Saturday, February 11

The Milk That Killed The Chick

MY NEIGHBOUR’S house had been vacant for some time. They had had enough money to move out without seeing through the buying process. They moved to a small nearby town and my mother and brother still went to visit them on account of my mother and her being friends. Their vacant drive was pretty good for playing on because it was such smooth tarmac.
One day during this vacancy we were playing outside the house. Inside the wallpaper and the curtains and the carpets were still there. The furniture was gone, of course, but we stared in through the window and it looked very strange to us. We played a simple game and had fun. There were not many of us and none of us were very tall or old.
During the middle of our game someone spotted something and they pointed it out. A child’s mind is inquisitive, and quicker to follow a pointed finger at the end of an outstretched arm.
At the foot of the house, on the right angle of the smoothly tarmac’d drive and the rough red brick, was a small chick. It was very young; there were hardly any feathers on it, its nervous sharp beak possessed plump yellow lips, and its startled eyes bore holes through us. We approached it and it squeaked at us to leave it alone; it squeaked for its mother. As far as we cared, it was fair game. It was on earth now, out of the nest, and we were to look after it.
We stared. It shook its head from side to side, measured us up, squeaked incessant warnings—which were not heeded—and told us in its infant tongue to leave it alone otherwise we would be sorry.
“It musta fell out its nest.”
“Yeah.”
We looked up to the eaves of the vacant house. Over the rim of the black plastic guttering were the loose strands of a nest. The stupid thing had climbed too hard, had tried to fly too soon, had bounced and landed itself in front of a load of heavy-handed humans who are always looking for distractions.
The chick shat and squeaked. We giggled at the shit and then giggled some more when it dragged its ugly blossoming plumage through it.
“Let’s take care of it.”
That was the best idea any of us had had all day.
One of us reached down and picked up the chick, which squeaked maniacally at us but we didn’t listen. It tried to peck us. We took it into my back garden, round the side gate.
“I’ll go find an old shoebox,” said my brother, and he ran off into the house.
The cupped hands opened and the chick squeaked some more at us.
“Go get some grass.”
“Some straw, if you can.”
“Yeah, get some straw.”
“I’ve got some straw for my rabbit.”
“Perfect. Get that.”
We furnished the new-smelling shoebox with the straw and plumped it up good enough for the chick so that it would not hurt itself. Then, with some care, we put the chick into the box. It looked up at us. It squeaked—“Is this it?” at us. It probably wondered how humans ever built the Golden Gate Bridge or flew to the Moon. We were not birds; we were kids; we did not know how to make nests.
“It needs some food.”
“Yeah, they eat a lot. Do you ever see those nature shows? All they do is sit in their nest and squawk at their mum until it brings worms and then they woof the worm down and start squawking again until their mum brings another worm. They’re right greedy.”
“Well, this one’s our problem now.”
“Where we gonna get a worm from?”
“I dunno.”
“Bread’ll do.”
“And milk. Babies drink milk.”
“Yeah, put some chopped up bread in a saucer with some milk.”
“Perfect. Get that.”
We did so. The bread softened in the milk and we put it down in the shoebox for the bird. Again, it looked at us—“Is this it?” We didn’t know where to find worms. Have the milk and bread.
Lunch was called and all of us ran to our houses to eat. The chick in the shoebox was put into our playhouse where nothing could get to it. It would be very safe in there. All of us were very anxious to leave the chick alone. Between us all we wanted to be the parent. We wanted, each of us, to be the chick’s favourite parent.
After lunch my brother and I went rushing back to the playhouse to check on the chick. We were very excited to see it again. As we flung open the door and cast our eyes down to the shoebox, we knew what had happened.
In the corner of the cardboard the chick had died. It was on its side, its eyes closed, its small fragile breast of quivering bones no longer quivering. We stared in disbelief. It was next to the saucer of milk and bread.
Our friends were very upset to hear the news. They circled around the shoebox and paid their respects in their own special way, heads bowed, hands together.
We took the chick out to the fields to bury it. The hole was not very deep but all of us agreed that it was as good a send-off as any.

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