Authors: Morris Gleitzman
I put my hand on Amanda's arm and gave her a look.
âRelax,' it said, âI haven't chucked a dessert for nearly a week.'
But that's not what was worrying Amanda.
âDad doesn't like animals in the shop,' she said quietly, ânot since Ray Hempel's cattle dog tried to round up all the suede jackets.'
I put Sticky's bucket down behind a rack of moleskin pants, partly so Mr Cosgrove wouldn't see Sticky if he came out of the cubicles, and partly so Sticky wouldn't have to listen to himself being compared to a dog.
Cockatoos mustn't like moleskin pants.
Either that or metal buckets.
Because just as Mr Cosgrove came out of the changing area and saw me and started looking nervous, there was the sound of fencing wire being ripped and suddenly Mr Cosgrove had something to be even more nervous about.
Sticky, flying screeching around the shop.
Amanda screamed, Mr Cosgrove yelled, and the customer, who was coming out of the cubicles doing up his pants, grabbed his briefcase and held it in front of his privates.
Sticky swooped down, snatched up a pair of orange and brown checked shorts from a table display, flew twice round the shop with them in his beak, and dropped them onto a pile of pink shirts.
âStop that,' yelled Mr Cosgrove.
I could understand why he was so upset, I've never liked orange and pink together either.
Then Mr Cosgrove noticed that Amanda was holding the video camera.
âSwitch it on,' he shouted at her. âThe insurance'll never believe us otherwise.'
I grabbed a towelling bathrobe and waited for Sticky to land so I could gather him up in it.
Sticky didn't land for quite a while, mostly because Mr Cosgrove kept throwing shoes at him and swiping at him with belts.
I pleaded with Amanda to get her dad to stop, but every time she tried to say something to him he yelled at her to keep on filming.
Sticky swooped round and round the shop, snatching up socks and ties and thermal underwear and knocking over piles of cardigans and footy tops.
By the time he finally landed on a rack of safari suits and I was able to get him into the bathrobe and then into the bucket and wire the chook mesh down securely, the shop was pretty untidy and Mr Cosgrove was an even brighter purple than Dad's wedding shirt.
âYour parents are gunna hear about this,' he roared as Amanda bundled me out of the shop.
âDon't worry,' Amanda said to me outside, âhe'll calm down once we get everything back in the right piles.'
I tried to be angry with Sticky on the way home, but I couldn't.
I glared at him a few times, and each time he went from mohawk to cowlick and looked down at the bottom of the bucket.
âThis poor mistreated bird,' he said, âhas suffered.'
I was pretty impressed. It was quite a mouthful, even if he had heard it thirty or forty times.
But it didn't change the fact that we'll have to finish the in-depth report without him. We can't creep up on Darryn Peck's place tomorrow with a deranged
swooping around flinging washing and dog food all over the place.
âFraid you'll have to stay put tomorrow,' I told Sticky as I shut him in his cage with fresh seed and water. âIt'll just be for one day.'
âI can't do it,' screeched Sticky. âI resign.'
I felt awful as I walked to the house.
I still do.
I should have been more honest with Sticky. I should have explained that if Mr Cosgrove rings Dad before tomorrow, we're both in deep cocky poo.
But then what's the point in us both having a knot in our guts the size of Uluru Rock including the car park, the kiosk, the motel, the air strip and all the rubbish bins?
It's eight-thirty and he hasn't rung yet.
Dad's just been in to say goodnight and if Mr Cosgrove had rung I know Dad would have said more than, âBy the way, how's the telly project going?'
I put my hands under the sheet.
âHas to be finished tomorrow, doesn't it?' he asked.
âThink you'll make it?' he asked.
âGood on you,' he said. âSounds like a top show, endangered wildlife. As long as you don't include codling moths.'
âG'night, Tonto,' said Dad. âI've got to get back to Claire. She's teaching me how to fold nappies her way.'
That was ten minutes ago.
My hands are still under the sheet, fingers crossed so tightly they feel like cocky claws.
I burnt the eggs this morning.
