Authors: Bernard Gallate
For Che and Solomon
lsie Birkett lives next door to us at One Pebble Bay. She welcomed us here five years ago with a plate of jam fancies and a crocheted toilet-roll cover. Some people think she’s nothing more than a stickybeak who loves a bit of juicy gossip. But certain events have led me to believe that she is an undercover agent.
Late one Thursday night my dad was taking out the garbage in his undies, when he caught Elsie spying on him from her front porch.
‘Enjoying the view?’ he called out.
‘Oh dear, Mr Bloom,’ she said, hiding her binoculars. ‘I was making myself a cup of tea when I noticed a most unusual light streaking through the night sky. It was terribly bright and was moving so fast that it disappeared before I had a chance to identify it.’
‘It’s called an aeroplane, Elsie. We get those sometimes.’
‘Well I’ve never seen one heading straight down before. Anyway, I’d better let you go. You’ll catch a chill standing out here like that.’
The next day I was walking through our front gate when Elsie popped out from behind a row of hydrangeas.
‘Yoo-hoo! Avery Bloom. Home already and it’s only half past three. Did school finish early today?’
‘Nope. I just walked fast and I’ve got a lot of homework to do.’ The second part wasn’t true but I could tell that Elsie was about to rope me into something.
‘Perhaps you could do me a wee favour first,’
she said. ‘Bagpipes is in your backyard and it sounds like he’s having a scrap with a possum. I do wish you wouldn’t feed those nuisance creatures. It only encourages them and you know how territorial Bagpipes is.’
Bagpipes is Elsie’s tomcat and his territory encompasses every property on Bell Street and all the surrounding bush. He’s always chasing native animals and getting stuck in pipes or on roofs. The fire brigade has been called so many times that they refuse to answer Elsie’s distress calls anymore, unless there’s an actual fire involved.
I went to our backyard and saw Bagpipes slowly circling our gum tree. He was making the low growling drone that he’s famous for.
‘SCRAM!’ I tried to shoo him away, but he held his ground and hissed at me. His head was low and his tail pointed up like an exclamation mark. His fur was almost crackling with electricity. The only way to get rid of him, without being scratched to death, was with water. So I turned on the hose and gave him a quick spray.
It worked a treat. He carved two mad circles around our backyard like a greyhound with its bum on fire and shot over the side fence without even touching it. I hate cruelty to animals, which is why I had to squirt Bagpipes. He is a skilled hunter and would have made mincemeat out of the possum.
I climbed the tree and spotted the frightened creature on a branch near the top. It had a long tail and was making a nervous chattering sound. Somehow it didn’t quite look like a possum. I pulled myself up onto the next branch for a closer inspection and realised that it wasn’t a
possum after all. It was a monkey! I couldn’t believe my luck.
I made a clicking sound with my tongue and rubbed my fingers and thumb together as if I had food to offer. The monkey came swinging down through the branches and hung by its tail, just a few metres away from me.
‘Hello little fella,’ I said. But instead of a friendly response, he bared his teeth and screeched at me, with his eyeballs almost popping clean out of their sockets. It scared me but I didn’t want to show my fear. So I curled my lips back, went cross-eyed and screeched back twice as loudly. The monkey was momentarily stunned. He looked from side to side, scratched his head and made a strange purring sound.
‘We can be friends,’ I said. ‘As long as you know that I’m the boss.’ I stretched out my hand to shake on the deal. ‘My name’s Avery,’ I said.
lood was still flowing from my finger when my sister Serenity arrived home.
‘Oh my gosh! What happened?’ She said, dropping her school bag.
‘A monkey bit me.’
‘Very funny. Give me a look.’ She unwrapped the soggy red tea towel from my hand and led me over to the kitchen sink.
‘I hope he had clean teeth.’
She held my finger under running water, dried
it and then, relishing the chance to play nurse, began dabbing it with antiseptic. It made me wince, so she said, ‘The pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something good is happening.’
‘Great. I feel so much better now.’
Serenity finished the job with a seriously tight bandaid. ‘There’s a small chunk of your finger missing, so you’ll definitely need stitches. At least eight or nine, I reckon.’
‘But I’m going to call Doctor Hardie for a second opinion before I get my sewing box out.’
‘No, don’t!’ I pleaded and blocked Serenity from the phone.
‘Avery, I’m the boss till Mum and Dad get home and I think we have a medical crisis on our hands. I have to let them know.’
‘But they won’t let me keep the monkey.’
‘If you persist with that ludicrous story, then you’ll definitely have to see the doctor. Unless you want your finger to get infected and run the risk of amputation.’
‘But it’s true,’ I said. ‘The monkey is in my room right now.’
‘Yeah sure and there’s an alligator in the toilet.’
‘Come and see,’ I said and led my sister upstairs.
‘I’m only coming to shut you up. You’ve told some crackers, Avery, but this one really takes…’
‘Shhh! We have to approach quietly. He doesn’t like surprises and he feels guilty for biting me. He looked really sad when I yelled at him.’
I opened the door slowly, only to find that my bedroom had been totally trashed.
‘Hmm.’ Serenity stuck her head in. ‘No monkey. Well that was an elaborate but typically juvenile hoax, Avery.’
‘It’s not a joke. I swear.’
‘I don’t believe you for a nanosecond.’
‘But he was here. Cross my heart.’
‘Well, show me the monkey!’
‘He must have jumped out the window,’ I said.
‘Oh, of course he did. How convenient.’
Serenity walked over to the window. But just as she stretched her neck to look out, the monkey leapt from the top of my cupboard, commando style, and landed on the back of her head.
‘Uuugh…Help me!’ she whimpered.
‘Stay calm and don’t move. He can sense fear.’
‘Not moving,’ Serenity said. But she was visibly shaking.
‘Now do you believe me?’ I asked.
The monkey began separating strands of Serenity’s hair and inspecting her scalp.
‘Get this monkey off my head, Avery!’
‘Say sorry first.’
‘AAARGH! GET THIS THING OFF ME NOW!’ she
screamed. The startled monkey began screeching and pulling furiously on Serenity’s hair. It paddled her skull with its lips peeled back as if it was about to take a bite out of her ear.
‘Bad Monkey!’ I shouted. ‘BAD BAD Monkey!’ He stopped attacking her, but held tightly onto her neck. Serenity burst into tears and began sobbing. The monkey turned to look at me. I shook my head and wagged my finger at him.
‘Somebody needs a lesson in how to behave around girls.’
He made the strange purring sound again and started kissing my sister’s head.
‘I think he must like you,’ I said.
Serenity was not convinced.