With a name like Trilling it was no surprise the lady spoke as she did. She was the epitome of a dawn chorus – a jungle stuffed with Parrots. Every time she opened her mouth a flock of them flew out.
Her husband, a diminutive man, standing next to her in the consulting room, didn’t seem to flinch.
‘This is Engelbert,’ she trilled as a large cage skidded to a halt on the table with a screech. The noise came from the base scraping the table rather than the Senegal Parrot glowering inside.
He was an attractive bird, his bright yellow eyes providing a sharp contrast to the grey plumage of his head: while the rest of his green and yellow feathering was glossy and unruffled.
I wish I could have felt as unruffled. Mrs Trilling’s high-pitched voice – like an out-of-tune violin – was already getting on my nerves. ‘He’s named after my favourite singer,’ she was saying. ‘You know … Engelbert Humperdinck. He has such a lovely voice.’
More than I can say of yours I thought, flinching as her syllables seared through my eardrums. Mr Trilling looked on benignly, his baby-face pink-cheeked, smooth and innocent, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
‘He’s a great big softie,’ Mrs Trilling went on.
‘‘Engelbert … such a friendly chap. Hand reared. Very tame.’ Mrs Trilling was certainly singing his praises. All very noteworthy. But if only those notes could have been in tune. Less strident.
‘I got him through Northern Pet Company. Have you heard of them?’ She paused to snatch a breath.
I was about to say I had when she went on: ‘Lots of good advice. And a good source of Parrot equipment and food.’
As she spoke, Engelbert just sat there, huddled up, a rather dazed expression on his face. More Hump than … er … Dinck.
‘So what’s the problem with Engelbert?’ I asked, one hand on the cage door, ready to open it.
‘He’s lost his voice,’ declared Mrs Trilling, her double chins wobbling, the hoops in her earlobes rattling and her vocal chords doing both. ‘It’s not like Engelbert, is it, Peter?’ She twisted round to look down on her husband.
He cowered back and shook his head.
She continued: ‘Perhaps he’s got laryngitis. I had a touch of it last week. Though it didn’t stop me talking, did it, Peter?’
There was another nervous shake of her husband’s head.
I bet it didn’t, I thought.
‘Could he have caught it off me?’ she asked.
‘Unlikely, ‘I replied, reaching into the cage with a towel wrapped round my hand. Engelbert backed up against the far end of his perch and then started to climb the bars, turning to look at me with those bright yellow eyes, his head stretched out, beak open.
I expected a hiss. A screech. But there was nothing. Not a sound. He was utterly mute. And he remained so as I dragged him out of the cage in the confines of the towel.
But there was no stopping Mrs Trilling giving full vent to her anxiety. An operatic rendition of anguish. A libretto of words that poured from her with Wagnerian intensity. ‘A friend of mine had a cockatiel that lost his voice. Turns out he had a lump in his throat.’
Mrs Trilling clearly had a lump in hers as her voice cracked. ‘You don’t think Engelbert …’
‘No … No … Can’t feel anything untoward,’ I replied, palpating the Senegal’s neck before sliding him back into his cage having prised open his beak and checked his mouth and tongue. All fine.
Mrs Trilling warbled on. ‘He’s never said much of course. But that’s Senegals for you. Not known to be that vocal. But Peter has been trying to teach him the odd word or two.’
I decided a course of antibiotics in the drinking water might be beneficial with instructions to bring Engelbert back after a week’s treatment.
Seven days later, I was subjected to a day-by-day account of how Engelbert had been – all in Mrs Trilling’s screechy voice. How her husband put up with it, I couldn’t imagine. Yet there he stood, as benign as ever.
‘But he’s been bright enough,’ she went on. Quite perky in fact. But hasn’t said a thing. Not a dicky bird. Though Pete has been trying to encourage him with a few friendly words. Haven’t you pet?’ Mrs Trilling looked quizzically at her husband.
He opened his mouth as if to speak at precisely the moment that Engelbert opened his beak and said in a gruff voice, ‘For Pete’s sake, shut up.’
Mrs Trilling’s jaw dropped. She fell silent – completely tongue-tied – while her husband went bright pink and quietly cleared his throat.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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