Read Sticky Beak Online

Authors: Morris Gleitzman

Sticky Beak (4 page)

I couldn't understand why it didn't dive down and rip a beakful of hair out of Darryn Peck's head. That's what I'd have done. Or at least fly away to safety.

Then I realised the poor thing must be in shock.

Little wonder.

One minute you're out for a Saturday morning walk with your owner, next minute he's having a major outburst, his first of the year, and he's chucking apples at you.

So much for Darryn Peck the self-control expert.

The cockatoo looked terrified.

I wanted to scream at Darryn and his mates to pack it in, but of course I can only do that sort of thing in my head, so I ran over to Darryn and knocked the apple he was about to throw out of his hand.

He spun round, startled.

I glared at him.

His red lips went into smirk position.

‘Batts,' he said. ‘Oooh, I'm scared. Don't hit me with a jelly, Batts.'

I thought for a sec of hitting him with a large rock, but then I remembered the terrified bird.

I gave Darryn a look which told him to go and boil his head in a pressure cooker full of root weevils.

He didn't seem to get the message.

‘Mind your own business,' he sneered. ‘That cocky's my property and I'll do what I like with it.'

‘He's had it for six years,' said one of his mates.

‘That's right,' said Darryn and threw another apple at the cockatoo.

I pointed to the broken apples all around us on the ground.

‘Those are my property,' I said, speaking on behalf of the Batts family.

Darryn stared at me blankly.

I remembered he didn't understand sign.

I pulled out my notepad.

I've learned that notes work best when they're short.

‘Apple theft,' I wrote. ‘Five years jail.'

It's not true, of course, but I could see it got him worried.

We stared at each other for a while.

His elephant's-bum mouth started quivering at one corner, just a bit.

Then he turned and stalked off down the road.

His mates hurried after him.

‘You leaving the cocky with her?' one of them asked.

‘She can keep it,' Darryn said, looking back at me. ‘They should get on well together. They're both spazzos.'

I ignored that.

I had more important things to think about.

I started climbing the tree.

It took me ages to get up there, partly because Dad's taught me never to rush at a tree, and partly because I'm scared of heights.

As I edged along the branch, my heart was pounding so loudly I was worried the cockatoo would take fright and do something silly.

It didn't look as though it was up to much flying. It looked as though the most it could probably manage would be a plummet to the ground.

I tried to calm it by explaining with gentle hand movements that not all humans are like Darryn Peck, only the ones who got too close to Mrs Peck's vacuum cleaner when they were babies and had their brains sucked out through their ears.

OK, it wasn't true, and the cocky probably couldn't understand sign language anyway, but it still seemed to make it perk up a bit.

Its crest feathers, which had been lying flat on its head in a sort of cowlick, suddenly sprang up like a bright yellow mohawk hairdo.

When I'd stopped being startled and almost falling out of the tree, I leant forward and unhooked its claws from the bark as gently as I could and lifted it towards me.

Its feathers felt stiff, which I assumed was nervous tension, and I could see its dark little tongue darting around inside its beak, probably because its mouth was dry with worry.

It seemed pretty dazed, probably from seeing all those apples being wasted, and it didn't flap its wings, which was just as well for both of us.

I put it inside my shirt and climbed down, praying that it was feeling too crook to sink its beak into my flesh.

It must have been.

As I hurried towards the house, I racked my brains for anything I'd ever read or heard about helping cockatoos recover from a traumatic experience.

Nothing sprang to mind.

I could feel the cocky quivering inside my shirt.

I didn't blame it.

Living with Darryn Peck for six years would be enough to give anyone a nervous condition.

When people are in shock they're given a cup of tea, so when we got home I gave the cocky one.

It wasn't interested, so I gave it a glass of water.

It drank some of that, then tried to eat the glass.

Obviously it was hungry.

There was a note on the kitchen table saying that Dad and Ms Dunning had gone shopping, so I had to take a punt myself as to what cockies like to eat.

It wasn't a very good punt.

