by Anne O’Leary

Percy’s plumage is so beautiful the sight of it is enough to calm me. Such shades of blue and green, shot through with the warmest black. And tipped with what, in certain lights, looks like pure gold.

Though larger than average, his weight sits comfortably on my shoulder, like a beloved eiderdown I recall from my childhood. With his tail feathers in a resting position, I am wrapped in a protective cape. I don’t tell anyone this for fear of seeming foolish, but sometimes I pretend I’m wearing an invisibility cloak. I like to imagine moving unseen through the crowds I fear. But, if anything, Percy has the opposite powers, drawing curious stares from all who see us together. His magnificent bearing means we tower over everyone in a crowd. When strangers get too close, or try to stroke his jewelish feathers without permission, he lets out a shrill ‘caw’ that rings out for miles, particularly if we are indoors. He draws people to me and keeps them at arms’ length in equal measures.

The ground crew at the gate will not let me take him on the plane, even though I have paid for an individual seat for him.

He’s impeccably behaved, I say, better than many passengers, with their loud voices and hogging of armrests.

He’s a bird, Madam, they say.

Oh, but so much more than a bird, I correct them. Without him, I can’t fly. With me, he can finally reach a great height.

We take a coach instead. Percy watches the landscape flash by and dreams of some day soaring freely above it, without a care in the world.


Anne O’Leary lives in Cork, Ireland. Publications include Jellyfish Review, Dodging the Rain, The Nottingham Review, Spontaneity and The Incubator. She was the winner of the Molly Keane Award 2018 and From the Well 2017, and shortlisted for Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and 2017.

Twitter: @wordherding