Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

What PRETTY AMY has to do with TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY

on September 19, 2012

I may be stretching here, but I figured today was a great opportunity to highlight one of my favorite characters from PRETTY AMY. Her pet parrot AJ. He is the reason for the title of the book, as Amy has taught him to say “Pretty Amy”, he is the only thing Amy can trust as her world crumbles around her post-arrest and he is many readers favorite character, even though he just repeats what others say.

I added AJ during a major rewrite when I realized I needed “something” that Amy loved unconditionally and loved her back the same way. I had him be a parrot that talked since she finds it so hard to speak her true feelings and live her true life.

Here is one of my favorite scenes featuring AJ’s humor. This scene takes place after a meeting with Amy’s therapist where she lies about hiding Heroin in her mattress because she is so fed-up with him and her parents calling her a drug addict when all she’s done is smoked pot.

The minute I got home I tried to call Lila again. Well, not
the minute I got home—first I had to deal with my mother
slamming the front door in my face and telling me I could
sleep on the street with the other junkies.
After having a cigarette and deciding that dealing with my
mother was in fact better than holing up under the nearest
underpass, I went inside, though I did reconsider when I found
her in the basement ripping apart my mattress with a steak
knife.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Getting that monkey off your back.” She picked up
a handful of stuffing from the inside of the mattress and
compared it with a book in her hand. It was called Heroin: Not
a Horse You Want to Ride. She must have gotten it from the
library while I was at my appointment with Daniel.
“Mom, this is ridiculous,” I said, taking AJ from his cage.
“I’ll tell you what’s ridiculous—that you would put poison
into your body. That you would bring”—she paused and
turned the page—“that Lady H into my house.” She picked up
another pile of mattress stuffing, studying it.
Lady H, AJ squawked. Lady H, he squawked again.
“Where is it, AJ?” my mother asked, like he was Lassie or
something.
“Mom, there’s nothing in there. It was a joke,” I said. I
thought about Daniel’s claim that he didn’t tell my mother
anything I said. Well, apparently he’d told her about the
mattress.
She pulled out another handful of stuffing and compared
it with her book.
AJ perched himself on my shoulder and bit at my hair.
Snow, AJ said, snow, snow, snow.
I knew he meant the white beads of stuffing my mother
was throwing into the air as she searched, but luckily she
didn’t hear him, or she probably would have thought I was on
cocaine, too.
“Why don’t you just buy yourself a microscope?”
“Don’t tempt me,” she said, dragging the mattress up the
stairs, the corner of it smacking each step, so she could do in
private whatever tests she needed to do.
I closed the door behind her, put AJ back in his cage,
got underneath my heap of blankets on the floor, and called
Lila. My hand glowed green from the buttons on the cordless
phone as I dialed the number. I didn’t really know what I was
going to say, but I needed to hear her voice. I needed to hear
her words, whether she meant them or not.
But instead of her voice on the line, or even the phone
ringing and ringing and ringing, I got the punch in the
stomach of a recorded operator telling me the number I had
dialed was no longer in service and no other information was
available. The only way I could reach Lila no longer existed.
I wanted to ask the operator if she knew why, to ask
her if Lila had been forced to disconnect it by her parents,
or whether she had chosen to disconnect it herself. I kept
listening, as if she would give me the answers I was looking
for.
I needed that woman in the phone. I needed to know
why no other information was available. Why I was in my
basement, under my covers with a phone to my ear, and only
her recorded voice to turn to.
That day I realized that insanity isn’t just about being
crazy; it’s also about being lonely.
I brought the phone upstairs and saw my mother in the
backyard through the kitchen window. She was next to the
swing set. She doused my mattress in kerosene and then lit it
on fire.
As Cassie would have said, She must have been really
fucking lonely.

If you loved AJ too, I would love to hear from you in the comments! 🙂

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