Love and Ordinary Creatures: A Novel

Love and Ordinary Creatures: A Novel

by Gwyn Hyman Rubio


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New York Times bestselling author Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s highly anticipated new novel...

Love and Ordinary Creatures is told through the eyes of a cockatoo in love with his very human caretaker. Snatched in a net from his Australian homeland as a young parrot, Caruso has adapted to captivity and has learned all he knows of love from his previous owner, who was obsessively fixated on his childhood sweetheart. Now in his new home with the beautiful and talented Clarissa, Caruso has found both love and happiness-until a handsome stranger arrives in town and sets his sights on Clarissa.

Smart, passionate, and wildly inventive, Caruso strives to put his human rival in his place before he loses Clarissa for good. And when a hurricane descends upon the coast, Caruso's love for Clarissa and his memories of freedom are tested as the storm threatens all that he holds dear. Set in the early 1990s in a quaint North Carolina seashore town, Love and Ordinary Creatures is an exquisite tale of the ways in which love and hope transcend species.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618220318
Publisher: Byte Level Research
Publication date: 10/15/2014
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Gwyn Hyman Rubio is the bestselling author of Icy Sparks, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a 1998 New York Times Notable Book. A national bestseller, the novel was praised as "vivid and unforgettable" (New York Times Book Review) and "a combination of fire and ice that will take your breath away" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Her second novel, The Woodsman's Daughter, was published in 2005 and applauded as "richly atmospheric and engrossing" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and "set in a world wondrously created and mastered" (Louisville Courier-Journal). A Book Sense Pick by the independent bookstores of America, it was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, was the finalist for the Kentucky Literary Award, and was listed as one of the ten best books of the year by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Gwyn's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award and has appeared in literary magazines around the country. She is a winner of the Cecil Hackney Literary Award as well as a recipient of grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Gwyn grew up in Cordele, a small town in south-central Georgia. Her father, Mac Hyman, wrote No Time for Sergeants. Published in 1954, it was a national and international bestseller and was adapted as a play and a movie, both productions starring Andy Griffith. Gwyn now lives in Versailles, Kentucky, with her husband, Angel, and their rescue dog, Fritz.


Versailles, Kentucky

Date of Birth:

August 7, 1949

Place of Birth:

Macon, Georgia


B.A. in English, Florida State University, 1971; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Warren Wilson College, 1986

Read an Excerpt

Love and Ordinary Creatures By Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Ashland Creek Press Copyright © 2014 Gwyn Hyman Rubio
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61822-031-8

When Caruso opens his dark eyes wide, he can will himself above the world. His pupils dilate as he soars back in time-seeing and remembering the Murray River, its muddy dark waters, thick as blood, snaking through the casuarina trees, the sun squatting like a gigantic monolith on their dangling, reed-like branches. He feels the heat, a volcanic blast of white, then senses the flurry of wings and the air currents above, below, and around him. With loud, raucous cries, the undulating wave of white breaks over the leafless trees. Yes, Caruso can remember these things, these primordial memories of his life before it changed.

The past disappears and the future becomes irrelevant the instant he focuses on Clarissa, lying white and still in the sunroom on the blue chaise longue in front of him. His pupils dilate and contract, pinning with pleasure, while he stares at her round, pink shoulder, free of the white silk robe.

"Claaa-risss-a." If she doesn't wake up soon, they'll run out of time.

She turns her head slightly. Her red hair parts to expose her white swan neck. On it, a few inches down from her left ear, is a mole, small and black as a papaya seed. The wooden blinds are open. A breeze wafts in from Silver Lake Harbor. Shafts of sunlight pass through the long, wide windows. Outside is the low thrum of a fishing boat as it slices through the water.

"Claaa-risss-a." He tries again, his voice more insistent. She promised to take him to the beach.

She mumbles and partially covers her face with the curve of her elbow. If he could, he would preen the white hairs on her forearm, then rub his body against the underside of soft pink flesh. She wiggles her dainty feet, and her brightly painted toenails catch his attention. They are orange, the same shocking color as the flowers of banksia, growing wild in the bush beyond the Murray River. If he could, he would draw his beak like a feather over those gems of orange.

