Read Sticky Beak Online

Authors: Morris Gleitzman

Sticky Beak (5 page)

Dad offered to drive it to Darryn Peck's, but I said I'd take it by foot. I could tell Dad was itching to get at Ms Dunning's salad bowl with the glue.

We're almost there, which is a relief.

It's not much fun walking with a bird in a bucket who keeps telling you to bite your bum.

It's a real shame because if it had a different personality we could have been really close.

As it is I'll be pleased to see the back of it.

The last thing I want in my life at the moment is an angry cockatoo.

 

There's a Carla Tamworth song called ‘Compost Heap In My Heart' about a keen gardener whose sweetheart leaves her for a stock and station agent. Totally and completely grief-stricken, she goes out into the back yard and starts pulling his old cabbage stalks out of the compost heap. It's all she's got left of him. Then, deep in the compost, she finds a hose nozzle and remembers she hasn't washed the car for weeks.

That happened to me today.

I don't mean I found a hose nozzle in a compost heap.

I mean I started out doing one thing and ended up doing something else.

I started out taking a cocky with crook manners back to Darryn Peck and ended up nearly committing murder.

And now I feel sick in the guts.

Perhaps I'll feel better if I stop thinking about it.

That's what the keen gardener does. She stops thinking about her sweetheart and concentrates on cleaning the car and feels much better. Specially when her sweetheart comes round to get his hose nozzle and slips on the wet driveway and breaks his pelvis.

Darryn Peck deserves to break his pelvis.

Well, get a cramp in it anyway.

The way he's treated this cocky is a disgrace.

Six years they've been together and when I arrived at his place he wouldn't even say hello to it.

‘I don't want it,' he said. ‘It's yours. It was a fair swap. I don't care if the apples weren't ripe.'

I could tell the cocky was hurt. When Darryn opened the front door it had put its crest feathers into the mohawk position so they stuck up through the mesh over the bucket. Now it slowly slid them back into the cowlick position.

I got out my notebook and pointed out to Darryn that a cockatoo is a living creature with feelings, even if it does have a violent nature and a mouth like a sewer pipe.

Darryn stared at the note, confused.

‘What,' he said, ‘you mean it's got bad breath?'

I wrote Darryn another note mentioning some of the things the cocky had been doing and saying.

He read it and I could tell he was genuinely surprised because his eyes went big and round, and Darryn's one of those people who thinks it's cooler to keep your eyes half closed all the time.

‘Don't crap on,' he said. ‘Sticky Beak can't talk. Sticky's never said a word, not even when I ran the electric current from the front door bell through his feet. He's a brainless dummy.'

The cocky looked up at him with moist eyes.

I took a deep breath and scribbled furiously on my pad.

‘Perhaps if you weren't so cruel,' I wrote, ‘he'd want to talk to you.'

‘Bull,' said Darryn. ‘Sticky's a dummy and a no-hoper. I've got a much better pet now. That's why I was setting feather-brain here free yesterday. Till you stuck your nose in.'

Darryn was lucky there wasn't a Jelly Custard Surprise nearby.

I stared at him in disgust.

No wonder Sticky Beak was so upset this morning.

This loyal loving pet had been dumped in the bush just because his fickle selfish owner had got some flashy buzzard or eagle or something.

Darryn must have seen my disgust because he started making excuses.

‘I was returning him to his natural whatdyacallit,' said Darryn, ‘habitat. Giving him his freedom. And if you think you can dump him back on me you can go fall off a rock.'

I wondered what sort of a jail sentence I'd get for giving a heartless monster a whack round the head with a metal bucket. Then I remembered the bucket had a cockatoo in it who'd already suffered more than enough.

I made do with a note.

‘I'm not dumping him back on you,' I wrote.

I meant it. There was no way I was going to leave Sticky Beak at the mercy of heartless Darryn The Torturer Peck.

‘I just came to find out what he eats,' I wrote. Lying doesn't count when it's to an inhuman fiend.