The cocky ignored the corned beef, sniffed the cheese, spat out the Coco-Pops and did a poo on the apple fritter.

Then it closed its eyes.

I realised the poor thing must be exhausted.

I grabbed an apple box and made a bed in it with some towels from the bathroom and carefully laid the cocky inside.

That wasn't such a good move either.

I could tell the cocky wasn't comfortable by the way it scrabbled its claws and looked at me unhappily with its dark eyes and did a wee on my towel.

I remembered that some birds like to sleep on a perch.

It was worth a try.

I took all the clothes on hangers out of my wardrobe and pulled the top shelf out to make some headroom and lifted the cocky onto the hanging rail.

No sooner had it gripped the wood with its claws than its eyes closed and its head dropped and I was sure I could hear faint snoring.

It's been like that for hours.

I've been sitting here on my bed watching it in case it has a nightmare about apples.

I've also been working out how I'm going to break it to Dad and Ms Dunning that we've got a new addition to the family.

 

Sometimes good luck comes along exactly when you need it.

Like this arvo.

Dad and Ms Dunning came back with heaps of shopping, not just supermarket stuff but loads of parcels and boxes too.

While I was helping them carry it all in from the truck, I saw them looking at each other sort of sheepishly.

‘Urn, Tonto old mate,' said Dad, ‘we haven't actually got anything for you.'

It was perfect.

There's nothing like parents feeling a bit sheepish to help things along when you're asking if you can have a cockatoo.

Dad and Ms Dunning were a bit alarmed at first, probably because they thought I was talking about buying a new one and they'd just spent all their money.

But when I showed them the one dozing in my wardrobe, and explained it was an abused bird that I'd rescued from a dangerously unstable kid, they relaxed.

I told them that if the cocky could live with us I'd feed it and care for it and teach it to use the bathroom.

‘Please, please, please, please, please,' I said until my hands ached.

I saw from Dad's face that he wanted to have a serious talk. Not with me, with Ms Dunning. I almost went and got his black shirt with the horseshoes but decided not to.

I stayed in here on my bed while Dad and Ms Dunning went into the kitchen.

I crossed my fingers so tightly they went numb.

After what seemed like ages, Dad and Ms Dunning came back in. They had their arms round each other, which I knew was a good sign.

‘Well Tonto,' said Dad, ‘if you promise to feed it and clean it, you can keep it. I'll build it a cage in the packing shed.'

I gave them both a huge hug.

‘There's one more condition,' added Dad. ‘Darryn Peck's got to agree you can have it.'

I told them I was sure Darryn would agree because it's doing him a favour too.

This way he won't ever get into trouble with the law for mistreating a bird and possibly end up in a bloody shoot-out with officers from the RSPCA.

Ms Dunning held out a big shiny red apple.

‘It'll probably be hungry when it wakes up,' she said.

I was really moved because it was exactly the same as the one I gave her the day she moved in with us.

Watching the cocky happily snoozing away I can see it's already feeling like one of the family.

Judging by the snores, though, I don't think it'll be waking up till the morning.

A big sleep's probably just what the poor thing needs.

In the morning I'll cut its apple up and we can have breakfast together on the verandah.

I'm feeling really attached to it already.

Almost like a parent.

Which is fine with me because in my experience parents hardly ever snap and even when they do they hardly ever chuck desserts, eggs, chemicals or nonwashable paint.

 

I knew something was wrong as soon as I woke up.

Dad was shouting.

Ms Dunning was yelling.

I could smell fish frying and nobody at our place likes fried fish.

I jumped out of bed and hurried towards the kitchen.

Something stabbed me in the feet.

I looked down and saw that my carpet was covered with lumps of apple and splinters of wood.

My floor looked like Tasmania, the bit that's been woodchipped.

The kitchen looked worse.

Apart from the woodchips all over the floor and the table and the sink, it was full of smoke.

Dad and Ms Dunning were standing on chairs holding brooms. Dad was shouting at Ms Dunning to get down because she shouldn't be climbing on chairs in her condition, and Ms Dunning was ignoring him and poking her broom up the chimney.

