Camilla Wolghast was a person who was many things: a liar, a bird-watcher, a baker, and a woman lacking hygiene. Really, these were all the things she was good at, and the rest aren’t worth mentioning because she died. I’d try and sound less offensive, but she had no loyal friends. Only acquaintances who mocked her at dinner parties or in group texts. Camilla might have family, but she lied about having a husband, so who’s to know. His name was Arby Donner, but she never took his last name in marriage. He owned a Party Store and More, which Camilla claimed had a back-door business selling costumes to businessmen to keep in their bottom desk drawers for their secretaries.
Arby Donner was never home during the day, so I didn’t discuss the matter further. But she finally confessed that after one of her weekly “Brunch with Baccardi,” whom she said was her great uncle who test flew the first helicopters back when they were called helio-copters, that she had a secret. The secret might have been whether her husband Arby or her Uncle Baccardi existed or not, which would be pointless because neither ever attended the brunch. I was the only friend who was foolishly polite enough to attend more than one. It was generally accepted by myself and Camilla that we would never see the same bruncheon guests two weeks in a row; however, I always left early so I could be home when the mailman arrived since I love getting mail. When I attended the brunch two weeks ago, Camilla made her usual excuse for her uncle’s absence. “Oh, Uncle has such bad arthritis in his wrists he simply can’t lift a fork with eggs on it.” So I pretended not to know her “Uncle Baccardi” was technically always at the party in the form of a fat rum cake, which I never indulged in.
But this is where the cat comes in. Her feline companion, Scorpio, was an all black cat except for a patch of white, which Camilla spray painted black once a week for looks. And the cat was said to have been from her husband Arby’s third marriage. However, she and the cat never particularly got along. Bird-watchers like to watch living birds, not the ones dragged headless to their doorstep.
Scorpio frequently clawed up Camilla’s legs, across her broad chest, to the top of her head, and then would make a leap into the air as if trying to catch some imaginary bird. Camilla would wail and say, “I swear that cat has the spirit of my husband’s ex-wife.” This always confused me because there were three ex-wives, all of whom are still living. Ironic, only now that Camilla is the only one dead. (Unless the other wives never existed either.)
Eventually, I was the one who came up with the idea to find a common interest with Camilla and her cat. It was purely by accident. I just happen to let up the window shades as a bird flew by, and Scorpio the cat ran to the window and watched birds for hours. I told Camilla she should move her binoculars from the bathroom into the study, and her bird watching magazines as well. They were never much fun to read while on the tank.
Soon, however ridiculous this may sound, Camilla began receiving notices from bird-watchers across the country for spotting rare birds, even those non-indigenous to her geographic location. I noticed one morning when snooping her mail that a Mr. Helios Phostumous, a photographer and editor of Prestigious Plumage, requested he and a journalist attend a meeting to view this phenomenon of bird sighting by Mrs. Camilla.
She was very obliged, or at least I thought until I found her crying in her bathtub. Of course I didn’t barge on in. It was a week ago at 11:15 on the morning of a “Brunch with Baccardi.” And up until the last I’d heard, Uncle Baccardi was actually supposed to be there. However, the front door was locked. All the other guests had decided promptly to leave at 11:04 to go to the Waffle House, but I told them, “Go along. I will make sure Camilla is okay,” partly out of loyalty to Mrs. Camilla and partly out of an unexplainable compulsion to have perfect attendance at the bruncheon.
So anyways, I made my way around back, through the garden fence, across the stone walkway, and to her back porch. That was when I saw Scorpio peeking at me through the window. I don’t normally resort to breaking into friend’s houses, but I could faintly hear Camilla crying form somewhere inside. Gently, I used a garden tool to pry the window open, and that was when Scorpio lurched out to freedom. I assumed he was leaping to plant his claws my skull, but when he vanished I wasted no time in making my way inside. That is how I came to find Camilla Wolghast crying in her tub, drinking Baccardi from a wine glass. When I asked her what was wrong she just sobbed. It wasn’t until twenty minutes later when the bath water began to chill that she began to speak.