He leans forward on his perch, lengthens his white neck, whiter than hers, and peers longingly through the bars of his home, catty-cornered from where she lies. He can stand it no more. How long has she been napping? Hours, it seems, and he's been patient thus far. If he dared, he would undo the snap hook and lock, steal through the cage door, and nest in her hair. If he dared, he would escape, not to the open sky but to her open palms. If he dared, if he dared, if he dared—but then if he dared, she would know that he is smarter than all the authorities of books on psittacids suggest he is—that he is smarter than the porpoise, the whale, the gorilla, and Ruthie, the four-year-old girl who lives next door. "Claaa-risss-a," he says a little louder.

He could pass the time rappelling up and down the chain attached to the top of his cage. Such ridiculous repetition, like a lazy mountain climber conquering the same slope again and again. Nor does he desire to jangle the yellow rattle she gave him last year. He is not her child.

Impatient, he maneuvers himself to the side of his cage and begins to clink his way down the bars in an effort to rouse her. He could release a siren-like shriek, so shrill it would send her lurching upward, wildly blinking her sapphire-blue eyes, but he must control himself, or else the thing he most fears could happen. He could lose her. He lowers his eyelids and looks inward.

Fear. There is danger all around. Prey, he is, and has been for more than twenty-six million years. In the bush of Victoria, he is constantly aware of predators lurking. He is vigilant when he forages for wheat seeds, when he plunders sweet papayas in groves that go on for miles. Damned as pests, he and his flock have been shot at and poisoned through the centuries. If not vigilant, he can be swallowed by a carpet snake camouflaged in a she-oak or hidden by a branch of eucalyptus leaves. If not careful, he can be seized by a saltwater crocodile, by a nighthawk, by a feral cat. He is a wild creature. Descending from the dinosaur, he has existed forever. Instinct and learning have taught him how to search for food, entice a mate, and defend his nest. He was born in a time before time—in an everlasting spiritual cycle when life was dreamed and formed. He was created in the distant past, in the present, and in the future, in the Everywhen, which the Aboriginal people call the Dreamtime. From the vast void of the universe, the Great Mother Warramurrungundji rose up from the ocean to create the land and the people. Soon thereafter, the spirit animals made the rocks, mountains, and trees, and it was the sacred duty of the Aborigines to protect the land and all the wild creatures. Is he a wild creature?

Curling his toes around the solid bars, Caruso performs a lively shimmy, shaking the cage even more. All he wants is to be paroled—from these four walls, this prison, this hole in a tree, this safe haven—in order to be near her.

"Caruso," she mumbles.

Does he dare?

"Caruso. Caruso," she says, pursing her lips, twisting her head one way, then another, her voice lilting and melodic. A blend of mountain twang and bluegrass drawl.

Does he dare?

"Caruso." She yawns loudly, before her body becomes still once more.

Fretful, he begins to throw himself back and forth, thumping the legs of the cage against the white linoleum. The yellow rattle scoots across the wire-meshed bottom. Water sloshes over the edge of his drinking cup onto the dog biscuit below. The framed photograph of her grandmother on the bookshelf topples over. The blue Wedgwood plate trembles on the painted chest. The wooden blinds, extending the length of the wall next to him, begin to clatter.

Her eyelids flick open. "Caruso!" she calls out, annoyed.

Like a child who has been caught doing something he shouldn't, he comes to an abrupt stop and timidly swivels his head toward her.

She eases herself upright, maneuvers her long legs over the side of the chaise longue, and plants her delicate feet, much too small for her height, on the floor. "Naughty boy," she scolds, wagging a finger at him. Her fingernails, unlike her toenails, are never polished. She vigorously shakes her head, her lax curls bouncing, as she rises. "Naughty, naughty boy," she says, "not letting me nap today."

Her bare feet make tiny sucking noises across the floor. She unlocks the cage door, pushes up the sleeve of her robe, and offers her left arm to him. "Up," she says, giving him the command, as though he would ever refuse to perch upon her alabaster skin. He lifts his foot, trying not to appear too eager, and—perfectly poised, with no need to use his beak for balance-steps up. She moves her arm forward slowly and steadily, all the while praising him. "Good boy, sweet boy," she coos, bringing him close to her face, breaking one of the cardinal rules.

He remembers when she used to read them aloud to him. They would be sitting in the sunroom-she on a Shaker-style stool beside his cage, he on his perch inside it. He can clearly recall the book because the profile of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo on the cover was a reflection of him-with his headdress of yellow feathers, fluffed up, and his grayblack beak spread wide, revealing the dark-tipped knob of tongue. "Keep the bird away from your face at all times," she had read in her babyish, seductive voice.

