please. Out of all the dumbass things you've said in your life, that was probably the more idiotic than usual. That's like saying I want my IQ lowered, which happens to plummet every time either one of them opens his mouth."
"Now wait a minute..."
"Don't get me wrong, they're nice and all, but what with Barry whining about how ugly he looks and how Polly thinks she's too good for everything, how am I supposed to get any word in? They're self-absorbed, Luci, and all they do is yap about their problems."
"I don't think--"
"And it wouldn't be so bad if they talked to each other, too. But you know, since they're so incapable of lending an ear to other people, they go and find the nearest thing that isn't as narcissistic as either of them, which just happens to be me. You know what this bump above my left eye is?" Gloria turned a little to the side for me to see. "You know what it is? It's a stress bump. You know how I got it? From listening to those bumbling, insufferable, unnecessary twats talk."
"Oh, so you think I'm a bumbling, insufferable, unnecessary twat, huh?"
I turned my head towards the sudden voice, and there was Polly, perched on the window ledge, her multicolored feathers bristling angrily. "Um, hey," I waved timidly, and she only shifted (predatorily) from talon to talon. She had a nasty habit of flying into conversations without warning, like right now. She also had an even nastier habit of putting her two cents in everything, like right now. This was not good. "What brings you here so late?"
"Well, I was planning on stopping by and telling you that the flan in the refrigerator was absolutely delicious. I was also going to tell you what a wonderful friend little Gloria over there was for listening to my problems today. I mean, I have never had anyone take the time to listen to what I had to say, and you guys were the first ones to do that." There was a dramatic pause, and then Polly sneered, "But I guess I was wrong about the fish. Such a shame, because I wholeheartedly believed that we could have been the best of friends. If I had known you were such a backstabbing, little animal, I would have pecked out your brains months ago."
"Oh, shut up," Gloria scoffed. "You talk way too much for a bird. Do you even know what half those words mean? I bet you had Alex dictate the dictionary to you." I toyed with the hem of my bedsheets nervously as Polly squawked in outrage. They had never really hated each other, but I knew how Gloria felt about spoiled, pampered beings, and I'll be damned if Polly wasn't a high-maintenance animal. I had a small feeling that this wasn't going to end well if I didn't step in soon.
As it stands, Polly turned to look at me, looking utterly scandalized as her beak opened and closed angrily. "Luci, are you going to sit there and let him insult me like that? Are you not my friend? Will you not come to my defense?"
"How mature," Gloria muttered, his beady eyes glaring at her. "Forcing people to take sides now? Wah, my name is Polly, and nobody agrees with me! I'm going to go and bully people into taking sides now. Wah wah wah! I'm the wahmbulance! Wah wah wah!"
Polly shot him a dirty look, but continued to talk to me. "Quite frankly, I am appalled by his behavior. Gloria's attacks are so... unfounded. And they are such low blows, too! I would've expected better from him, since he always goes on about having a higher education than everyone else..."
"Bitch, please," Gloria rounded, puffing up angrily. "At least I know what those words mean, and Luci didn't have to repeat anything sixteen times, either!"
"What are you trying to say exactly?"
"You know exactly what I mean, sister."
"Why, you little-!" Polly squeaked, feathers bristling visibly. "Is that the best you can do? Make fun of my intelligence, which is completely false and groundless to begin with? I'll have you know that I am perfectly capable of retaining information all on my own."
"You retain about as much as a dry sponge, darling."
My jaw unhinged a little, and I glanced nervously at the windowsill. Polly wasn't even talking anymore; instead, she was half-squawking, half-cawing now, her eyes trained unnervingly at Gloria. "Are you trying to instigate something?"
"Oh, I haven't even started, sister--"
"OK, OK!" I interjected, putting up a placating hand. "Break it off, you guys. Come on now. I need everyone in this room to calm down, count to ten, and take deep breaths. Shut your mouth, Glo, or I'll 'forget' to change the water. You, too, Polly. It's been a long day, and we don't need ripped feathers and gills all over the place."
The two continued to glare, but neither made a move for the other. Technically, it was just Polly who didn't move, since Gloria was swimming around angrily in the confines of his glass bowl, but I was still relieved. I really did have a bunch of work to catch up on, and the last thing I needed was a bird-fish brawl in the middle of the room. "So now that we're all a little less angry, I think we can say something without ripping each other's throats out. We can all be mature about this, I know we can." I smiled hopefully. "Polly, you go first."
She hesitated, but finally pushed through with a grudging apology that did not sound very apologetic. "Sorry I threatened to maim and eat you."