She said Mr. Helios Phostumous from Prestigious Plumage and his journalist would be at her home for a late luncheon that very day expecting to see all the various species of birds. Camilla began to sob again, but she was thankfully able to finish her story. According to her, that morning her Uncle Baccardi had arrived early for the bruncheon in his helicopter, which he tried landing in the back garden. Mrs. Camilla and Scorpio were at the window and saw the entire disaster unfold. All of the precious birds whom had nested cosily in the trees were blown away by the helicopter. Some of them even chopped to bits by the blades.
Now, Camilla began to regain her composure once she had a warm towel around her. This was where, in a joint effort, Camilla and the Baccardi rum both unraveled a huge secret that day. Mrs. Camilla was not only a liar, a bird-watcher, a baker, and now a woman with momentarily better hygiene; she was also a clever (and arguably unethical) magician.
Camilla took me to the lightbulb in the living room which, if turned lefty loosey, opened a door to a secret bakery where Camilla concocted rum cake along with extracts of various birds to create a potion of sorts. She took me through the Big Book of Birds, and page after page she showed me which birds she fancied most. Each week, her bruncheon guests would eat the wonderful, delicious, and magical cake, and I’d leave to go home and check the mail, and the other guest would take a tour of the garden. By this time the rum cake would be digesting in their stomachs and before she knew it, Mrs. Camilla Wolghast would no longer have bruncheon guest, but instead a new collection of birds. At least now I understood the tragedy of when Scorpio would bring home a kill it was much more than just a headless bird. It was a dinner guest.
I wanted to ask Camilla if all of it was true: her husband Arby, the scandalous back-door business, his three wives, her Uncle Baccardi, and the question if any human could legitimately be interested in bird-watching. However, she made a strange request. She said, “I need you to pretend to be me.” This struck me odd because little did she know I often impersonated her at parties or made fun of her in group texts, but she needed me, and what are friends for?
She showed me one dog-eared page. The title highlighted in gold, “the kakapo”: one of the rarest birds in the world. A parrot-like bird native to New Zealand. Camilla explained of all the birds, this bird was what would get her on the front page of Prestigious Plumage. This was her only chance to become -world renowned birdwatcher-, and once Mr. Helios Phostumous saw the kakapo bird, she would strike a deal. How could he refuse her offer to take over the magazine and become the most legendary bird watcher in the world. You might say, simple: He could easily refuse, just say no, which he of course would, but that would all happen before the garden tour and would all change once the magical rum cake and bird extract began to digest in their stomachs. “Ah, the brilliance of it!” she said. “To change Helios Phostumous, photographer and editor of the most popular bird-watching magazine in the world into a bird himself.”
She laughed and I did too, because good friends laugh at their friends jokes. As Camilla worked up a batch of rum cakes, complete with kakapo bird extract, she explained her plan and how I was to host the luncheon as I had seen her do countless times before. I had to remind her I had never missed a bruncheon, which I thought she’d be more grateful for. We rehearsed the plan. I would act a humble bird-watcher, make polite conversation and I could even re-tell some of the “Uncle Baccardi” stories, most of which I had memorized from hearing them over and over. And once we took the garden tour, Camilla would be lovely, beautiful, and sitting out in the yard in the form of a brightly colored kakapo bird. We even put together a small dance routine for the bird to make it all the more spectacular. She left me several crackers as antidotes that she promised would turn her back human within a weeks time, so I kept them in my pocket.
Now it was time. One-thirty on the nose. I had been sitting in the living room arm chair trying not to form negative thoughts about Camilla in her own home. I told myself, she is clearly a desperate woman. She isn’t very good at much. Most of what she said seemed to be true, so now she was a woman who was truthful, a bird-watcher, a magical baker, and a someone who had improved her hygiene. I couldn’t help but realize maybe I had her wrong all along.
After a knock on the door, I resumed my composure and felt a tinge of guilt as I assumed the character of Mrs. Camilla, which normally happened when when I was surrounded by laughing faces saying, “Make that face she always makes,” or “Do the thing where she rubs her nipples.” However, now Mr. Helios Phostumous was staring at me down the slope of his long nose. The journalist was a young female wearing what I assumed to be a traditional Indian garb, which seemed quite the human equivalent of gorgeous feathers.