It's the first time I've ever done it, and I could see it made Ms Dunning suspicious.
âAre you OK, Ro?' she asked, but it wasn't the tone of voice your dad's wife uses, it was the tone of voice a teacher uses when you're daydreaming and burning the chemicals in science.
Or the eggs.
âSorry,' I said, blowing at the smoke, âI was miles away.'
That was a slight exaggeration.
In my head I'd only been three metres away, over by the phone, waiting for it to ring and Mr Cosgrove to say that he wasn't letting Amanda use his video camera anymore and that he had the address of a really good home for uncontrollable cockies and kids.
Ms Dunning and Dad went back to their conversation about babies' names.
âCaroline,' said Ms Dunning.
âCarla,' said Dad.
âAmelia,' said Ms Dunning.
âLeanne,' said Dad.
âLachlan,' said Ms Dunning.
âClarrie,' said Dad.
âOur neighbours had a turtle called Clarrie,' said Ms Dunning.
âMy dad's name was Clarrie,' said Dad.
âI'm not really hungry,' I said. âBye.'
As I left the house the phone still hadn't rung.
I decided Mr Cosgrove must still have been tidying up the shop.
I could hardly breathe by the time I got to the end of Darryn Peck's street in case Amanda wasn't there or was there but didn't have the camera.
She was there.
She had the camera.
âI reminded Dad you're a disadvantaged person,' said Amanda. âSorry.'
I gave her a hug.
Normally I'd have been ropeable, but sometimes you have to be lenient when a clever and generous best friend's trying to stop your life from going down the dunny.
Even if later the same day it ends up down there anyway.
Getting into Darryn Peck's place was easier today than it would have been six months ago because six months ago his three big brothers were still living at home and there was always at least one of them lying in the front yard under a motorbike with a spanner at all hours of the day and night.
This morning the front yard was empty except for a few bushes near the front door.
Me and Amanda went and crouched in them, camera and clipboard at the ready.
âHe's definitely still in the house,' said Amanda, using her hands. âI've been at the end of the street since six-thirty.'
She's incredible. She'll be on national television by the time she's twenty-three.
After I finished telling her that, we headed for the front door.
Then I had a thought.
âIf he sees us ringing the bell,' I said, dragging Amanda back into the bushes, âhe could lock himself in the bathroom. We've got to take him by surprise. Round the back.'
We crept along the side of the house, ducking under the windows, and peered round the corner into the back yard.
Darryn's mother was kneeling at a small table just outside the back door, making strange noises.
âOochy, oochy, oochy,' she went. âGoo, goo, goo, goo, goo.'
It sounded like she was feeding a baby. I knew she hadn't had a baby recently, but for a sec I thought maybe she was feeding someone else's as a part-time job.
Then she moved a bit and I saw it wasn't a baby but the poodle, which was standing on the table looking bored while she combed its curls with a tiny comb.
âWho's a beautiful girl then?' cooed Mrs Peck.
The dog didn't answer, but I could see it eyeing Mrs Peck's hairdo, which was very similar to its own, and wishing it had a tiny comb too.
Then Mr Peck came out of the house and started making baby noises as well.
âGa, ga, ga, ga, ga, ga, ga, ga, ga, ga,' said Mr Peck.
You don't often hear a forklift-truck operator talking like that.
I could feel Amanda shaking with silent laughter and I put my hand over her mouth just in case.
Mr Peck tilted the poodle's head up and pushed its legs a bit further apart. âFirst prize,' he said, speaking into his fist, âgoes to Amelia Peck Hyloader The Third.'
Then me and Amanda stiffened.
Darryn was coming out of the house.
He stood watching his parents, shoulders drooping.
Then he took a deep breath and spoke.
âDad,' he said, âwhy can't we go to the cricket tomorrow? You promised.'
Mr Peck answered without looking up from the poodle. âYou know why,' he said. âWe've got Amelia in the show.'
Darryn's shoulders drooped even further. âYou've got her in a show every Saturday,' he said bitterly.