I'll take what I could get. I turned to look at Gloria expectantly.
"Sorry I have to put up with your attitude and ugly face."
"Glo!" I yelled in shock, and at the same time, Polly gave an indignant squeak and flapped down to the bowl.
"Do you know how much I preen after myself, you nonsensical git? Do you know how many times I groom myself?" she demanded, her talons scratching the ends of the bowl.
"Apparently not enough to fix that fat beak of yours!" Gloria shouted back, swimmingly absurdly at the bottom of the bowl.
"You want to fight, don't you? You're just trying to lower my confidence because you're jealous!"
"If by jealous you mean being unable to survive in seventy-five percent of Earth's atmosphere, then yes, I am. I'm so green with envy right now."
"By the time I am done with you, you will regret leaving your mother's womb."
"Too bad my mom didn't have a vagina, dumbass. Try having Alex read his biology book to you once in a while. Maybe it'll do you some good."
"Ooh, I could just grab you and drop you into the toilet right now, you pompous, overgrown mongrel!" Polly screeched, and she rammed her body into the bowl hard enough so that it scooted towards the edge of the desk.
"Whoa, whoa!" I exclaimed, jumping forward to catch Gloria. "Stop that, Polly! You could seriously hurt him!"
"Out of my way, Luci! The little fishhead deserves it. Does he not know the meaning of cordiality? I bet he doesn't. That pet of yours is such a disgrace, and trust me when I say that eliminating him from this place would be doing the rest of us a service."
I frowned. "That's going a little too far there. Glo may be brash, but it doesn't mean he's careless."
"He's careless enough to bash me!" she whined, and I gave a small hiss of pain when she scratched me instead.
"Just leave him alone!"
"I will as soon as you get out of my way!"
"Why do I need to move?"
"So I can catch him more easily," Polly snarled, her eyes locking on Gloria the entire time. His response was to flip a fin in her face. "You better enjoy your water while you still can, because I believe you will be swimming in my stomach very soon."
"Like hell you will!" I gasped, waving madly in her direction. Water was sloshing everywhere, and Gloria was looking a little green himself, but it wasn't nearly as important as ensuring that he wouldn't be turned inside out by some lunatic parrot. Nobody ate my best friend and got away with it! But I had to admit that Polly was a clever bird, what with the way she artfully evaded most of my spastic hand motions. I could barely graze her feathers while she pretty much used my arm as a scratching post. Polly really wasn't kidding when she said that she preened herself excessively, and I winced when her talons dug into my arm. There were a few awkward circlings, climbing on desks, and crawling under beds before I realized that I didn't have to be confined to a room. In fact, if I wanted, I could move to different parts of the apartment to get away from Polly! In retrospect, moving around made the cleaning more difficult, but how could I think about drying the carpet when a bird was trying to eat Gloria?
So I smacked Polly across the beak, much to her horror ("My nose!") and Gloria's delight ("How's that for a million dollar beak, bitch?") and hoofed it to the living room. And that was how I greeted Ella, with Gloria tucked under my arm and Polly nipping painfully at my head.
"What the hell are you doing?" Ella demanded, and I came perilously close to running into the nice Ikea floor lamp that was inconveniently placed in the middle of the floor. What had I been thinking when I decorated the place a few weeks ago? It didn't matter though, because the sight of my roommate scared Polly enough so that she pulled away from my hair, mouthed the words "You're dead meat" to Gloria, and then fluttered back into my room to escape.
"Thank fucking God," Gloria said with a sigh of relief.
"Yeah, thank God for Ella," I said aloud, nodding in agreement before turning around. "I know it looks strange, but I'm so glad you came home because--"
Almost abruptly, I cut myself off when I realized that Ella wasn't alone. She never went anywhere alone, come to think of it, so I didn't know why it came as such a surprise. The boy standing beside her had a buzz cut and came complete with a polo shirt--overall a decent-looking fellow, ranking up there with the rest of Ella's "friends". Normally, I would have left them alone, except he was staring at me like I had grown a third head, and I knew why.
"Um, hello," I said weakly, pretending he hadn't seen anything, and I didn't fail to notice the way he was alternating his stares between me and the fish. "It's nice to meet you."
"...Were you talking to your fish?" the boy asked, ignoring my question. It threw me off, and my palms began to perspire as I grappled for an answer. It was always awkward for me in this kind of situation.
Gloria snorted. "Who else would she be talking to? What a dumb question." I gripped the bowl a little tighter; hopefully, the intense pressure would shut him up.
