“The Painting and the Parrot,” a Haunted Passages flash by David Luntz

Haunted Passages:
David Luntz

The Painting and the Parrot

I wrote this story once about a guy who kills his best friend. Well, he wasn’t really his friend at the time. They used to be friends. I don’t want to give too much away in case the story gets published. But at the end of the story the guy’s staring at this painting his ex-friend forged and finds himself “going through” it, so to speak.

The painting was supposed to be a still-life by a Dutch Master: it’s got this oblong oak table covered with an intricately-patterned Ottoman rug. There’s a young man standing by the table clutching an opened letter. (A parrot sits on his shoulder.) There’s this doorway, too, behind him that leads to an alleyway where dogs sleep and children play with hoops. Above them, the deep-blue sky is fleeced with clouds that takes the eye to the vanishing point.

But now, now that the guy’s gone into the picture, he can get behind the man in the picture and read the letter the man is reading. The letter seems familiar. He remembers it’s a poem he’d once read in a dream. Okay, that’s cool. But now he wants to know more. He wants to get past the frame that bounded all his knowledge about this world before he passed into it, to go past the vanishing point. So, he walks through the alleyway, weaves through the playing children and sleeping dogs, and realizes he just has to want something in this world and it manifests. And since he’s always wanted to fly in a hot air balloon, he finds himself soaring high above seventeenth-century Amsterdam, looking down on canals, daffodils, and church steeples.

As he flies higher, he sees the coast of England, France, and Spain, the curve of the earth, and goes so high he passes over time’s invisible peak and looks down on the earth one hundred million years away: the Alps are now gentle hills and a massive mountain chain is forming a thousand miles east of where China was when he passed through the picture. He keeps going because he knows there is no getting out of this world and all he can do now is find the light that existed at the time his old friend painted this picture; because if he can find that light, he may be able to catch up to him and say or do something that would let him get out of this world. Get back to the world he thought he was living in.

Anyway, that’s pretty much the story, and it probably won’t go anywhere because it’s sort of dumb; and now I am back home unpacking groceries and my wife is snapping her fingers “wake up, snap out of it, help me here,” and it’s not easy, not when you’ve just been passing through that unseen space of a story that makes the visible dream possible … but it makes me think about another story I wrote, which was in fact published, but which I think I am only beginning to understand now.

That story is about something that never happened but involves someone who did: the movie director Fritz Lang.[1] In this story, Fritz Lang on July 27, 1930 breaks into the Berlin Zoo and frees all the animals. Regrettably, for the animals, they are all recaptured the following day except for an eighty-year-old Fijian parrot named “Morris.” Morris’ escape is a serious matter for the zoo, because Morris sings popular opera arias in Italian, German, French, English, and Russian, and generates a ton of foot traffic. An APB is put out all over Germany for him. A hundred thousand Reichsmarks reward is offered for his safe return. But thanks to Fritz Lang, Morris has been hauling ass over tail to Fiji and is nowhere to be found.

I’m not sure if Morris makes it home but the story implies he does. Anyway, as Morris is heading east, Fritz is fleeing Nazi Germany west, first to Paris and then to Los Angeles, where he dies many years later. I like to think these two fugitives close the circle and meet again, which I think they do, when Fritz hears Morris singing the day he dies, although they do not realize they are in fact meeting, because the world often obscures these types of miracles from being seen.

So, I’m wondering about all this because Morris was freed from the zoo the day my father was born (whose name is Maurice) and Fritz Lang dreams about Morris in L.A. on the day my wife is born. And, as I put the jar of jam or can of beans in the cupboard, I want to tell my wife that there’s something hidden that’s vast and immeasurable in this moment, that I’m not sure how this moment sustains us, because a man passed once by here many years before, a man who will hear later a parrot sing “The Queen of the Night” on the night he dies, and if not for him, or perhaps because of him and that parrot he hears singing, neither he nor us would have ever existed.

David Luntz’s work is forthcoming or appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Reflex Press, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions 2021, trampset, X-R-A-Y, Fiction International, Janus Literary, Orca Lit, Ellipses Zine, Rejection Letters, Atticus Review, and other print and online journals. Twitter: @luntz_david.

Image: zoo-berlin.de

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[1] “The Secret History of Fritz Lang.” Fiction International: Dream Edition, 2022.