Mona Lisas and Mad Budgies

With a weary sigh, I put down my mechanical pencil and calculator. I’d had enough of Principles of Fluid Mechanics and needed a break. It was my senior year at Florida and my engineering classes were rigorous; my go-to distraction were my two budgies, Sluggo and Lucy.

They were cheerful little things, pecking their bell, chittering and hopping from perch to perch. I took them out, let them perch on my finger, and slowly repeated simple words over and over.

Budgies don’t speak in the way parrots do; theirs is more of a stream of gibberish with, now and then, a understandable word thrown in. Sluggo was better at it than Lucy; now and then, you could discern “hello,”or “good boy,” amidst the nonstop budgie chatter. Lucy was not nearly as talkative as Sluggo, but when she did make noise, there was only noise.

I put the cover over their cage and turned back to my homework. The kid from across the hall walked in. He was every parent’s dream, a kid with flunk out written all over him: Undeclared major, constantly stoned, slept through classes, spent most of his time playing frisbee. He walked strangely: Silent, chest all puffed out, cheeks bulging. He went over to the cage and lifted a corner of the cover. “They’re sleeping,” I said, and turned back to my homework. After several seconds, he left… I watched him and he was now walking normally. What the heck was that all about? I wondered.

About ten minutes later, there were 4-5 grinning faces in my door. “What?” I asked. They came in, went over to the cage, removed the cover and started laughing uproariously. “What’s so funny?” I asked as I got up to look.

Sluggo and Lucy’s eyes were notably dilated. They were side by side on the perch and stared fixedly into space. The unmistakable bouquet of “Gainesville Green” rolled heavily into the room. “Dude!” the pothead kid laughed. “They’re so wasted!” His lungful of pot smoke, gently exhaled under the cover, had been like tent fumigation for a house infested with termites.

I turned in indignation and they fled; Pothead was helped along with a good kick in the seat of the pants. I put their cage in the window, turned the fan in their direction and put on my most mellow LP. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went back to my desk and kept an eye on them as Dan Fogelberg soothed things with Souvenirs.

Their normal chirping and antics were absent; they stared blankly ahead at something only they could see in the budgie universe. After a while, they started making noises, but it was unlike anything I’d heard before… this weird low, guttural sound, like a song playing at 0.25x speed.

After a while, both seemed ravenous and took turn after turn at the seed cup. Sluggo developed a strange fascination with their little spittle-stained mirror, staring into it, looking behind it, tasting it. Lucy sat mutely on the perch.

Suddenly she stiffened and uttered a single word with startling clarity: Hello.

I looked at her in amazement; even Sluggo stopped obsessing over the mirror long enough to go over and give her a few inquisitive pecks. It was unlike Sluggo’s hellos: There was no trace of budgie chatter, no gibberish, it was completely understandable. She lapsed back into silence for the rest of the night.

The next morning, they were thankfully back to normal. I let them out and they flew several circuits of my room, landing on their favorite resting spot, the heating grate above the closet.

Pothead was permanently banned, things were cleared up with the RA, and the Great Stoned Budgie episode passed into dorm legend. But strangely, Penelope never spoke again.

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