Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The parrot did it.

Henry kicked at the kerb. He wasn’t happy. There was another bill in the letterbox this morning, and it had come with a lawyer’s letter threatening action.

A parrot was in the tree opposite, plucking at a cord of string which had lashed a poster of a missing child to the rotting trunk. “Missing!” The poster had proclaimed. Eventually the cardboard had perished under the stress of wind, rain and sun, but no replacement had ever declared “Found!” so Henry had no idea if the child was safe with her family, or deep under the red soil somewhere.

The parrot eyed him with one round eye as it tugged and twisted at the string. It was a tired-looking bird, with feathers missing from its neck and a dull, chipped bill.

Bills. There it was again.

He’d had to go down to the office three times now, sit waiting on the cracked vinyl chairs for the man with the grey suit and the sweat-stained shirt to come out and hand him still more piles of paper listing demands, dates and threats of consequences. He wasn’t a sympathetic man.

In the corner of sweaty-man’s office was a shrine of framed photographs. They showed him in holiday mode, posing next to various animals and birds. Even the animals appeared to be leaning away from his acrid smell in the pictures. He didn’t look as relaxed as you’d expect in the holiday snaps, but a little ill at ease, as if he wasn’t sure how to act. Perhaps if he’d been threatening the animals with community service or prison time he’d have felt more at home.

As Henry turned back to the house, he heard a voice. “Henry”, it called. “Henry, Henry”.

He looked both ways up the street, but the kids at one end were engrossed in trying to set fire to something- probably an ant’s nest, and the only other person around was an older woman who appeared to be leaning on her front gate, framed by honeysuckle plants, although he suspected her back was bent with the weight of seventy years and advanced osteoporosis.

That only left the bird.

“Henry”, it called.

He turned and crossed the street, wondering if perhaps the extra whisky he’d had last night had not been soaked up by the boiled eggs he’s choked down with toast, despite the post-binge gagging he’d felt.

The bird cocked its head and stuck out its tongue. Lifted its wings like an angelic chameleon.

It flew a few metres and rested on a fence. He followed.

It flew again, this time settling on the grille of the storm drain. The heavy rains had lifted it from its frame slightly, and a torrent surged below, a churning mass of filthy brown water. Foam gathered on the bars.

It was a river of, of, of BEER! Henry laughed to himself, as he pushed the parrot to one side. Stripping down to his underwear, he lifted the grille.

The parrot seemed to grin at him as it nodded, happily. “Bye, Henry!” it said.

Henry eased himself into the foaming mess and drank deeply. The current caught him, and he let himself disappear under the road. As the daylight fizzed into darkness, he thought he saw a little girl looking down at him and laughing. He could almost hear her, and he was happy, as her laughter drowned out the mantra of bills, bills, bills which he’d had playing through his mind for what seemed like... forever.