"Uh, not really, nope," I finally answered in what was possibly a light-hearted tone. "I was just... um, glad that Ella came back. Yeah, really glad!" Gloria snorted again, and I gave the bowl a terse shake.
"Oh. Well, there was a bird in here a moment ago."
"No shit, thanks for pointing out the obvious."
Gloria was being so unhelpful today, but I couldn't say anything while Ella's friend was still looking at me. Instead, I asked, "Really? I didn't, uh, notice."
The boy was openly staring now, and I wanted to throw myself into a deep ravine. I was such a terrible liar. "Well," he began slowly, "there was a parrot, and it was attacking you." He looked at me some more, as if expecting me to expound on the crazy scene. I opened my mouth, ready to bullshit my way out, but then I realized that I sucked at bullshitting and promptly closed it. Crap, I was cornered!
"Tell him the truth," Gloria murmured between the crook of my arm, and his fin swished in the water. "Tell him that Polly's fucking crazy and was trying to eat me because she couldn't handle the truth about that god awful nose of hers."
"No," I muttered, glaring down at the goldfish. "That's a stupid idea."
"What's so stupid about being honest? People should know just how arrogant she really is. You'd be doing them a favor, trust me."
"Well, if it weren't for your stupid mouth, we'd--" I stopped when I realized what I was doing and looked up to find the boy smiling at me with furrowed eyebrows. Ella, bless her heart, was a little more seasoned to this whole thing and waved me off like she usually did. Her auburn hair shimmied around her shoulders as she looked up with green doe eyes and squeezed his arm against her chest lightly.
"Just ignore her, Bobby. She's more whacked than an injection of LSD. Anyways," she started, turning to me. Her tone wasn't as unctuous when she announced, "He's staying over tonight." And without waiting for me to reply, Ella grabbed his hand and pulled him past me.
"Bye," was all he said with a small nod before turning his attention back to Ella. A few seconds later, the door slammed shut, and I was alone in the living room with Gloria.
"What a skank," he muttered. "Sexiling you three times in one week? Not cool. You can't even feed me tonight!"
"Maybe they're studying chemistry," I proffered pathetically, and he made a noise of disbelief.
"Yeah, and I'm a frigging fish stick. Just set my bowl down here. I'm too tired to eat anyways."
Sighing, I did as told and watched as he wove between the fake algae. "Sorry, Glo. I'll feed you tomorrow morning."
"That'd be fantastic. You'd regret it if you didn't feed me. Are you sleeping on the couch tonight?"
"Do I have a choice?" I moaned, sinking down into the couch. "I am so tired. I just want a bed."
"Aw, poor you." A pause, and then: "Well, time to hit the waves. I did so much work today like you would not believe. I am exhausted."
"I bet you're not as exhausted as me."
"Why the hell not?"
"Why would you? Polly didn't use your head for pecking practice!"
"So what? I bit her foot a couple of times when she managed to skim the surface of the water. You can't say that doesn't count for something." He ignored my look. "It doesn't matter. I'm tired, and I'm going to bed. You better remember to feed me, or else. Remember that, Luci."
"Damn straight," Gloria said, grinning cheekily. "Sorry, hon, but only one person can wear the pants in this relationship. Night, babycakes, and make sure you take a blanket out of the closet. It's gonna be chilly tonight."
"But that's Ella's closet."
"So? That's your room in there that she's using to have wild sex. You deserve to take her back-up blanket for the night."
"She locks the door with a key and hides it."
"Under the Ikea lamp."
"Don't ask," Gloria said with a yawn.
"Woman, just go to bed already. You're too damn curious for your own good." And with that said, I watched as he swam over to where Plastic Princess was half-buried beside the treasure chest and kissed her before heading into the blue underwater castle. He settled at the very bottom, where all the matching blue rocks were, and pretty soon, Glo was swaying gently back and forth with the water motions. I flicked his bowl a couple of times, but he didn't open his eyes; he really was tired.
Standing up, I made a face at his bowl before walking towards the lamp. "Just so you know, I'm going to switch your food so you get constipation," I sang softly. "That's what you get for being rude and cutting off me off."
Gloria's answer floated from behind, surprising me. "You do that, hon. You do that, and we'll see how you feel when you clean my bowl two weeks later."
"Maybe I won't clean your bowl."
"Maybe you don't want to see me choke to death from swimming in my own wastes."
"How do you know I won't do that?"
"Because you love me way too much," he answered smugly, and I huffed in annoyance. I had to find dumber animals to talk to.