"Kiss me," she says now. She puckers her wide, full lips. He leans forward and brushes his beak, strong enough to crack a Brazil nut, against her soft, moist flesh. She is not afraid because he has never bitten her, and he would smash his beak against a rock before he would. Light shoots through the prisms of colored glass, dangling by fishing line from the sunroom windows, fracturing the whiteness of her body into hues of red, purple, and blue.

Clarissa, his dazzling hen! His Eclectus with her sapphire-blue eyes and her velvet head of red. Clarissa! His chimera! His impossible fantasy.

"Up," she says again. He breaks another rule and ascends to her shoulder.

"Why can't you perch on my shoulder?" she had asked while they read the book together. Lifting her head, she crinkled her eyebrows in thought, staring right through him. "Oh, here," she said, her eyes on the page again. "If I let you perch higher than I am, you'll think you're the boss," she had read, giggling deliciously as she drew her finger beneath the reason.

How can he describe that giggle? It was the twittering of a hundred sparrows swooping down to feed. It was the sound of wind chimes tinkling in a gentle breeze. It was light skipping over raindrops during a summer shower.

She stands staring through the sunroom windows at the restaurant where she cooks. He knows that even on her day off, she is thinking about her work. He shifts around to look where she looks. If the light is right, not too sunny, he can get a clear view of her through the kitchen's wide glass panels, but most often she takes him with her. On those days, he watches her from an ornate cage positioned beneath the ancient live oak at the far end of the restaurant's terrace. "That cage is straight out of Victoriana," she often complains, but she keeps it anyway because the owner of Crab Cakes, an antique dealer who spends most of his time on the mainland-managing stores in Wilmington and Beaufort—was nice enough to give it to her when she confessed she couldn't afford to buy one.

Yawning, she heads for the kitchen, where the sunshine is splashing through the glass top of the door. Beyond the deck, he can see the deep pink pom-poms of crape myrtle fluttering in the breeze and can hear the little girl laughing on the rope swing next door. Clarissa goes behind the T-stand. He knows what to do. Moving off her shoulder to the plank of her arm, he steps up to the metal perch, keeping his eyes on her as she sways casually to the sink on the other side of the small, square room. Wrapping her fingers around the tap, she gives it a quick twist. Water pours from the rust-mottled spigot. She picks up a juice glass on the drainboard, fills it up, and drinks slowly, as though it is nectar from the gods and not warm tap water. She turns the flow off.

"Claaa-risss-a," he sings, making the most of his voice, but he's a cockatoo, and human speech is not his strongest asset. Leave this gift of mimicry to the African Greys, as a way to compensate for their homeliness, he thinks. "Caruso loves Claaa-risss-a. Caruso loves Claaarisss-a," he croons, futilely trying to mimic the great Italian tenor for whom he's named.

It was Theodore Pinter who named him this. Caruso recalls the sound of the singer's booming voice on the scratchy vinyl records the old man had played. "Enrico Caruso was a large man," Theodore Pinter would say while he turned the disc over. "But his size was his greatest attribute because it gave heft to his beautiful, golden voice. Sing like the maestro," he'd ask Caruso. "Make your voice soar like his." And Caruso would struggle to imitate his namesake.

"You're certainly no Enrico," Clarissa says, pivoting back around, trailing her finger down the side of her long, flat nose.

A month ago, he'd overheard Beryl, her best friend on the island, saying, "If I had your strong bone structure and flawless skin, I'd never complain about my looks again."

"Cherokee bone structure and Scots-Irish coloring don't mix," Clarissa had shot back, unconvinced.

Her profile might be less than charming, Caruso thinks, but her full face-staring at him now—is enchanting. In truth, she has a handsome, captivating face. A face committed to his memory forever.

It was the old man's failure of memory that had led Clarissa to him. After a series of small, undetected strokes, Theodore Pinter began to lose track of his days. Algae would bloom green in Caruso's water bowl. Larvae would wiggle. Once, when the old man forgot to feed him, Caruso had escaped from his cage late at night and foraged for food in the kitchen. Eventually, Theodore Pinter was placed in a nursing home and Caruso in a pet store.