‘Stay here,' said Darryn and went into the house.

There was an explosion of high-pitched barking and for a horrible moment I thought I was stuck with a cockatoo that ate dogs.

Then Darryn came back with a pinky-brown poodle yapping round his feet and handed me a plastic bucket full of striped seeds.

‘Normally I'd charge you ten bucks for this,' he said, ‘but you can have it for free if you rack off and never come back.'

I took the bucket.

Darryn picked up the poodle and I picked up Sticky Beak's bucket and walked away.

I could hear Darryn talking to the poodle, and the poodle replying in a sort of high-pitched growl.

‘If you want a pet that can really talk,' Darryn shouted after me, ‘get a poodle.'

That's when I started feeling sick in the guts.

I only just managed to stop myself from going back and making Darryn swallow all the birdseed. While it was still in the bucket.

I've been boiling inside ever since, and I'm nearly home.

I think that's just about the worst thing in the whole world that one living creature can do to another.

Give it the flick just cause a replacement comes along that can talk better.

 

As I walked up our orchard road I tried to ignore the pain from the two buckets nearly dragging my arms off.

I had to think what to do.

I thought about telling Dad and Ms Dunning what sort of a life Sticky had had with Darryn Peck in the hope that they'd understand.

‘We understand,' said Dad in my head, ruffling Sticky's crest feathers understandingly.

‘We'd probably chew up salad bowls too,' said Ms Dunning in my head, ‘if someone connected our feet to a front door bell.'

But what if they didn't say that?

What if they said, ‘Get that vicious cheese-brain out of this house immediately'?

A bird could be killed stone dead by the shock and hurt of being rejected and abandoned twice in one weekend.

And even if Sticky survived, what if Dad took him over to the RSPCA depot with a note saying ‘never to be released' and the poor thing ended up in some institution?

I knew what that'd be like.

I was in an institution for five years, and even though mine was a pretty good special school, I still spent a lot of nights crying.

I couldn't risk it.

So I didn't take Sticky Beak to see Dad and Ms Dunning, I took him to the old shed.

I reckoned it was a pretty safe alternative because Dad never uses the old shed. He reckons it's too far from the house.

Which it is if you've got to walk back from it after a hard day in the orchard, but it's not if you're looking for somewhere to hide a cockatoo with a loud voice and a sour view of the world.

The walls of the old shed are thicker than the walls of my wardrobe, but I couldn't afford to take any risks.

I had to think beak-proof.

I crept to the packing shed where Dad keeps his tools and junk and peeked inside.

Dad wasn't there.

As quietly as I could I borrowed his wire cutters and a roll of tying wire.

Behind the cool room were some sheets of metal from when the cool room was built and some rolls of thick chook wire from when the previous people kept chooks.

I had to be quiet dragging them over, but once I got them into the old shed I could make as much noise as I liked.

I've never built a cage before.

There must be some method of getting all the sides to stand exactly upright, but I couldn't crack it.

Still, I reckon what I've done'll do the trick.

I used the metal stakes Dad ties young trees to for the corners, and about a kilometre of tying wire, so it's pretty sturdy, and it's big enough for Sticky to fly around in as long as he doesn't try to get up too much speed.

And from the outside of the old shed you wouldn't even know it's there.

Sticky likes it.

Once I'd wired a branch across a corner for a perch he was onto it quicker than a little kid onto monkey bars.

I found some old metal dishes for his water and seed, and then gave him several meaningful looks.

In order they said:

‘Don't be frightened.'

‘We can go on outings.'

‘This is just until Dad and Ms Dunning calm down about the wood chips.'

‘Be good.'

Sticky went from mohawk to cowlick, so I could tell he understood.

I wired the last piece of chook wire into place and gave Sticky Beak a ‘see you later' wave.

‘Jump off a rock,' said Sticky, which I'm beginning to think is just his way of saying thanks.

I shut the door of the old shed and came over here to the packing shed to put the wire cutters back.