Midway through the bruncheon after a story of how Uncle Baccardi escaped death from a helio-copter crash by using a table-cloth and a lampshade, I excused myself to the bathroom, but instead I went to the back yard to see Camilla was ready. She was already pacing the garden and rubbing her nipples. I knew any moment, she would become a kakapo bird. I leaned my head out the open window and reassured her, “Everything is going perfectly as planned.” She seemed a bit nervous, but comforted by my words.
Once I was back at the table I served each of my guests with two slices of rum cake, just in case. At the mention of rum the journalist refused, saying she tried to keep impurities from entering her body, and I panicked. I accidentally told the same story I had already told about Uncle Baccardi and the tablecloth and lampshade, just because I could think of nothing else to say, and I just had realized I wasn’t home on time to retrieve my mail. Mr. Helios was eating his cake, but what would his assistant do once he turned into a bird and she didn’t. I’m no murderer, but that was the only seeming solution. Unless somehow I could get a piece of cake in the journalists mouth and choke her until she swallowed it. Maybe she’d think that it was even funny.
The plan was going to fail, and all I could do was continue as scheduled. “Let’s take a tour of the garden,” I said. They both took their napkins from their laps and we walked out the back door, through the iron gate and across the stepping stones into the garden. That was when I saw what I had done. In leaving the window open I had forgot Scorpio was outside, and that was why I caught him munching on a beautiful, yet dead kakapo bird.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one upset, because the Indian journalist burst into tears and began pulling at her hair. I later discovered seeing a black cat eat a bird is an omen of death in Indian culture. And once Scorpio saw the dangling beads on the journalists traditional garb, he began chasing her across the yard where I assume they got lost somewhere in the neighborhood.
Before Mr. Helios Phostumous could object to the horrific gore, his stomach began to grumble, and suddenly there were two kakapo birds in the yard, except this one was alive. Of course I wanted to mourn the death of Camilla. What kind of person doesn’t cry after their best friend dies? I was so distraught, and so frequently I find comfort in daily routine. I needed something constant. Dependable. Something to ground me. So I decided to drive home and check my mail.
Unfortunately for Camilla, she was unaware that kakapos are flightless birds. I left a note on the front door at her home. It said something to the effect of, “Dear Uncle Baccardi, If you are inquiring as to the where-abouts of your niece Camilla Wolghast, please contact her best friend.” Like I said, I knew I was Camillas only friend, so she would have had to mentioned me at some point to her uncle.
So I grabbed the kakapo bird, formerly known as Mr. Helios Phostumous, editor and photographer of Prestigious Plumage magazine, and went home to check the mail. I received two bills, a save-the-date, and some coupons to McDonalds. Then there was nothing left to do but wait.
So I waited. And waited. And heard nothing of any mysterious disappearances. I left some food in a bowl for Scorpio in case he went hungry. I never saw signs of Arby Donner, Camilla’s husband, showing up unless he was so uninvolved as to not notice his wife was missing. Which is possible because he is gone during the day. I began checking Camilla’s mail for her as any good friend would do.
Eventually, the newsletters from Prestigious Plumage came with a large tribute to their missing editor, who was doing perfectly fine at my house in a cage in my living room in bird-form. I washed my pants with the antidote crackers in the pocket, but it was an honest mistake that could happen to anyone. Of course when the chance presented itself I submitted pictures of the rare kakapo bird, and I couldn’t help that it gained me worldwide recognition. And it was Camilla’s life-long dream to be recognized for bird-watching, which is why since we were decent acquaintances I knew it was only right for me to take the job offer as lead editor and photographer for Prestigious Plumage. It’s all for her.
So when someone asks me someday how I came to get this job I can say, “No one truly gets this job just by having an interest in bird-watching. The only way someone gets to be me is through a window of opportunity.”
Now I may not understand what Mrs. Camilla Wolghast saw all those times looking through her binoculars. And I may always wonder why a liar, bird-watcher, mediocre baker, and woman lacking hygiene would stare out a window at birds. But the part that makes it all make sense to me has to do with Scorpio.
I know what the cat saw out the window.