I was on the moon all alone. Looking out the window the weather was always the same—moony. The terrain, too, was all moony. It could have been lovely but for the utter mooniness of it all.
From here we thought we could bounce messages off Earth to other galaxies. At least that's how they explained it to me—it was probably more technical. Well whatever they did, it worked. When the aliens arrived, they made no show of friendliness.
My crew had left me marooned on the moon before this. They must have thought it was a pretty good prank. They had set my alarm clock to go off just in time for me to see the ship taking off. But the joke was on them. Planet Earth was demolished on the day of their return. It seemed I was the only Earthling left alive. And by that same logic, Hugo, my African gray parrot, was the last African gray parrot left alive. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful for the company, but sometimes I wished for a less chatty companion.
We were gradually running out of food, Hugo and I. Although there was more bird food than people food so it seemed Hugo would remain nice and plump long after I withered away. If I found Hugo's food to be palatable it would be the reverse. I hadn't tasted it yet.
I must have been talking in my sleep because Hugo said things that I'd never said before, like, "Somebody's got a case of the Mondays," for one.
Things on the moon station pretty much took care of themselves so there was a lot of time to kill. I often sat in the greenhouse and reread books I'd already read. The ones I liked best I'd read a dozen times. One of my main regrets is that I didn't pack more books. I'd have gladly read a microwave's warranty pamphlet at this point.
The moon station was a good size. It was built to accommodate up to twenty-five people. There were five bunkrooms with five bunks apiece. There was a state-of-the-art gym, complete with all the modern exercise machines. Next to the industrial-sized kitchen there was an internet café with eight different workstations and an espresso machine. There was even a medium sized swimming pool filled with chlorinated water. I had no idea how the physicists worked that one out but I sure did take pleasure in it. Hugo was even known to have a dip now and then.
As I swam laps Hugo often encouraged me from his perch on the diving board.
"One more," he said. "One more."
Every lap I did it was, "One more."
I wondered if there would ever be a number of laps that would appease Hugo. I thought it unlikely. He would have made for a good personal trainer back on Earth, had Earth still existed.
As I said, my food supply was limited. Oxygen was also limited. There weren't enough plants in the green house to sustain life, only prolong it. I remember this much from listening to the botanist in our crew. He had said that a man could breathe here in the moon station for up to eight years. Maybe some kind alien would come along and rescue me before that, I thought. I just had to keep my head about me until they did. It wouldn't do to greet my savior as a total loon, talking to his parrot as if it were an intelligent creature with real opinions.
When the world was destroyed, I saw no reason to count the hours. Every so often I cut my hair and occasionally Hugo would molt. His molting clock was at least several months apart. During these times his puffy gray feathers would float through the air and clog the various apparatuses when he flew by.
"Stop molting!" Hugo would cry. He said this because this was what I always said.
"No, you stop molting!" I hollered.
"No, you stop!" he said, unfazed.
This would go on for some time before I cackled in frustration.
Often Hugo would deftly change the subject, saying something like, "Up is down," while bobbing his head. This was another phrase I didn't teach him. I decided I would try recording myself to see if I really did talk in my sleep. Perhaps I said interesting things.
It wasn't always bad. Sometimes Hugo and I had good conversations. Better even than some human coworkers I had known on Earth.
"What do you miss most about Earth?" I asked Hugo one day. He took a moment as if he were giving the question serious thought.
"Peaches and cream," he said. "Peaches and cream." He didn't always repeat himself, just most of the time.
"Yes, they're pretty good," I agreed. "But I think I miss diners most. Back when you could still smoke in them. Coffee and cigarettes and pancakes are a holy combination."
"I want coffee and cigarettes," Hugo said.
"Me too, buddy," I said. "Me too." I sometimes repeated myself, but not as much as Hugo. I think I had picked up the habit form him. I suppose I was easily influenced by my peers.
What to do with the plants in the greenhouse, I had very little idea. I had seeds for both peas and broccoli—neither of which I had ever acquired the taste for. Whatever happened to carrots and potatoes? I wondered. I suppose it was something to do with the acidity of the soil or something. I had no idea. I was no scientist. When the broccoli refused to thrive, I turned to Hugo for consolation.
