fiction | Eva Sallis

193 coverOVERLAND 193
summer 2008

ISBN
978-0-9805346-0-3
published 19 November 2008


LIFE SENTENCE

YEARS! YEARS!’

None of the birds come down when I call to them.

This side that side … this …

I got a dove, once. There were grey feathers and blood all over the cage. Mister Kitson was a young man, then. He said ‘Ha Ha’ when he saw the shredded dove. I could tell he was pleased. Mister Kitson used to scratch the skin under my feathers and call me Coco. He used to pull the feather casings away, gently.

I loved him.

‘YEARS! “Hello Cocky. Come to Mister Kitson.”’

Mister Kitson is old, old. I can see it in his walk. I can smell old on him. His hands are thick and clumsy. He’s getting slow and I’ll get him, one of these days. Years, years ago, I got him. I sank my beak into his wrist, breaking the skin and then rocking and grinding my jaw until I felt the bone. I can still see the mark.

This side that side this … side.

I watch that mark when he puts the seed in. He knows I watch it.

‘YEARS, YEARS. “Mister Kitson!”’

I thought I’d get out once but I enjoyed slowly bending the bars more than getting out and missed my chance. I hate this new cage! When Mister Kitson’s young was here, big and raw-sex smelling, he noticed, and Mister Kitson brought a new cage. Years. Years ago.

‘YEARS! YEARS!’

It itches. I don’t really like the pain, but I so want to bite Mister Kitson that I practise, I practise. I wonder how he finds my plucked black skin. I wonder if he likes it. Smooth, blue-black. Scabs too, just like his. Mister Kitson’s old skin is red, wrinkled and scabby. I wonder if he ever put his hand in, whether I would caress it rather than shell it. Maybe I would pick his scabs, if he let me.

‘YEARS! YEEEAARS!’

The birds avoid me.

I haven’t seen Mister Kitson’s mate for years. This gives me hope. There has been no sign nor sound from her. I’m glad but I miss frightening her. ‘YEARS YEARS,’ I screamed at her, and then swung around my perch when she shrieked back.

‘“Come dingle my dangle,”’ I’d say in Mister Kitson’s voice. Years ago now, she drenched me with water from the hose. I hated her but it’s been years. Mister Kitson – I need to bite him, deep to the bone and hold on.

‘“Mister Kitson!”’

He brings seed every morning at the same time. I wait from dawn watching through the leaves, listening. I can’t see the house any more from my cage. The plants have thickened and filled the space, long ago. The peppercorn now keeps the sun away and I live in the shade against its huge trunk. I have spent a long time shredding at that trunk through the bars, making long scored grooves. If the bars were wider, I’d have hollowed it out beautifully, over the years. If I had been able to make a Hollow, he might have loved me. Now I can’t reach the tree without hurting my face, but I still do sometimes. THE DEEPEST HOLLOW IS FOR THEE BEST BELOVED. I found that in my mind one morning, but I can’t make my tongue say it.

‘YEARS, YEARS.’

I have carefully bared the skin on the underside of my wings as a surprise for him. Feather by feather.

I flashed them for him.

‘“Hello! Close the Door!” YEARS YEARS!’

He was cautious. He made no sign that he noticed.

He slid the metal tray out, put the seeds in the bowl, slid it in. I danced my new wings for him, flapped hard. ‘YEARS!’

He walked slowly away and I shrieked meaningless stuff at him. I shelled my seeds, slowly, hoping now that some fool would flap in and try to steal some.

#

I heard her this morning long before I saw her. She was calling across the gardens and houses in a ringing voice:

‘HEY, ANYONE IN THESE PARTS? HEY!’

I could tell she was young, confident.

‘I’M ALONE, I’M FAST, I’M STRONG, I’M BEAUTIFUL!’ she called out.

It was a long time since I had heard that. I tried to answer, but my tongue couldn’t remember anything. All I could say was ‘“YEARS YEARS Mister Kitson!”’ It sounded all wrong and I was very distressed. I was sure she wouldn’t come.

But she did. I heard the windrush of her white wings in the peppercorn and there she was, staring down at me. She was … perfect. I was excited for a second, and then I was angry. She held back, saying nothing. Then she inclined to me, but I glared at her and didn’t respond. She inclined again, and I raised my plucked wings at her and hissed. She looked taken aback, and sat still. I had wanted her to visit, but now that I saw her I wanted her gone. She was beautiful. Her wing strokes were strong, and her breast pure white and filled. Her yellow underwings gleamed. I was upset about my bare black skin, my featherlessness. I could see in her shining eyes that I was ugly. I was shaking. I suddenly hated her and Mister Kitson. I wanted to kill her. I made some noises at her that I knew she would never have heard before, and I felt good when she looked uncertain.