A cloud of soot floated down into her face, followed by a white feather.

My heart was thumping.

‘Get down here, dork-brain,' Ms Dunning yelled up the chimney, ‘or you're dead meat.'

I was shocked.

That's no way to talk to a cockatoo with a nervous condition.

I reminded myself that it wasn't Ms Dunning's fault, she's just been spending too much time with Darryn Peck and his mates.

Then I squeezed myself into the fireplace and climbed up onto the big log we keep there in summer and lifted both my hands up into the blackness.

I touched feathers.

I wondered if a cockatoo can recognise friendly hands in pitch darkness when it's got other things on its mind, like being called a dork-brain.

My fingers all stayed connected to my hands, so obviously it can.

Gently I lifted the cocky down.

In the darkness I could see a gleaming eye watching me.

As I wriggled out of the fireplace with the cocky clasped to my chest, Dad and Ms Dunning advanced towards me.

Their eyes were gleaming too.

‘That bird's a flaming menace,' said Dad. He said it with his mouth, partly because he always speaks with his mouth when he's angry, and partly because his hands were full of bits of splintered wood.

‘Look what it did to Claire's hand-carved salad bowl.'

I glanced down at the cocky's curved black beak. It looked strong, but not that strong.

‘And the vicious cheese-brain had a go at my buckle,' continued Dad.

I looked at his belt and suddenly I felt the cocky's head feathers tickling me under the chin. I wasn't sure if that was because it had just gone mohawk or because my mouth had just fallen open.

The metal buckle looked as if it had been attacked with pliers. The Harley Davidson had a bent wheel and the skeleton riding it was completely missing a ribcage.

I looked at the cocky's beak again. Perhaps its mother had swallowed a lump of tungsten steel thinking it was a gumnut.

‘And,' said Ms Dunning, ‘it had a go at the kitchen table and the dresser and snatched the washing-up sponge out of my hand and nearly caused a fire.'

She pointed to the sink, where a charred sponge was floating in the frying pan.

It hadn't been fish after all.

‘Just give me a few moments alone with it,' I said.

Dad and Ms Dunning looked confused. Perhaps they thought I meant the sponge. It's not easy expressing yourself clearly when you've got your hands full of sooty cockatoo.

I retreated into my room and put the cocky onto what was left of the hanging rail.

We both looked at the large jagged hole in the side of my wardrobe.

‘It's OK,' I said, moving my hands slowly. ‘Don't feel bad. You just panicked. That's normal, waking up in a strange place.'

I could tell from its blank expression and the big poo it did on my best shoes that it didn't have a clue what I was saying.

I wrote it a note.

It was worth a try. Cockies are very smart. I've seen them on telly pedalling little bikes and drawing raffles.

It ate the note.

There are times when it's a real pain not being able to speak. You want to scream with frustration, except of course you can't. So you make do with what you've got.

I put my face close to the cocky's and gave it a look.

‘Don't be scared, you poor little thing,' the look said. ‘I want to help you.'

‘Rack off,' said the cocky.

I couldn't believe it.

Then I realised I must have misheard.

I was making the cocky feel nervous by being too close, that was all, and it had asked me to back off.

I moved my face back a bit.

‘Get lost, dork-brain,' said the cocky. ‘You smell.
Go
and fall off a rock.'

I was shocked.

But I tried to be understanding.

I gave the cockatoo another look.

‘Don't be cross,' my look said, ‘everything's going to be fine.'

‘Get stuffed,' said the cocky.

I changed the look to ‘I'm your friend'.

‘Go kiss a chook,' said the cocky.

My face was aching, but I had one more go.

I gave it my best ‘I'm going to look after you' expression.

‘Suck a turnip,' said the cocky, and bit me on the nose.

After Dad had bathed the wound and put some antiseptic cream and a band-aid on it and the pain had died down, we got a metal bucket and put the cocky inside and fixed some strong chook-wire over the top.

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