I've been standing here ever since having this conversation in my head.

I hated leaving Sticky there so I guess I'm trying to convince myself that I'm doing the right thing.

Well it's a bit late now cause I've done it.

What's that noise?

It's someone coming over from the house.

It's Dad.

Oh no, I'm still holding the wire cutters.

Too late.

He's seen me.

 

I'm lying here listening to a Carla Tamworth tape on my Walkman trying not to think about what's just happened.

It's not working.

The songs keep reminding me.

First there was the one about the heart that's aching so much that even two aspirin and a eucalyptus menthol oil rub can't take away the pain.

I spooled through that one.

Then there was the one about the woman who wants to cry but can't, not even when she goes to work in a sandwich bar making salad rolls with lots of onion.

I spooled through that one too.

And now, the final straw, I'm listening to one about a bloke who can't see things even when they're staring him in the face.

Not his clean socks or the crack in his bathroom mirror or his dentist who's secretly in love with him.

Me and Dad are like that bloke.

I don't mean because our dentist is secretly in love with us. The only thing our dentist Mr Webster loves is collecting rocks and that's no secret because he has the magazines in his waiting room.

I mean because me and Dad can't see things when they're staring us in the face either.

With Dad it's little things like not noticing I was holding the wire cutters when he walked into the packing shed this arvo.

‘G'day Tonto,' he said, ‘we've been wondering where you'd got to. There's something we'd like you to take a squiz at.'

For a horrible moment I was sure they'd found Sticky.

Uluru Rock dropped with a thud into my lower gut.

Then Dad grinned and said, ‘Come on, race you back to the house', and I knew they hadn't.

He turned and started sprinting and I put the wire cutters back before starting off after him.

As I caught up to him I noticed he had blue paint in his hair.

Inside the house he made me close my eyes and then led me into the junk room.

Or what used to be the junk room.

When I opened my eyes Dad and Ms Dunning were standing there grinning like game-show hosts.

Ms Dunning had pink paint in her hair.

I could see why.

The entire room was pink.

Except for a blue ceiling and a blue light switch.

And it was full of stuff.

Not the old wellies and tractor parts and fishing rods and eskies and record players and camping gear and apple boxes that used to be there.

New stuff.

A cot decorated with sleepy bunnies and a change table with bashful koalas on it and a quilt covered with playful dolphins and curtains crawling with very friendly possums and a light shade infested with happy-go-lucky goannas.

‘What do you reckon?' grinned Dad.

‘We hope you approve of your new brother or sister's accommodation,' grinned Ms Dunning.

I tried to grin too, but I guess it wasn't very convincing.

Ms Dunning came over and put her arm round me.

‘Ro,' she said quietly, ‘we know you're disappointed about your pet, but we've got to be realistic.'

‘That's right, Tonto,' said Dad gently. ‘We can't have a kamikaze cocky in the same house as a bub, eh?'

‘That's not what I'm disappointed about,' I replied. ‘I thought the baby was going to sleep in my room.'

That had been the plan. We'd talked about it, me and Dad. It had been my idea, so that if the baby woke up in the night between feeds I could rock it back to sleep or keep it amused with hand-shadows on the wall. I can do a great shark.

‘It was a really kind offer, love,' said Ms Dunning, ‘but we've decided it'll be better off in the room next to us.'

‘Claire's right,' said Dad. ‘Better to have it where we can hear it yelling its little lungs out, eh?'

That's when it hit me.

The real reason I threw the Jelly Custard Surprise.

How come I didn't see it before?

It's been staring me in the face for months.

Well, hours, anyway, since I left Darryn Peck's.

The shock of finally seeing it made my heart go like a spray pump, and the smell of the paint started to make me feel like throwing up, so I came in here for a lie-down.

Usually if I want to blot something out of my mind the Walkman works really well.

Not tonight.

Even when I turn it up really loud and close my eyes really tight I can still see Darryn standing on his verandah holding the poodle, grinning like a loon because it can talk.

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