My daughter lies on her stomach on the wooden floor. Her legs are under my bed. She points my camera at her baby parrot holding a grape in its bandaged foot. I bought grapes and mangoes and avocado pears at a wooden stall near the Blyde River yesterday.
Whyís Pi eating in my room? I ask, staring at the beard of pulp around his beak. He shakes his head and the mush disperses across the parquet tiles.
He likes the dťcor, says Kate.
You mean he can see the floor in here, I say, wiping up grape particles with a tissue.
Whaddevah, she says. A flash. Light bounces off the walls, my wardrobe. Gotcha!
Weíve been apart for five days, me in the bush, her looking at boarding schools with her father. Her pet had stayed at the vet because it needed antibiotics. We left Karma, the other bird, the one that had ripped out Piís claw, with a friend.
Clean up after him when youíre done, I say. I donít want to tread in sticky stuff.
She ignores me.
She had constructed a toy for his cage, looping together old keys, a dead tin opener, a plastic toy, and the silver ring I gave her last birthday. Sheíd worried about him being fretful. The toy will distract him, sheíd said.
Donít let him chew the electrics, I say.
You hear that, Pi? No wires for nibblies. Donít want a Fried Pi. No burned beak. What would the vet say? Abusive parents, neglectful mothers. Pass a tissue, Ma.
I hand her the box. She wipes the birdís face. It struggles. Stop fussing, Pi Baby.
Take one of me and Pi, Mom. I click. We laugh. She reviews the images, showing them to the bird on her shoulder. Look, thatís you, Pi. Youíre cute. And photogenic. She holds the image out to me. He says itís a bad pic. The angleís not right. Heís looking away.
Take another, Mom. Iíll need good photos of me and Pi. For my wall. At boarding school.
Iím ten minutes early at the psychologistís rooms where the mediation is being held. Kateís father is there already, talking to his lawyer, whose mascara is punishing. I hold out my hand. Her fingers are sticks, her hand-shake pointed, hurting.
I wear my black work skirt, ironed, the mauve silk jacket I bought at a second-hand shop for its good label. The heels do it, make me look competent, perhaps even pretty.
Her father returns to his car, retrieving a folder from the boot. The last jacaranda blossoms fall on the roof. I say to the lawyer, Did he tell you today was the day? She scrutinises me as if sheís hearing-disordered. Itís too late to quit the story. I say, Twenty-one years ago today, we got married.
She says, No. He didnít tell me that. I feel an idiot. But Iím not finished. I say, I was 19.
He returns and rings the doorbell. While we wait, a woman in the street answers her cell phone. She talks loudly, saying, That wasnít the deal; I canít possibly agree. Sheís big, with cropped hair, wearing quilted salmon. From the way she opens her car door, I know sheís unafraid.
I carry my lap-top in a brief case. Moral support Ė that self Iím still proud of: photographer, writer, those digital codes more real than paper, than court orders.
Inside is dark and cool. A dragonfly hovers above a decorative Koi pond at the entrance. This is going to be an expensive two hours. Iíll pay the child psychologist; heíll pay the lawyer.
Per Contra Summer 2007