I quite like animals. I really do. I also like to think that they like me but sometimes they don’t and this story is about one such occurrence.
I grew up with animals. Lots of them. My parents ensured I wasn’t one of those maladjusted social retards who freaks out at the sight of a puppy by surrounding us with cats and dogs and other animals. I lived in the small mining towns of Central Queensland and as such had plenty of furry playmates with which I could dress up and parade around the living room. We even had a kangaroo and an emu, both of which sadly ‘ran away because the gate was left open’. Telling my sister and I that an animal had ‘run away because the gate was left open’ was my parent’s way of avoiding the topic of the horrific death from diarrhoea that our emu (Eddie) and our kangaroo (Joey) died from. We never questioned the repeated careless gate maintenance that occurred all too frequently at the Thompson household but since we barely closed our front door it was quite feasible that an open gate should occur and a sickly native animal could escape.
We also had other more generic animals. We had a tomcat that sired an entire population of feral cats in Central Qld and a one-eyed spaniel-cross that detested men. We also had a budgerigar called Blinky. We called him Blinky because he blinked a lot. We weren’t very imaginative people when it came to naming our pets; our fluffy tomcat was called Fluffy. Blinky was a cool bird that, despite blinking like a nervous junkie on dole-day, used to mimic the whistle of a boiling kettle. A talented bird indeed. I loved all of our animals and they loved me. Not once did I have a bad animal experience as a child. Recently I had an experience that changed all of this. A bad bird experience. We’ve all had them but possibly none as terrifying as this.
A few weekends ago I ventured out to a local nursery to buy some native plants. We like native plants because they don’t require the coddling that other plants do. This is a good thing because I am next to useless in the garden and there is less of a chance of me killing a plant if I don’t have to touch it or whisper encouraging words to it. I’m also like the Ivan Milat of the gardening world. I am generally harmless but every now and then I go on a bit of a rampage with the lawn mower or line trimmer and we are soon missing a few plants. I also bury them behind the shed in shallow graves but I digress.
Micky went off looking for grevilleas and I was carrying my son around looking at the pretty fountains and cacti. It wasn’t long after we separated that Ollie spied a bird in the shop. A galah to be exact. He wanted to look at the pretty birdie and I obliged. I walked over and noticed that this bird wasn’t in a cage. He was on a stand and was grooming himself and looking relaxed as some birds do. There was a sign around the stand that said the following:
My name is Aussie. I am quite tame and enjoy being scratched!
Ollie and I admired Aussie for a bit and we indulged in some head bobbing and Aussie dutifully replied with some head bobbing of his own. I felt we had developed a nice relationship here so I reached out to give Aussie a scratch. My hand got about 20cm from Aussie when, quick as a flash, this pink and white terrorist flew onto my arm and then raced up to my shoulder where he bit the fuck out of my ear. I was carrying Ollie in my other arm and I didn’t want to alarm him by screaming in terror so I said “Oh gee whizz. Will you look at that? Aussie is playing. Ha, ha. He’s playing with Daddy’s ear. Ha, ha…” I put Ollie down so I could attend to the situation of a large bird being attached to my head by its beak but Aussie took this opportunity to let go of my ear and latch onto my neck. Now, there’s a spot on a person’s back where it is next to impossible to reach with either hand. Some people develop an itch in this spot and relieve it with a stick, a ruler or a supportive friend. This is the spot that Aussie had targeted as his ‘attack zone’ but instead of an annoying itch in this spot I had 300 grams of malevolent bird burrowing into my spinal column.
It was at this point that I realised I had a bit of a problem. I couldn’t straighten up because Aussie would bite harder so I was bent over with this fucking bird gnawing into a chunk of man-neck. I looked like a bald hunchback with Tourrette’s auditioning for ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. And that is kind of what my son thought I was doing. As I spun around in a circle trying to dislodge this neck-eating bird my son was clapping and yelling out “Daddy is dancing with the funny birdie!” Bless him. What I was actually trying to do was get rid of the bird without screaming or swearing too loudly and scaring my son or anyone else in the shop. I looked for something to rub this bird off on but I was in the cacti section and didn’t fancy a bout of acupuncture to go along with a serving of avian mauling.
I spied the lady who worked in the nursery. Ah! I’m sure she can help. I grabbed my son’s hand and hobbled over to the lady, Aussie still biting the shit out of my neck with his beak and grappling for purchase on my bent back with his sharp claws. She looked at me and said “Can I help you?”
I replied with “Can you help me? What the fuck do you reckon you stupid bitch! I didn’t walk in with this fucking feathered velociraptor attached to my neck!”
Of course I didn’t say anything of the sort. I didn’t want to draw any undue attention to myself and I also didn’t want to raise my voice with my child in earshot. I said to her “As a matter of fact yes, you can help me. I seem to be having a slight problem with your bird. You see, he’s biting my neck and I am in a bit of pain. Could you be so kind and remove him from me before I start bleeding everywhere?”
She looked at me with those dead flat eyes that morons have everywhere and peered over my shoulder to see what the issue was. She then said “Oh, that’s Aussie. I’m not touching him. He bites people”
He bites people?
Then why is there a sign over there saying tame. Tame? Tame generally means docile or domesticated. I’m fairly certain tame doesn’t mean getting attacked and having a bird chewing on your neck! Why are you inviting people to give this little pink fucker a scratch! Do you enjoy lawsuits? I looked at the lady and said “Ah okay. Do you have a stick I could beat him off with? He isn’t exactly giving me gentle love nibbles”. Luckily another worker came over with a towel wrapped around her arm. A fucking towel! Like he’s a Wedged-Tail eagle. She gently pried Aussie off my back and he lovingly hopped onto her arm while she stared at me with a “what the hell did you do to this poor bird” look. Sensing a few people coming over to see what the disturbance was I picked up my son and scurried off to find my beloved. Hopefully I could get some sympathy from her.
I was halfway through telling Micky about this story when we both spied another bird sitting in the nursery. This one was larger and with a massive hooked beak. It was also not in a cage. He also had a sign around his perch saying “my favourite foods are seeds and fingers!” What kind of nursery is this? The nightmare nursery? Were there crocodiles in the fountains? This is almost like the kind of stuff that inspired Stephen King to write horror. At sunset do the plants come alive and eat you? If Alfred Hitchcock could have seen what had transpired that afternoon he would have been laughing, rubbing his fat porky hands together in glee. We bought our plants and got the hell out of there before the birds could debrief each other and regroup for another neck attack.
Now I have this fear of birds. Something I never had before. I am actually thinking about conquering my fear by getting a parrot. Something small like a cockatiel which doesn’t have that neck-grasping, spinal-cord ripping ability. I don’t know if it will work though because knowing my family’s track record with animals there is no doubt that the bird will ‘run away because a gate was left open’. Everyone has their cross to bear. Mine is covered in feathers and squawks.