In the beginning, though, life with the old man had been calm and stable—if boring. A retired headmaster from an elite boys' school in Greensboro, Theodore Pinter believed there was a time and place for everything. Unlike Clarissa, he knew how to be firm and asserted his dominance over Caruso early on. Theodore Pinter was the alpha bird, the one in charge. "I was a competent headmaster because when I was a teacher I learned how to obey intelligently," the old man had told him.

"Now, you must learn how to obey me." He ran his long, tapered fingers through his thinning hair. "I train you because I'm your teacher, because the more self-disciplined you are, the freer you'll be," he had said again and again, treating Caruso with the same wise, rigid civility that he brought to bear on his students as he taught basic obedience skills to his bird, and during the three years that Caruso had lived with him, he had grown to respect and like, if not love, the old man.

"I love you, Claaa-risss-a," Caruso warbles, staring into her eyes.

"I love you, Caruso," she replies.

Caruso wishes he had Zorro's gift of gab. If he did, he would say something special to her now, the way Zorro had responded to the customers at the pet store. "Pretty bird. Pretty bird," they'd say to the blue-and-gold macaw. "More than pre ... tty. Beau ... ti ... ful," Zorro would rejoin.

If Caruso were Zorro, he could've imitated Enrico's singing, put a teardrop into his voice, and pleased the old man.

If he were Zorro, he'd fill Clarissa's ears with songs performed by the old timers. "The original stylists," she calls them, whenever she plays their recordings. If he were Zorro, he'd mimic Nina Simone's jazzy sound and the heartfelt blues of Billie Holiday before performing a rendition of "Is That All There Is?" in the sexy, honeyed voice of Peggy Lee. If he were Zorro, he'd echo the unique style of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, then croon like her favorite-The Velvet Fog, Mel Tormé—whose mellow, rich baritone sounds as if his jaws are packed with wheat seeds.

"Mel Tormé. Mel Tormé. Mel Tormé," Caruso says suddenly.

"In your dreams," Clarissa teases, gliding toward him, coming to a halt in front of the T-stand. She spreads out her shapely arms, her white silk robe cascading, transforming her limbs into wings. Closing her eyes, she rocks from side to side and sings in a thin, pretty soprano not a jazzy tune but an old ballad from the highlands of Kentucky, her birthplace. He has heard it many times before. Today, she sounds a little more like her beloved Jean Ritchie. "'All in the merry month of May/When the green buds they were swellin','" she begins, her voice gently lilting. "'Young William Green on his death bed lay/For the love of Barbry Ellen.'"

He closes his eyes and tries to lose himself in the sweetness of her voice. He pays close attention to the lyrics, wants to lock them away in his memory, but much to his surprise, his mind begins to drift off, and before he knows it, his body is winging high above the earth. "Oh! there once was a swagman camped in the billabong/Under the shade of a Coolibah tree," he thinks, the old tune returning as he flies over the vast brown desert.

"'He sent his servant to the town/To the place where she was dwellin','" Clarissa sings on.

On the parched ground below, he spots the clusters of spinifex grass and the patches of turpentine bushes. He breathes in—the piercing scent of turpentine invigorating him. "And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling/Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me," he remembers, his heart thumping out the words. Ahead, he notices a flock of pink Galahs roosting in a solitary wattle tree, dressed in yellow blossoms.

"'Sayin', "Master's sick and he sends for you/If your name be Barbry Ellen."'" She catches him in the net of her voice, pulling him back down to her.

"Matilda!" he cries out, confused, plinking his dark eyes open.

"And who's Matilda, you bad boy?" she asks him. "Are you two-timing me?" She giggles.

How could she say such a thing? he thinks, his yellow crest falling.

"Did I say something wrong?" she asks, reaching out to stroke his head.

(Continues...) Excerpted from Love and Ordinary Creatures by Gwyn Hyman Rubio. Copyright © 2014 Gwyn Hyman Rubio. Excerpted by permission of Ashland Creek Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Love and Ordinary Creatures 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not a literary critic, but a simple nurse that tries to take care of us humans, and an avid reader. This book is by far the best book I have ever read. This novel, narrated from a bird's perspective about his owner, is a true insight into what makes us human. It's a story of love, be it self or another, of the choices we make, right or wrong. About trying to find redemption, of looking inward, even when it's painful, about our motives and about selfishness vs. selflessness. I am forever changed for having read it. I highly recommend. Stacey Combest, RN MSN