"Well, buddy, looks like I don't have a green thumb," I said.
"What thumb?" he said.
"No, my thumb—my thumb, no."
"Okay," I said. "You win. Your thumb." It seemed a waste of time to tell him he had no thumbs.
"No, your thumb is my thumb."
I couldn't remember why I ever told him anything. No, I knew—there was no one else.
After six weeks of struggling to hold on, the last of the broccoli finally ceased to be a living thing. I went to the pantry to see if there wasn't something sweet that I could use to console myself. I didn't think talking to Hugo would help any—he would only frustrate me further.
What luck! A piece of cheesecake! I popped the lid off and dug in without ceremony.
Hugo found me and asked what I was eating.
"What? Nothing!" I barked.
"Up is down. Down is up."
I think this is how he began to respond to my lies. He was smarter than his big, black schnoz of a beak would lead one to believe.
"It's none of your business. It's people stuff. Go eat your gummy mystery morsels."
The death of the broccoli reminded me of my loneliness and I wondered if there was anything I could do. I decided to take a stroll outside to clear my head. It had been months since I had been outside. I dusted off my space suit and headed for the airlock.
It turned out to be much like my other moonwalks—it was moony. And my body felt light, like I had foregone a fat, greasy cheeseburger and settled for a garden salad.
To look upon the Earth from here had been a majestic sight. All that floated there now was little bits of shimmering debris. I was disheartened so I, like Michael Jackson, cut my moonwalk short.
In my depression I took a vow of silence but Hugo didn't seem to notice.
"Don't forget the broccoli," said Hugo. He only said it once. I wasn't quite sure I heard him correctly.
"What did you say?"
"No, your thumb."
The problem with parrots, I thought, is that they live in the past. Was he intentionally throwing salt in my wounds? I wondered.
The peas were tough and stringy but I still preferred them to Hugo's gummy mystery morsels. I felt somewhat guilty about eating his food besides. But this was a feeling I would have to revisit, because food was running out much faster than the theorized eight years of oxygen.
I didn't count up the food because I wanted to maintain a little mystery in my last days, but I guesstimated I had about four to eight months left to go; longer if I rationed it into smaller portions, but I didn't care to. The thought of being hungry for an extended period of time didn't appeal to me. For better or for worse, I would die well fed. Until the very end when I would starve, that is.
Talking to Hugo grew more and more irksome. I didn't know how it should have happened, because he learned the sounds only from me, but his vocabulary seemed to surpass mine. One day from nowhere he asked me if I had completed my "ablutions." Well I had to look the word up before I answered. I think it was another jab because he knew as well as I that I hadn't completed my ablutions for some time.
When the food began to grow sparse it came down to kale and quinoa. I had hoped I would be rescued, or long dead, before having to consider their consumption. Believing Hugo had outworn his usefulness as a companion, I began to think of him as an entrée. It had been a long while since my mouth had watered so profusely.
Swimming my laps that evening I further pondered the dilemma. Hugo may, at times, seem smart, but he was not a person. And though he had been a friend, parrots didn't have souls, and no one would miss him. Though he was skinny, he would certainly be delicious. Perhaps it would comfort Hugo to know that, in death, he would give me a considerable amount of pleasure.
After running out of the last of the condiments, the remaining quinoa looked even more dismal than it had with the mustard and hot sauce. I could no longer look at Hugo without picturing myself plucking his feathers and dropping him in a pot. Looking out the window was now moonier than ever.
In the end Hugo's food supply also ran short. I could see the container level getting low and felt for him. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought Hugo was aware of the depletion himself. He seemed anxious, bobbing his head up and down, and commenting on the weather, for some reason.
"It's cloudy today—cloudy today."
I couldn't ever remember teaching him about Earth's weather, but I didn't wonder at the things Hugo said anymore. Besides, he was now closer to my belly than he was to my heart. He glared at me sideways with one circular eye, but I didn't say anything.
"Somebody's got a case of the Mondays—case of the Mondays."
It was my turn to glare. I ignored his comment and said instead: "I'm hungry. Come with me to the kitchen."
I looked out once more at the sad, gray moonscape and wondered where the large pots were kept.