Authors: Morris Gleitzman
And Dad standing next to him doing exactly the same.
Except Dad isn't holding a poodle, he's holding a baby.
Dad always reckons if something's making me unhappy I should tell him about it.
He reckons it's better for a person to lay it out on the table than bottle it up and end up hiring a skywriter or something.
So first thing this morning I went out to the orchard and told him.
I was really glad I did.
âG'day Tonto,' Dad said, âyou come for a yak?'
I like yakking to Dad when he's on the tractor because he has to speak with his hands. Dad's got a pretty loud voice but it isn't a match for a 120-horsepower diesel.
I jumped up onto the front of the tractor so Dad could keep on slashing weeds while we talked.
âAbout last night,' Dad said. âDon't worry, love, you'll get to spend heaps of time with the bub.'
âI know I will,' I said.
I took a deep breath.
My hands were shaking.
I hoped Dad would think it was the vibrations from the motor.
âI'm just worried,' I said, âthat when you've got a kid that can speak with its mouth, you won't want to spend heaps of time flapping your hands about with me.'
I tried to keep my hands relaxed while I said it. If you're not careful, when you're very tense you can get cramp in the middle of a sentence.
Dad stared at me for a long time.
The tractor started to shudder.
âDad,' I said, âyou're slashing a tree trunk.'
He turned the tractor off, leant forward, grabbed me under the arms and swung me onto his lap.
It felt good, even though his belt buckle was stabbing me in the kidney.
âRo,' he said quietly, âthat's dopey.'
Then he slid me onto the seat next to him and jumped up onto the engine cover and took his hat off and put one hand over his heart and tilted his head back and yelled up at the trees.
âI swear on my Grannies and Jonathans,' he shouted, âthat no kid will ever come between me and my precious Tonto, cross my heart and hope to get root weevil.'
I glowed inside.
I would have glowed even more if he'd looked at me and said it quietly, but with Dad you have to take him the way he is.
He jumped down from the engine and I slid down from the seat and he picked me up and hugged me so tight that his belt buckle left an imprint on my tummy
I glowed even more and Uluru Rock suddenly melted away and all that was left was a wonderful feeling that everything was going to be OK for ever and ever.
It lasted for about ten seconds.
Less time than the red back-to-front rodeo rider above my bellybutton.
Because I ruined it.
I've never known when to keep my hands quiet. âFor a moment there' I said to Dad, âI thought you were going to sing.'
âAlmost did,' he said, âbut I couldn't think of a song that said exactly what I wanted to say'
âNever mind,' I said, âperhaps Carla Tamworth'll sing one at the concert on Saturday.'
Dad's face clouded.
âI've been meaning to tell you,' he said, âI can't go to the concert on Saturday.'
I stared at him.
âSorry Tonto,' he said. âNot with the baby due on Sunday. Too much to do. You do understand, eh?'
I couldn't move my face, only my neck.
âGood on you,' said Dad. âYou can go with Amanda, eh?'
I nodded again.
âRun off and have your breakfast then, love,' he said, and fired up the tractor.
I walked away.
At that moment I couldn't have forced food down myself with a crowbar, but I knew Sticky Beak would be hungry.
When I got over here to the old shed and opened the door, Sticky blinked at me from inside his cage.
He looked as stunned as I felt.
Perhaps cockies have got super-sensitive hearing and he couldn't believe what he'd just heard.
A man who once drove six hours to get to a Carla Tamworth concert saying he can't be bothered taking his daughter to one six minutes away.
I wonder if cockies know about child neglect?
I shouldn't be talking like this, not even in my head.
Dad's just doing what any normal person would do in his position. Concentrating on the birth of his new baby. All fathers get a bit sidetracked when they've got a new kid on the way. Specially when it's one that doesn't have anything wrong with it.
What's so bad about that?
Nothing, and I shouldn't be blubbing like this, it's stupid.
I can see Sticky thinks so too.
I'm making his seed all wet.
He's just told me to fall off a rock.
I think he's trying to cheer me up.
Poor Sticky, he's the one who should be crying, not me. Stuck in here all by himself trying to recover from a nervous condition brought on by six years of inhuman treatment by a monster.
Darryn The Heartless Peck's the one who should be punished, not Dad.
I'm so excited.
All Sticky's problems are solved.
Well, they will be soon.
Once Amanda gets written permission to use her parents' video camera.
What's more, if my plan works, no Australian cockatoo or budgie or dog or cat or hampster or mouse need ever suffer again what Sticky has suffered.
Going to school this morning I didn't have a clue that this was going to be such an important day in the history of pet care.
For starters, I'd completely forgotten we've got a new teacher. I only remembered when Ms Dunning stopped the truck in front of the school gates and handed me ajar of home-made apple sauce.
âFor your new teacher,' she said.
I groaned inside.
âCome on, Ro,' said Ms Dunning, âa prezzie means a lot to us teachers on our first day.'
I couldn't believe it.
She's only been semi-retired for two days and she's already forgotten that only crawlers and bad spellers give new teachers presents. That's why I wasn't carrying a plate of apple fritters.
I was about to remind her, but then I realised she must just be having a vague spell and I decided not to hurt her feelings. It can't be much fun, carrying a baby round inside you that uses up so much oxygen there's not enough left for your brain.
When I got out of the truck, all the kids that had crowded round to wave at Ms Dunning backed away, all nervously eyeing the jar of apple sauce in my hand.
I walked through them, hoping they'd notice the jar had a lid on and that there wasn't a single hardware store fan in the playground.
I could only see one kid who looked relaxed.
He was standing just inside the school gate, smirking at me.
âCareful Battsy,' he said, âdon't trip over.'
I walked past.
He started walking behind me.
I ignored him.