âDon't raise your voice to your father,' said Mrs Peck, not looking up either, âit's making the dog nervous.'
Darryn looked at his parents for a moment and then turned and walked towards us.
We flattened ourselves against the fibro but he came round the corner with his head down and walked straight past us.
Amanda nudged me and headed after him. I switched the camera on and by the time they were halfway across the front lawn I had them both in focus.
âDarryn Peck,' said Amanda in her best reporter voice, âis it true that you ditched your faithful cockatoo for a poodle?'
Darryn swung round.
âI hate that poodle,' he shouted, âI've always hated it.'
Then he realised who he was talking to and froze.
That's when I saw the tears in his eyes.
Darryn Peck was crying.
I turned the camera off.
âBut you did abandon a cockatoo,' persisted Amanda, before she felt me gripping her arm and saw Darryn's tears and realised it was time to shut
âYeah, what of it?' Darryn said, but his heart wasn't in it.
He looked so helpless and unhappy I wanted to put my arms round him.
Then he took a step forward and for a sec I thought he was going to grab the camera and hurl it over the neighbour's fence.
Instead he turned and ran into the house.
Amanda and me looked at each other.
âWe could do an in-depth report on Darryn's parents,' she said quietly.
I shook my head.
It wouldn't change anything.
We walked into town without saying much and when we got to school I gave her the camera and she gave me a hug and I set off for home.
I'm almost there.
I'm hurrying so I can see as much of Dad as possible in the little bit of time left before the baby's born, because afterwards I'm going to be pretty busy with the club.
The club I'm going to start.
It's got four members already.
Me, Sticky, Darryn Peck and Mr Shapiro's old van.
I could tell something was wrong as soon as I walked into the house.
Ms Dunning's Jelly Custard Surprise, the one she'd made for the Show, was sitting on the kitchen table without a flyscreen over it.
I knew she'd never leave it like that on purpose because everyone knows you can't win a prize in the Cakes And Puddings section if you've got fly footprints in your whipped cream.
Then Dad and Ms Dunning came into the kitchen and I could tell from their furious faces they had something more important on their minds than dessert.
For a while they just stood there glaring at me, and I realised they were struggling to control themselves.
By the time Dad finally spoke in a tight angry voice my heart was thumping faster than the fridge motor.
âI'm very disappointed in you, Ro,' he said.
âWe're both very disappointed in you,' said Ms Dunning.
My mind was racing.
Had Mr Segal rung up asking why I wasn't at school?
Had Darryn gone out into the back yard and strangled the poodle and his parents were blaming me?
âWe agreed you'd take that cockatoo back,' shouted Dad, âdidn't we?'
Uluru Rock hit me in the guts.
They'd found Sticky.
I started to ask if he was OK but the words froze on my hands.
Because I saw what Dad had on his hands.
I couldn't believe it.
I'd seen him shoot at birds in the old days, before we had nets in the orchard, but now he's a big supporter of all the wildlife on the protected list.
Obviously poor old Sticky wasn't on his list.
Suddenly Uluru Rock wasn't in my guts any more, it was in my head and it had gone volcanic and I couldn't stop myself.
I wanted to shout and yell and scream, but all I could do was fling my hands around faster than I ever have before.
Hand movements might be hard to understand sometimes, but when they're that big and that fast everyone knows you're shouting.
âIt's not fair!' I yelled. âYou're having a baby, why can't I have a cocky?'
Dad opened his mouth to answer but I hadn't finished.
âWhy do you need a baby anyway?' I shouted. âYou've got me. What's wrong with me?'
Through my tears I saw Dad close his mouth.
âThat's why you're having one, isn't it?' I yelled, banging my elbow on the fireplace. âIt's because there's something wrong with me. Isn't it? Isn't it?'
Dad and Ms Dunning were staring at me, stunned, so I thumped my fist down on the table to jolt them out of it.
The Jelly Custard Surprise wobbled.
I grabbed it and lifted it above my head and braced my legs to hurl it against the kitchen dresser as hard as I could.