Authors: Morris Gleitzman
But I didn't.
Because as Dad and Ms Dunning raised their hands in front of their faces I saw two things.
The blood on Dad's hands was coming from several small cuts on his palms and fingers.
And gripped in Ms Dunning's hands were several splinters of wood with bits of sleepy bunny on them.
Even as I pushed past Dad and Ms Dunning I knew what I'd find in the nursery. When I got in there it was even worse than I'd imagined.
The floor was littered with splintered pieces of bashful koala.
Torn shreds of playful dolphin were strewn over what was left of the baby's cot.
Frayed ribbons of friendly possum hung from the curtain rail.
The light shade was a tattered wreck with barely a scrap of goanna left that you'd recognise as being happy-go-lucky.
âThat vicious cheese-brain tore the place apart,' shouted Dad furiously behind me, âI tried to grab the brute but it pecked my hands and flew off.'
âIt was in a frenzy,' said Ms Dunning.
âYou've had it cooped up somewhere around here, haven't you?' demanded Dad.
I thrust the Jelly Custard Surprise at Dad and ran out of the house.
Dad shouted at me but as I ran down the verandah steps I heard Ms Dunning telling him to let me go.
I didn't care.
All I wanted was to find Sticky.
I went to the old shed but the cage was empty and a panel of chook-wire fencing was hanging loose. I kicked it and said some rude things in my head about people who spend so much money on baby things that they haven't got enough left over to buy decent cocky-proof tying wire.
Then I went looking for Sticky.
That was hours ago.
I've been all through the orchard and all round the creek and up the tree where I first found him and halfway into town.
I couldn't call his name of course so I had to make do with rattling some seed in his tin.
Pretty hopeless, because anyone can rattle seed in a tin.
Darryn Peck or Dad or Mr Cosgrove, with an apple or a gun or a noose made from a tape measure behind their back.
No wonder I couldn't find him.
He's probably migrated to Indonesia or Sulawesi or somewhere.
So I've just been sitting here, in his cage, looking at the remains of the pictures I drew him.
I really loved that cocky, even though he chewed everything up.
I haven't felt this lonely since Erin died. She was my best friend at the special school I used to go to and she was crook a lot but it was still a terrible shock when she died.
I felt pretty bad then too, but at least then I had a dad who really loved me.
I thought I'd managed to sneak into bed without being spotted but Dad came in.
I kept my head under the pillow but I knew it was him because he flicks his belt buckle with his thumbnail when he's nervous.
He stood there for ages without saying anything.
I guessed he wasn't angry any more. When Dad's angry you always know about it. At least he and Sticky had one thing in common.
Dad still didn't say anything.
For a moment I thought he was pausing for effect like he usually does before announcing a big surprise, but he wasn't.
When he finally spoke it wasn't âWe're having the baby adopted', it was âTonto, are you awake?'
I didn't move.
He went out.
In the old days, before his head was full of new ways to fold nappies, he'd have asked at least twice.
Then Ms Dunning came in.
I knew it was her because when she sat down the bed springs sagged violently. They're fine with one person on them but not three.
I kept my head under the pillow.
She didn't ask if I was awake, but that was probably because she's a teacher. Teachers always assume you'll be awake once they start talking.
âRo,' she said, âI've got something to tell you. Dad wasn't sure if you should know this, but I think you should.'
I held my breath.
Teachers must do training in how to grab your attention without using loud music or explosive devices.
âBut first, Ro,' Ms Dunning said, âwe're not trying to replace you. We'd never do that.'
I stuck my hands out from under the sheet and made the sign me and Dad invented for a defective apple.
Ms Dunning put her hands over mine.
âYou're not defective,' she said. âYou've got a speech problem you handle like a champ and if the baby's born with a similar speech problem I know it'll handle it like a champ too.'
That got me out from under the pillow.
I rolled over and stared at Ms Dunning.
A similar speech problem?
For a sec I thought Ms Dunning was having another vague spell and had got her words mixed up, but then I saw from the expression on her face that she hadn't.
âIt's possible,' she said. âThe doctors have never told you this, but they reckon they know why you were born mute.'
I stared at her even harder.
I'd asked the doctors that a million times and each time they'd said I was a Medical Mystery and given me a lolly.
âThey reckon,' continued Ms Dunning, âit's because of some genetic problem that's been in either your dad's family or your mum's family for generations. They don't know which.'
My brain was going like a GT Falcon with twin injectors.
If it was Dad's that would explain why he'd never told me.
If I was him I'd be too embarrassed to yak on about something like that as well.
âIf it's a problem on Dad's side,' Ms Dunning went on, âthen the baby could be born mute too.'
We looked at each other for a while.
I didn't know what to say.
Ms Dunning looked pretty sad.
She leant over and kissed me on the cheek. âWe decided to tell you because we want you to feel better,' she murmured. Then she went out.
I've been lying here for a long time, staring into the darkness.
I've been thinking how, if the baby's born mute, I can help it.
Teach it sign language.
Show it how to write really fast so it can get its order in to the school tuck shop before all the devon and chutney sandwiches are gone.
Demonstrate what you have to do with your nose when you're cheering your best friend up with a look.
I've also been thinking what great parents I've got.
Well, good parents.
Well, their hearts are in the right place.
Even though I brandished a Jelly Custard Surprise at them in the kitchen and my pet cocky murdered all their sleepy bunnies, they still want me to feel better.
I know I should feel better, but I don't.
Because even dads with hearts in the right place are only human.
And if that baby talks, what chance have I got?
It's a funny thing, the human brain.
I don't mean to look at, though I saw one in a jar once in a museum and it did look a bit weird, like scrambled eggs when you don't wash the mushroom juice out of the pan first.