I knew he was going to try and trip me, and I knew I could handle it.
I was wrong.
What threw me was that he used his brain.
He waited till I was almost across the playground, then gave a screeching cry, like a cockatoo.
For a sec I thought it was Sticky, that he'd escaped and was looking for me.
I glanced up and that's when Darryn stuck his foot out.
I felt myself falling forward and my only thought was not to let go of the jar.
Then I realised I already had.
Me and the jar flew through the air.
I slammed into the ground.
The jar smashed through Mr Fowler's office window.
After a while, when I'd worked out which sounds were glass breaking and which were my ears ringing, someone lifted me to my feet.
It was Amanda.
She was white with fury and screaming at Darryn Peck.
âYou're dead meat, Peck,' she yelled. âMy uncle's a solicitor.'
Darryn Peck was looking pretty pale too, but that was because he could see Mr Fowler storming towards us.
Mr Fowler was angrier than any of us had ever seen him.
He was so angry that not one person laughed at the apple sauce on his head.
âWhat happened?' he thundered.
There was chaos as everyone tried to tell him something different.
I kept out of it because my knees had started to hurt a lot and I wanted to see if there was any blood coming through my jeans.
After a few seconds Mr Fowler sent everyone to their classrooms.
Amanda hovered, still furious, still shouting, until Mr Fowler threatened to expel her.
Then he took me into his office.
The next few minutes were pretty hard on my nerves, partly because Mr Fowler wouldn't let me speak, and partly because he kept pacing up and down on his glass-covered carpet and I was worried he'd cut himself.
It was dumb. There I was, the victim of a telemovie-sized injustice, and I was more worried about whether one of the people responsible would slash a major artery in his foot and I'd have to knot his whistle cord round his leg to stop the blood flow.
âI don't know what happened out there,' said Mr Fowler, âand I probably never will. So I'll be charitable and assume it was an accident. That's two, Batts, in four days. One accident is unlucky. Two is careless. If there's a third . . .'
He stopped and put his face close to mine.
Apple sauce dripped onto my shoe.
â. . if there's a third, watch out.'
He turned away and I pulled my notebook out to scribble a note asking for a lawyer and a broom to sweep up the broken glass.
Before I could start writing, there was a knock on the door and a bloke stepped into the office. He was wearing jeans and a multicoloured shirt and he had a ponytail.
Great, I thought, here am I in the middle of a travesty of justice and some high-school kid who's off sick with brain damage wanders into the wrong school.
âThis is Mr Segal,' said Mr Fowler,
new teacher. Take her away, Mr Segal, before I forget I'm a Rotarian.'
On the way to class Mr Segal made conversation.
I wasn't really in the mood because my knees were hurting and I wanted some time to myself to plan Darryn Peck's death, but I could see Mr Segal was trying hard so I joined in.
âSo,' said Mr Segal, âyou're Rowena Batts.'
âMr Fowler's told me all about you,' said Mr Segal.
I nodded again.
âNever feel inferior,' said Mr Segal.
I shook my head. I could see he meant well.
âPictures,' said Mr Segal, âare more important than words.'
I didn't have a clue what he was on about.
Then I realised he must have been talking about his shirt, which had pictures of fish all over it.
It wasn't till much later, in class, that I realised he was talking about television.
By that time Mr Segal had talked about television a lot. He told us he believes television isn't studied enough in schools. We clapped and whistled, partly because we agreed with him and partly because you have to see how far you can go with a new teacher.
When we'd finished he told us we were going to spend the last three weeks of the school year studying television.
We clapped and whistled some more.
âStarting with a project,' he said when the noise had died down. âTomorrow you start making your own TV programmes.'
We stared at him in stunned silence.
For a fleeting moment I thought that perhaps he was a brain-damaged high-school kid after all.
âHands up,' said Mr Segal, âwhose parents have got a video camera.'
Then we understood.
About half the class put their hands up.
I didn't. We can't afford a video camera. Not with an apple-polishing machine and a luxury nursery to pay for. But I was relieved to see Amanda with her hand up.
Mr Segal explained the project.
We've got to split into groups and we've got one week to make any TV programme we like as long as it's not rude or offensive to minority groups.
After the bell went, me and Amanda agreed to keep our group small.
Just her and me.
Then I saw Megan O'Donnell wandering around not in a group. I hate seeing kids left out of things just cause they're slow readers so I looked at Amanda and Amanda nodded and opened her mouth to ask Megan to join our group. Before she could, though, Megan was grabbed by Lucy and Raylene Shapiro who asked her to help them make a documentary about the human side of dry-cleaning.
It was for the best. Megan's a nice person but she can get pretty nervous and she wouldn't have been comfortable doing what I've got in mind.
âShall we do a comedy or a drama?' asked Amanda.
I told her I was thinking about something different and wrote it out so she'd get all the details first time.
âLet's do,' I said, âa fearless in-depth current affairs report exposing to the world Darryn Peck's heartless and brutal treatment of poor old Sticky.'
Amanda grinned and nodded.
âGreat,' she said, âit's just what he deserves. Who's Sticky?'
Sticky's really excited too.
I've just told him about the project.
I didn't tell him last night because I didn't want him to suffer the crushing disappointment if Amanda's parents said no about the video camera.
I needn't have worried.
Amanda came running into school this morning with a bag over her shoulder and a big grin on her face.
âI've got it,' she yelled.
Darryn Peck looked up from Trent Webster's video camera which he was trying to focus on a pimple on Doug Walsh's bottom.
âHope it's not catching,' he smirked.
He and his mates fell about.
Me and Amanda just smiled quietly to each other.
We resisted the temptation to tell him that soon he won't have much to laugh about because we didn't want him running off to South America and hiding.