At home Kate asks, Can I give my baby a naartjie?
Heíll love it, I say.
Wonít be too acid?
Heíll toss it if it is.
Her baby is a four-month-old Senegal parrot that bleats like a goat. Its eyes are still milky grey; its head round and fluffy. I bought it for her soon after she moved in with me, a device to hold her. Her father keeps cats. If she goes back to him, sheíll have to leave the bird.
The day we returned from the pet shop, she hammered an old teaspoon, pinching the edges to form a spout for its open beak that tugs like a nursing infant. He nibbles the orange peel, sneezing at the citrus vapour.
The phone rings. I freeze at the stove. Kate carries on peeling the naartjie with her long nails painted metallic green. Her father wonít allow makeup. The phone rings a second time. We look at each other. My eyelids stick in a too-wide stare.
Itís probably him, she says, narrowing her eyes.
Let it ring, I say. My skin is too tight, my lungs too small. We donít have caller ID.
Maybe itís an estate agent, she says, pragmatic, controlled.
Iíll get it, I say, but sheís already wiped her hands on her jeans and lifted the phone. Before answering she stares me down, reproaching, You gonna be scared all your days?
She says into the receiver, Itís not a good time, Dad. Weíre making supper.
Kate moves into the passage, soothing him, saying, Donít worry. Itís blown outta proportion. Call you later. Yeah.
After supper she rings him on her autodial. I want to intervene, to stop her, to gesture a warning: be careful what you say. But I know I mustnít. I pretend Iím working on my computer, but Iím clicking keys so she wonít notice Iím listening in.
Sos osss sos ss sssssss sos sos
I didnít want to worry you, she says.
asdfasdf lelelele ffff fuckufuckufuck
She says, We didnít keep you out the loop deliberately, to be spiteful.
llllooloo loo loop pool poopop pop
Last week there was graffiti on the school toilet walls: KATE UPTON IS A BULIMIC SATANIST.
A week ago she swallowed six painkillers, vomited immediately, then told me. I checked her colour, her pulse rate. Through the night I listened to her breathe. I called the psychiatrist in the morning, setting up an appointment. I complained to the head teacher. The school told her father about the graffiti, the overdose. Then he phoned threatening: to take her away, to get a court order, to bring the police.
She says, Iím fine, Dad, itíll be cool. Donít worry.
kkkkk llk llk lkjjkj kkk okok ok
Pi preens a strand of her hair in its beak. She dyed it reddish brown to match mine. I laughed saying sheíd need grey too if she wants to look snap-snap.
Yeah Dad, Thanks Dad, she says, sounding American. The bird grooms her eyelashes. She dyed them too.
r re ref refu refug refuge refugee eee eeeeeee
She laughs, says, We wrote the Technology paper today. I had to design a wire cow, like the ones the Zimbos sell, you know, made of beads and wire. It wasnít great. I hadnít studied too well.
I want to shake her. She shouldnít say that. Heíll blame me. Heíll take you away.
zzz zim zimz babababa wee wee wee
Per Contra Summer 2007