I mean the way it works.
When I woke up this morning I decided I'd spend the day helping Dad and Ms Dunning clean up the baby's room.
While I was getting dressed I had the thought that if we pulled the old shed apart and sanded the wood we could probably build some pretty good baby furniture out of it.
While I was tying my left shoe I remembered my softball bat. We could sell that and use the money to buy blue and pink paint.
Then, while I was tying my right shoe, I forgot about all those things totally and completely.
Because I started thinking about Darryn Peck.
I was sitting on the bed bending over, so perhaps the blood sloshing around in my head made my brain short-circuit or something.
Or perhaps I was just trying to take my mind off Sticky.
Anyway once I started thinking about him I couldn't stop.
I thought about how Darryn and me are in the same boat.
I thought about the poodle.
I thought about how much easier it'd be to compete with two kilos of curly fluff and a squeaky bark than with a kid who'll probably be singing opera by the age of three.
I thought about how I wished I could swap places with Darryn, and what I'd do if I was in his shoes, and how he'd probably never think of doing the same because he's not real bright.
Then I thought about him crying and my guts felt strange and I don't think it was because I hadn't had any dinner.
Dad and Ms Dunning were still asleep.
I wrote them a note, left it on the kitchen table, grabbed a couple of cold apple fritters from the fridge and slipped out of the house.
On my way into town I thought about how weird the human brain is.
There I was, on what was possibly my last morning ever as a single kid, walking away from possibly my last ever morning cuddle with Dad without some noisy brat yodelling in our ears and dribbling on his shirt.
Just to save Darryn Peck from a life of misery.
It was still early when I reached town and the main street was almost deserted. Just a couple of shopkeepers hosing the footpath and Mr Shapiro polishing his new van.
He called me over.
I hesitated, wondering if he was going to hand me a bill for burnt-out dry-cleaning machines, but he smiled and beckoned.
âGood on you, love,' he said, and gave me two dollars.
I spent it in the newsagents on a new notepad and pen because getting through to Darryn Peck can involve a lot of writing. Particularly when he's still ropeable about being ambushed with a camera and sprung with tears in his eyes.
When I got to Darryn's place I rang the bell and stood there holding up the first note.
âDon't do anything violent,' it said, âuntil you've read this note. I'm here to help you avoid a life of misery. There will be no charge for this service.'
Darryn opened the door in his pyjamas.
He stared at me, ignoring the note completely, and took a menacing step towards me.
âYou can't have him,' he said.
I took a step back, wondering what he was talking about.
Then I heard a distant voice and I knew.
âGo suck a turnip,' said the voice.
I pushed past Darryn and ran through the house, past a startled Mr and Mrs Peck who were at the kitchen table shampooing the poodle.
I burst out of the back door and there in the corner of the yard was a big cage and sitting on a branch in one corner calling me a big fat wobbly bottom was Sticky.
Darryn ran past me and into the cage and grabbed Sticky off his perch and held him tightly.
âHe's mine,' said Darryn fiercely.
âYou dumped him,' I scribbled on my pad, just as fiercely.
âDarryn,' shouted his father from the back door, âif you're letting that bird out keep it away from Amelia.'
Darryn's face sagged.
âI only dumped him for them,' he said, nodding towards the kitchen. âI reckoned things might be better if they thought I was shifting over to poodles.'
He looked bitterly towards the kitchen.
âFat chance,' he said.
âDarryn,' shouted his father, âAmelia's having a sleep on your bed. Don't disturb her.'
Darryn gave Sticky a hug.
âI should never have done it,' he said sadly. âBut Sticky's forgiven me, haven't you mate.'
âDrop off a log,' said Sticky.
âSee,' said Darryn, beaming, âhe's talking to me now.'
He gave Sticky another hug and I had to admit it did look as though Sticky had forgiven him. He wasn't shredding Darryn's ears or anything.
For a sec I was tempted to grab Sticky and run for it and hide out for a couple of years, just him and me, on a deserted island off the Philippines, but I decided against it.
Sticky gave me a look. âThanks for everything,' it said, âbut I'm home now.'
Darryn let me have a couple of private minutes with Sticky to say goodbye.
We both got pretty moist in the eyes, Sticky and me, and while I was showing him a picture of me coming to visit him often, and he was telling me to bite my bum, I made a promise to myself that one day I'll have a cocky all of my own.
It occurred to me, as Darryn was putting Sticky back into the cage, that Ms Dunning had probably felt the same way about having a baby.
Then I took Darryn for a long walk and wrote him lots of notes and slowly he grasped my plan to save him from a life of misery.
He was a bit doubtful at first, but when we got here to the showground he realised what a great plan it is.
Everything's set up, Darryn's in position, people have started arriving, and we're just waiting now for the mayor to declare the Agricultural Show open.
The plan didn't work.
I still can't believe it.
Everything went as smoothly as a well-oiled apple-polishing machine and the plan still didn't work.
I waited till the judging had started in the Dog tent, then I wheeled the extra display stand in.
Mr and Mrs Peck were so busy fussing about with their poodle that they didn't notice me getting into position next to them at the end of the row of dogs.
I timed it spot on.
Just as the judges were inspecting Amelia Peck Hyloader The Third, I whipped the cover off my stand.
The judges moved on, peered over their clipboards, and the blood drained from their faces.
It was probably the first time they'd seen a boy on a dog display stand.
Darryn was brilliant.
He panted and got up on all fours and looked at his parents with mournful eyes and let his tongue loll out.
He looked exactly like a boy whose parents treat him worse than a dog.
That's when everything went wrong.
Mr and Mrs Peck didn't sweep him up in their arms and weep and say how sorry they were and promise never to boot him out of his room again when the poodle wanted a nap.