Read Sticky Beak Online

Authors: Morris Gleitzman

Sticky Beak (3 page)

Today's was a beauty and I decided it was a good sign.

It wasn't.

It didn't even have a pot of gold at the end of it.

Just Darryn Peck.

Halfway into town I turned a corner and there he was, coming towards me with two of his mates.

He was carrying something in a cage. At first it looked like a white feather duster with a blob of custard on it, but I knew that couldn't be right. Even Darryn Peck wouldn't carry a feather duster around in a cage.

As he got closer I saw it was a cockatoo with a row of yellow feathers sticking out the top of its head.

Then Darryn stopped kicking dust at his mates and saw me.

His red lips stretched into a smirk.

‘Oh no, it's Batts!' he shrieked, backing away pretending to be scared. ‘Don't go too close, she might be carrying a trifle and slip over.'

His mates thought this was so hilarious I looked away in case they split their daks.

Then Darryn did a strange thing.

He came over to me and spoke in a quiet, serious voice, just like a normal person. ‘Was that an accident last night,' he asked, ‘or did you chuck that trifle on purpose?'

I was so stunned, partly by the question and partly because I'd never heard Darryn say anything in a serious voice before, that my hands stayed where they were, gripped around my rolled-up notice.

We looked at each other for a moment, then Darryn nodded slowly. ‘Good one,' he said, and winked.

People generally don't like being winked at by Darryn Peck. I've seen teachers fly into a rage and send him out to stand on the oval. But as I turned away and walked on, heart thumping, Darryn and his mates chortling behind me about how funny Mr Fowler had looked with pineapple on his head, I realised I was feeling better than I had all morning.

I almost went back and told Darryn about Mr Fowler wiping his hands on his blotter, but I resisted the temptation and hurried on into town.

It was just as well I did, because when I arrived at the newsagents my name was already mud.

Two elderly women I didn't even know glared at me across the top of their wedding magazines and muttered things to each other.

When I'd finished the photocopying, I gave them a notice each and hurried out.

The main street's always busy on a Saturday morning, but today there were even more people than usual. I crept along sticking notices on power poles and rubbish bins and hoped they hadn't come to get their hands on me.

A lot of them seemed to be staring at me. I kept my eyes on the ground except when I had to reach up with the sticky tape.

Which is why I didn't see the queue until I almost walked into it.

The queue that stretched out of the dry-cleaners and along the front of the cake shop next door.

I looked down again and hoped desperately that Mr Shapiro the dry-cleaner had started selling concert tickets to make ends meet, and that the people were queueing to buy tickets for next weekend's Carla Tamworth concert.

Then I remembered that the concert is part of the Agricultural Show, so it's free.

I looked up and saw that every person in the queue was holding a dress or a suit or a skirt and blouse, each one streaked and spotted with jelly and custard stains.

I hoped Mr Shapiro's dry-cleaning machines were in good running order.

People in the queue were starting to look at me and mutter to each other.

I could feel my face going red and the knot in my guts growing back to the size of Uluru Rock including the car park and the kiosk.

I'd have given anything at that moment to be able to speak with my mouth.

Money.

Jewels.

My softball bat and the blue satin dress Dad bought me to wear at the wedding.

Anything.

Just for two minutes so I could read my apology out in a loud clear voice and everyone could see that I meant it.

I squeezed the thought out of my head and took a deep breath and walked along the queue to where I am now, in front of Mr Shapiro's window, sticking up a notice.

It's taking me ages because my heart is pounding so hard I can hardly get the sticky tape off the roll.

I'm trying to ignore everyone behind me.

I'm having this talk in my head to try and take my mind off them.

It's no good, I can feel their stares boring into the back of my neck like enraged codling moths.

People in our town hate queucing at the best of times.

I'm terrified someone'll start shouting or jostling.

I reckon that's all it'll take to turn that queue into a furious, surging mob that'll grab me and rub my nose in all those stains and cover me with custard and chook feathers and parade me round town in the back of a ute.

Oh no.

Someone's started shouting.

 

I braced myself against Mr Shapiro's window, hoping desperately that there were lots of officers on duty in the police station, and that they weren't watching the cricket with the sound turned up.

Then I realised it was Amanda doing the shouting.

She was calling to me from the doorway of her dad's menswear shop across the street.

‘Ro,' she yelled, ‘over here.'

I sprinted across the road and into the shop and crouched trembling behind a rack of trousers, hoping the people in the queue wouldn't follow. Or that if they did, they'd see all the neat piles of shirts and socks in Mr Cosgrove's shop and decide that having a riot would mean too much tidying up afterwards.

‘Sorry to yell like that,' said Amanda. ‘I'm serving, so I can't leave the shop.'

Then she noticed I was shaking like the mudguard on a tractor.

‘What's wrong?' she asked, concerned. My hands were trembling too much to say anything so I just gave her one of the notices.

While she read it I glanced around the shop. There was only one customer and he seemed to be too busy looking at jackets to form a mob.

Mr Cosgrove was busy too, straightening each jacket on the rack after the customer had touched it.

I took some deep breaths and tried to calm down.

Mr Cosgrove turned with a smile.

‘Can I help you?' he asked.

Then he saw it was me and his smile vanished.

He hurried over and steered me away from the rack of trousers.

I tried to show him that it was OK, I wasn't carrying any desserts, trifles or squishy cakes, but he wasn't paying attention.

He was glaring at Amanda.

‘Outside,' he muttered to her, gesturing at me.

‘Dad,' said Amanda indignantly, ‘Ro's my friend.'

Amanda's getting really good at standing up to her father.

I was still feeling wobbly, so I leant against a colonial table with some polished horseshoes and a pile of neatly-folded shirts on it.

Mr Cosgrove snatched the shirts away.

