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Prose

The Echo

Written in the style of Clarie Lispector’s Family Ties

By Rebecca Wan

I ascended the hill to the mansion that had been touched by death just two weeks ago. Today was a lovely day with lots of sunlight and fresh air, so the impressive mass of an estate that is the Fingir mansion stood out distinctly against the clear sky. 

The mansion looked out onto quite a view. Polished marble statues scattered across the grounds, and bright flowers bloomed all around the exterior, extending from the bushes which have been carefully trimmed as usual. It is respectable that, even in times like these, the remaining members of the family remembered to have the gardeners keep the grounds orderly. Even the path to the front door remained free of weeds with no stray pebbles to trip over. I tapped the knocker against the metal a few times before a servant, with his eyes cast ever-downwards, invited me in without words but with tears dripping down his face. 

The spacious foyer was dimly-lit. I observed the many guests that had arrived before me. Every single one of them was crying like the servant had, wiping away at their faces with handkerchiefs and not bothering to keep their voices down. The deceased Mr. Fingir, who used to be the head of the family, must have been respected and loved by many to call for such a scene at his passing away. Since, it was not only his close family of five children and a wife, but acquaintances and butlers alike who were all drowning in misery. The womens’ eyes were smeared with make-up and they didn’t seem to care. A few men were rolling around, hysterical, on the ground, even knocking their hats off in the process and they, too, didn’t seem to care. The foyer was abuzz with such noisy activity that one would never presume that they were at a funeral. But since everyone was wallowing in grief and eagerly displaying it, it was alright. 

Frederick, the youngest Fingir son, passed me by and stopped in the midst of his tearful wailing, only for a second, to give me a strange and almost accusatory look. Perhaps my way of showing sadness was too subtle and, in a funny way, it made me stand out in a room like this. I thought of the time his father and I shared a handshake at a business party, and managed to squeeze out a few tears in the young man’s direction. They were nowhere near enough but it must have been a good start, because Frederick’s frown of accusation turned into encouragement and he moved on to others. 

A woman dressed to the nines was choking on her own tears so intensely I worried she might die too. She did not have the iconic sharp features of the Fingir’s so I assumed that she was not a close relative. Perhaps she knew him in business. “How did you know Mr. Fingir?” I asked her. 

“I was in a lawsuit against him once.” Her reply came out sounding like suffocation. And then she wasn’t interested in asking me the same thing. I would not have known what to say anyway, because I would have been embarrassed that I’ve only ever shaken his hand when everyone else has had such personal relationships with the man. 

Personally I would not have gone up close, but the gazes of everyone around the room prompted me to go see the coffin that held what used to be one of the best businessmen ever known. People thought of him like that because he was in every way born to dominate the world of business. He was manipulative, cunning, and always got his way by simply opening his mouth; words were his weapon of choice. He resembled some kind of predator, a fox, maybe, that was intelligent and never went anywhere without a glossy coat and sharpened teeth. As if his agile tongue alone wasn’t enough to get him far, from the guests’ reactions around me one would reasonably think he had a way with people as well, so much so that people were driving themselves to madness over his departure. Even with his and my scarce interactions, I’ve always thought that the man was sly enough to cheat even death. Yet, here I was looking down at his corpse and his eyes were unable to stare back. They had closed his eyes but I knew that the pupils were now soulless and were going to remain that way for eternity. Of course, he would have possibly preferred it this way because once they bury him, he was not the sort of man who would enjoy the accompaniment of darkness. His dry lips were slightly parted, like he hadn’t finished a sentence before he lost his breath. A sudden thought came to me that if Mr. Fingir spoke right now, the glass lid of the coffin would encapsulate his words and no one would be able to hear him but himself. Who would he be then without his tool of persuasion? How does a fox draw blood without its claws? 

When the housekeeper appeared, cage in hand, he was not crying. In the past, no one had ever paid attention to this man who was always silent and was blindly obedient like all servants were supposed to be. Of course nobody bothered to wonder where he was prior to this either. But now, as the little man stood there in front of the coffin, not doing anything in particular, his quietness commanded the attention of all. I had done the same thing merely a while ago, so I could guess the consequences. The guess turned out to be correct when the guests all began to glare at him and the Fingir children took turns shouting accusations at him. 

The housekeeper was strangely calm and waved his free hand. “Gentlemen, ladies,” he called out. “Listen to me.” Normally, this sort of disrespect would not be tolerated in the Fingir household. Today the Fingir’s simply stared at him in shock. “I present to you,” he lifted up the sheet that covered the cage, “the beloved pet of Mr. Fingir while he was alive. I apologize for being dramatic. He wanted the full theatrics.” The sheet drew away to reveal a colourful parrot, its feathers vibrant and clearly well-groomed. It looked around the room discerningly, as if sizing up his surroundings, and somehow gave off a majestic feel despite being only a parrot. I wondered if the “he” that the servant mentioned was Mr. Fingir or the parrot. 

“I see from the faces of many of you that you are unsure why I brought him in,” he continued. Some guests murmured their agreement through tears. “Well, you see, this is no ordinary pet, not at all. He has been with Mr. Fingir for many years, nearly every second of every day. Even during business meetings, he was at the back listening in as well. Having never left Mr. Fingir’s side, he has developed a skill beyond what any bird of his kind has. 

“Any parrot can imitate. But this one here was able to memorize Mr. Fingir’s way of speaking and behaving, even now that he’s gone. Furthermore, having been with Mr. Fingir for this long, he became familiar with the business affairs that Mr. Fingir was doing. This means that this parrot will be able to fully converse with all the guests here. But I’m bringing him in not to show off, ladies and gentlemen, I’m only doing it to show you all why there is no need to grieve.” 

“It’s true.” The parrot suddenly piped up with the statement in a voice that was exactly like that of Mr. Fingir’s, proud and smooth, and a hush fell over the previously buzzing room. 

Then all of a sudden everyone was rushing forward to look at the parrot, and everyone wanted to say something to it. Whatever the assertion or question was, the parrot responded with an answer appropriate to both class and occasion. Businessmen crowded around to talk numbers with it, and it answered with a type of certainty that made me question if it was really only an animal. 

The housekeeper was right. No one was grieving any longer. It had occurred to everyone what the situation at hand was like. Guests were now cheering with champagne in their hands as if this was a joyous celebration. The parrot received all the attention, and it was handling it with superiority. I caught a glimpse of Frederick eagerly asking the parrot if it could change his share of fortune in the will. I saw the widowed Mrs. Fingir seemed to look at the parrot with attachment in her eyes. While its eyes were empty of emotion as it looked back at her, the words coming out of its beak were those of affection. Some, throwing social statuses out of the way, shook the housekeeper’s hands as if he was a hero. 

Candles flickered, shadows quavered. Behind the parrot, Mr. Fingir lay forgotten and abandoned.

Photo Credit: TheDailyBeast

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