‘“Kiss kiss kiss! Mister Kitson!”’

I imagined getting hold of one of those perfect wings. I would break the bone, Oh yes. I suddenly inclined to her, remembering that this might be the best way to lure her close, but the rage in my heart was too much for me and I couldn’t keep it up. If she had come nearer, I would have shredded and shelled her, like the dove.

Then Mister Kitson made it much worse. He came out the back door. She raised her wings, but didn’t fly off. He crooned in delight, as he had once crooned to me, long, long ago. He went back in and got her some seeds. I leapt from side to side in rage and grief, shrieking and slamming my wings at her. All I could think was Mister Kitson’s mate was only a few years dead, and I couldn’t bear this again. And she was so beautiful.

‘YEARS YEARS YEARS YEARS!’ I shrieked, feeling deep into my mind but getting nothing.

Then, suddenly, I could say it. I stopped still to hold it in my mind, and then I leaned close and looked her in the eye. It came from my throat and thick tongue, broken and slow:

‘YOU ARE A THIRD AND IN A HOLLOW THERE CAN ONLY BE TWO.’

She looked at me in bewilderment, and then in disgust, I think. She groomed herself for a moment, ignoring me. Then she flew low over me and away, crying out to the trees and sky: ‘THERE IS NO-ONE HERE.’

Her sweet white dust fell all over me and my heart tumbled in bitter confusion. Mister Kitson came back, looked around and then gave me the seed. He murmured gently to me. He seemed sad. I tried, as usual, to bite him.

#

I don’t feel good.

This side that side this side that side this side that side.

‘YEARS, YEARS,’ but I only hiss it. It was a bad night last night. I couldn’t sleep. The blue and red lights and the noise and flashing woke me, and after that I had a bad feeling until the predawn. The birdsong was unchanged, but I could tell that Mister Kitson would not be coming. There were no sounds. Mister Kitson’s house always made small familiar sounds with Mister Kitson in it. This morning it is silent. I am still waiting for my seed but I can tell that he is not coming.

There has been utter silence for three days. This morning there are banging noises in the house, but none of them sound like Mister Kitson. I am weak from hunger and thirst.

‘“Hello Coco! Mister kiss kiss kiss!” YEARS YEARS.’

I say it softly to myself. I can’t think of anything else to say. I am tired and weak, so I just rock this side that side.

Suddenly Mister Kitson’s young bangs out of the door, and comes along the garden path. I wait. I know he can’t see me. The trees are ancient and overgrown and my cage is hidden in the lianas against the peppercorn. I wait. Then, when he is right next to me, I leap at him, slamming the bars and screaming,

‘YEARS YEARS!’

He shrieks in terror and shudders all over. It would have been very gratifying but I am too tired to enjoy it. He mutters guttural and meaningless sounds. He has never liked me. The feeling is mutual.

His fingers are trembling as he slides the metal bar out of the lock. I have not heard that sound now for many years. I can’t think, really, how many. ‘YEARS,’ I whisper to him, but he won’t look at me. I think about lunging at him through the open door and latching on. But I don’t. I am too tired. I make myself cute to see if I can get close enough to bite him. But still he won’t look at me. I look down at my bloody chest and blue-black skin. I am probably no longer cute, no matter what I do.

Then the most amazing thing happens. Mister Kitson’s young just walks away, rapidly, and disappears into the house. I hear him pass through noisily to the front, and then he is gone. The house is again completely silent. I am dizzy. I don’t move.

All I ever wanted was Mister Kitson and I know he is dead.

My cage door is open.

I stare at the sky and hold tight to my perch.

#

‘Hello Cocky, beautiful girl. Come to Mister Kitson.’

I sail on wide white wings through the young garden. I uproot Mister Kitson’s seedling peppercorn and he taps me affectionately on the beak. I ride on the front of his bicycle, wings outstretched, as we go down to the creek to get another.

‘I’M FAST, I’M STRONG, I’M BEAUTIFUL!’ I call out.

‘Kiss Kiss!’ says Mister Kitson, and I reach up and kiss him on the mouth.

© Eva Sallis
Overland
193-summer 2008, p. 52

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