‘Dad,' said Amanda, even more indignant, ‘last night was an accident. D'you think Ro threw that jelly on purpose?'

She gave me an apologetic grin.

I didn't want to say anything, but my hands wouldn't stay still. They've always told Amanda the truth and they weren't going to stop today.

‘I did throw it on purpose,' I said.

Amanda stared at my hands, so I said it again.

She looked stunned.

But only for a moment.

She probably didn't mean to do it, but she glanced around the shop at all the neat new clothes. Then she grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the shop and into the milk bar next door.

I didn't blame her.

Even best friends can't put their dad's stock at risk in a recession.

She ordered us both milkshakes, and by the time she'd asked why I'd done it and I'd told her I didn't know and she'd screwed up her face and thought about that, they were ready.

The tables were all full, but as we went over everyone stared nervously at the double strawberry malted in my hand and suddenly there was a clatter of chairs and an empty table in front of us.

We sat down.

The people at the next table shifted too.

I gave them one of my notices as they went.

The people at the other tables watched me out of the corner of their eyes and muttered to each other.

We slurped for a while and I wondered gloomily if it'll take me as long to get used to the sound of muttering as it takes people who live near the railway to get used to the sound of trains.

Then Amanda's face lit up.

‘The dribble,' she said with her hands.

I stared at her blankly.

‘Last night,' she continued. ‘You were upset about the dribble.'

I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I chose my words carefully. I told her it was really thoughtful of her to use her hands so the other people in the milkbar couldn't eavesdrop, but that unfortunately I didn't know what she was talking about either.

She shook her curls, cross with herself, and tried again.

‘The speech,' she said. ‘You were upset about the speech.'

Even before her hands stopped moving I knew that was it.

Last night, before the party, the Social Committee changed their minds about me reading our speech to Ms Dunning. They reckoned if I read it with my hands and Amanda repeated it by mouth it'd take too long.

I was really hurt and disappointed, but I had an apple fritter and got over it.

As least, I thought I did.

Obviously deep inside I didn't.

Deep inside I must have wanted to push the whole Social Committee into an apple-polishing machine, but because an apple-polishing machine was too heavy to take to the party, I chucked the Jelly Custard Surprise into the fan instead.

It's scary, but at least now I know, which is a big relief.

‘You're right,' I said to Amanda. ‘That's it. Thanks.'

‘It must be pretty frustrating sometimes, having bits missing from your throat,' said Amanda.

I nodded.

I wanted to hug her, but she was still slurping and I knew that if I made another mess my name would be mud in this town for centuries.

I should have guessed Amanda would come up with the answer. She's an expert at working out why people do things. When I'd nominated Ms Dunning as Australian Of The Year, Amanda had twigged straight off. ‘It's to put her at her ease, isn't it,' she'd said. ‘Show her you don't mind her marrying your dad.' Amazing. I hadn't even given her a hint.

And now, even more amazingly, she'd worked out something I didn't even know myself.

I gave her a grateful grin and we sat there slurping. Until an awful thought hit me.

‘I've been frustrated heaps of times,' I said to Amanda, ‘but I've never chucked a dessert before.'

We looked at each other and I could tell from her face that she was thinking what I was thinking.

What if something's snapped in my brain?

What if I could chuck something at any time?

Without knowing in advance?

I'll never dare do the eggs again.

Or carry out a chemistry experiment in class.

Or handle nonwashable paint.

My life will be a disaster.

I could be sent back to a special school.

Suddenly I knew what I had to do.

Amanda agreed.

We said oo-roo and I hit the road.

I've never walked home from town so fast, but you can't hang about when you're in desperate need of help and there's only one person who can give it to you.

The person who was told last year that if he didn't start controlling himself and staying out of fights he'd be in deep poo and who's managed it so well this year that he hasn't had a single major outburst apart from putting peanut butter in Trent Webster's ears which doesn't count because Trent provoked him.

I can hardly believe I'm doing this.

Asking Darryn Peck for help.

 

I knew exactly where to find him.

In the creek at the back of our orchard.

He always goes there with his mates and I knew that's where he was heading when I bumped into him this morning.

On the way I rehearsed what I'd say.

‘Darryn,' I imagined writing on my notepad, ‘you're a pretty unstable person but you've stayed out of trouble pretty well this year. Any tips?'

I imagined his sneer.

‘Why don't you ask your old man,' I imagined him saying. ‘He's more unstable than me and he hasn't been in a single fight or embarrassing incident for ages. Earbash him.'

‘Don't be a thicko,' I imagined myself writing with a patient smile, ‘Dad's stable cause he married Ms Dunning. I'm too young to marry a teacher. I need to know how you do it. Come on, Darryn. You can borrow my softball bat.'

As I got to the creek I decided that last bit sounded too desperate so I mentally rubbed it out.

Darryn wasn't there.

I hunted all through the bush on both sides of the creek in case he was being a comedian and hiding, but he wasn't.

Then it hit me.

He must have gone home while I was in town.

I needed a drink before I set off on the long walk to Darryn's place, and there was no way I was drinking from the creek, not after it had been touching Darryn Peck's rude bits, so I took the track that runs round the edge of the orchard and ends up at our place.

Just as well I did, because halfway along it I heard Darryn's voice, shouting something angry that I couldn't make out.

I turned a corner and there were Darryn and his two mates, standing at the base of a big tree, chucking apples up at one of the top branches.

‘Don't just sit there, dummy,' Darryn yelled at something on the branch, and hurled another apple. His face was almost as red as his lips, and his voice had gone squeaky.

‘Dork-brain,' one of his mates yelled up at the tree.

Then they just grunted for a bit while they concentrated on throwing apples.

I went closer to see what they were aiming at.

It was the cockatoo.

It was just sitting on the branch, not moving, with apples crashing into the leaves around it.

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