SOME FOLKS JUST WON’T STAY BURIED
Back in the 7th century on an island in northern Britain, the very holy St. Cuthbert gave up the ghost. The exact date of his departure was March 20, 689. Not only was Cuthbert very holy, he was, you might say, holier than thou, or at least holier than all his peers. He devoted his entire life to converting the half-savage heathens (and there were quite a few half-savage heathens at the time) and praying — lots of praying. Such was his devotion that those about him often wondered if he were not a man but an angel.
Cuthbert was duly shrouded and buried, remaining at rest for some 11 years until some curious monks dug him up to have a peek. They found Cuthbert in perfect condition, which they accepted as miraculous proof of his saintly character. They placed him in a new coffin, leaving him above ground so he might perform miraculous cures.
Another 174 years passed and, with Britain facing an invasion by the Danes, the monks (different monks) carried Cuthbert’s still perfect body away and wandered with it from place to place for many years.
Finally in the 11th century, Cuthbert’s body found a permanent home where it was enshrined and enriched with offerings of gold and jewelry from the faithful (there were a lot more of them now). In 1104, the body was inspected again and found still fresh. Another 400 years and another inspection.
Three hundred years. It’s 1827 and Cuthbert is past due for inspection. This time, however, the inspectors were much more rigorous, and it was discovered that Cuthbert was an ordinary skeleton swaddled up to look whole, including plaster balls to plump out the eye holes. It would appear that some monks along the way had been quite naughty. St. Cuthbert himself serves as a fine example of a person who was far more interesting dead than alive.
The Whigs didn’t last long as as political party. Formed in the 1830s out of annoyance with Andrew Jackson, they gave us four presidents — William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, commonly known by their nickname, Who? (not to be confused with the rock group of the same name). As is the case with many political parties, they had disagreements over tents, finding themselves unable to deal with the concept of big ones, and eventually tore themselves asunder with internal disagreements.
The semi-official date of the party’s actual death was March 20, 1854. On that date, a number of don’t wanna-be Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the result of that meeting was the birth of the Republican party, which lasted until 2016.
Yellow Bird, Part II: Lady Meets Bird
“Bon jour,” said Antoine, “you have returned.” He held his arms out in an expansive, embracing gesture that suggested he might step forward and throw his arms around her. Instead, he dropped them to his side. “I am very pleased that you have come back and I am flattered as well.”
“You knew I’d be back,” she accused, leaning back against a post that supported the roof of the patio – rather seductive, thought Antoine, noting how her stance favored her figure, and rather reckless, given the condition of the structure against which she leaned. The simple blouse and short skirt were island skimpy but not as dramatic as last night’s outfit.
“I hoped,” said Antoine. “I only hoped. Please sit down.” He was relieved that even though she didn’t follow his suggestion, she did move away from the post. “All of the lunch guests have finished and departed. I’m sure, however, that I can find something in the kitchen to accommodate your desires.”
Her dark eyes flashed with the suggestion that they hid more desires than he or his kitchen could accommodate. “I purposely came late,” she said, and Antoine’s heart raced until she added: “I had a breakfast meeting, so I’m skipping lunch. I came late so I wouldn’t be tempted.” Antoine stifled a sigh. “At least not by food,” she said, and her eyes were once again toying with him.
“Then let us try to tempt you with something else,” said Antoine, and he too paused with playful ambiguity. “Some wine perhaps?”
“You’ve done it,” she said, laughing. “You’ve broken my will. I’d love some wine.”
Antoine departed, then returned a few minutes later carrying two glasses and an open bottle of wine. He found his guest wandering just beyond the patio. “You’re absolutely right. This is like what I’d imagine the Garden of Eden to be.”
“But there are no snakes,” Antoine said, sitting down on the edge of the patio and pouring the wine.
“There are, however, other tempters,” she said, returning to the patio and sitting down so that the two glasses of wine were between them. “That tree is magnificent. What is it?”
She studied the tree, squinting. “I’m not wearing my glasses. Do I see a parrot near the top of the tree?”
“I’m inclined to think it is some scoundrel from the Middle Ages changed to a bird by a sorcerer,” said Antoine.
She laughed. “I feel foolish having to ask. After all, I am an ornithologist, albeit a nearsighted one. I study North American species primarily.”
Nearsighted, thought Antoine. So those deep dark eyes are not perfect in every way. “You’re more than welcome to study that bird,” he said. As if summoned by Antoine’s words, the parrot descended from its lofty perch, glided toward them and came to rest, with much ado and fluttering, on the ornithologist’s bare knee. “Perhaps,” Antoine added, “you would like to dissect it.”
The ornithologist was startled for only a moment by the parrot’s arrival. She grinned at it and said, “Pretty bird.” Somehow Antoine would have expected an ornithologist to say something more meaningful to a bird.
“Beaux nichons,” the bird answered.
“Hush,” said Antoine, reddening. “He just babbles sometimes.”
“I understand some French,” she said, flashing those dark eyes at the bird. “You are a brazen bird.”
“Beaux nichons,” said the parrot. “Beaux nichons.”
“I apologize for the bird’s complete lack of civility and taste.”
“It’s all right,” she said with a giggle. “After all, he’s French.”
“I assure you there is not a single French feather on that vile bird. He speaks French only to embarrass me. Probably taught to him by an Englishman. His pronunciation is appalling. Apologize to Mademoiselle . . . Goodness me, I’m afraid I have inadvertently failed to inquire for your name.”
“Rachel,” she said, smiling back at him while she stroked the bird’s head.
“Rachel,” said Antoine. “A lovely name, but one would expect that.”
“Rachel,” said the bird.
“See,” said Rachel. “The old bird’s not hopelessly bad.”
“Beaux nichons,” said the bird, and with another dramatic fluttering of wings, it lifted off toward the tamarind tree.
They sipped at their wine without speaking, emptying their glasses, and Antoine quickly refilled them. “The parrot’s coloring is quite remarkable,” said Rachel, and Antoine suspected that ornithology had erased any thoughts of romance. “I think it might be quite rare.”
“I would hope so.”
“I mean it might be endangered. I have a colleague that would know for sure. I’d like to bring him by. He knows tropical birds. He’s been working in the islands for years – most recently in Martinique.”
“Ah, he’s French,” said Antoine.
“No, he’s not.”
Antoine shrugged. “He can be forgiven for that.”
“I’m afraid he’s English.”
“He can’t be forgiven for that. Only pitied.”
Rachel laughed. “You’re such a chauvinist. He’s a very intelligent man. He has some great ideas about how to repopulate endangered species.”
“I once knew an Englishman who had an idea,” Antoine mused. “His head exploded.”
“Stop,” she said and leaned into him, but before he could respond, she was on her feet.
“Bring him by,” said Antoine. “If it means your returning, I’ll gladly suffer anything.”
She laughed and kissed him on the cheek, lingering just slightly, before quickly turning and departing.
“You were absolutely reprehensible,” said Antoine, staring at the strutting bird. “Pretty bird, my ass.”
The parrot cocked his head to one side, looked at Antoine as though seeking forgiveness but said: “God save the Queen.”
“The lady is an ornithologist. Do you know what ornithologists do? They eat birds – especially parrots.”
“Polly want a fucking cracker.”
“A rather attractive ornithologist,” Antoine continued. “I thought all scientists were dowdy. Like the English – all tweed and no substance. Tweed. One shudders at the thought. Yes, an attractive ornithologist. I think I would like to have a liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons.”
“Ah bird, you are no stranger to such liaisons, are you? Yes, I remember that yellow bird and how shamelessly you behaved with her.”
This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.