Chapter 7: A Bad Day

Between the bus shed and the bike shed was a path. There was some sort of old letter box there - a big box on a post with a lid. A starling nested in it. Bill Leach, Michael Satchwell and I would remove one of the two starling's eggs each day to see how many we could get it to lay. It laid fifteen, then gave up.

We were standing there once - the whole school - because some pine trees were getting cut down on the neighbouring farm. The chainsaw roared in the distance.

Timber! everyone cried.

The pine tree fell.

The chainsaw roared. Timber!

But instead of shouting "Timber!" I shouted "Shit!"

My older brother, Rick, was standing behind me. "Come on," he said to everyone. "Let's get in the bus."

So they all climbed into the school bus, and just as I was to enter, the bus door shut tight.

"Let me in! Let me in!" I cried. But the door was fast.

The window slid open. It was Rick.

"We don't play with little boys who swear," he said. "You only swear when it's very, very bad." And the window closed.

I was alone for the entire play time, while everyone in the bus had a good time.

That evening I was scared that Rick would tell Mum and Dad that I had said "Shit!" instead of "Timber!" But nothing happened.

Mind you, I had other things on my mind. My pet lamb was ill. We always had pet lambs every year. They were the ones that lost their mothers. Mine was a couple of weeks old.

Me on the left
Me on the left

I warmed the milk in a beer bottle with a teat and went out after school to feed it. It was lying on the ground and didn't run to me.

I gathered it and lay it at the corner of the garage in the sun. Perhaps it was hungry. But the milk that spilt from the teat wet the little white whiskers around its mouth and it did not drink.

Its tummy breathed in and out and I stroked its short, wiry, baby wool.

"Don't die, little lamb," I said. "Don't die."

And it kept breathing.

"Mum," I said, "My lamb's dying."

"Well there's nothing you can do, dear," said Mum. "These things happen." And she went on washing, or ironing, or cooking.

I went back. "You're going to die, little lamb," I said. And I lay on the ground with my head against the lamb's, so it wouldn't feel so bad about dying. All the long, late afternoon I stroked its little breathing tummy.

And as the shadows of the fence batons stretched to a hundred yards, and the setting sun sent fiery rays through crimson clouds from one mountain peak to another, the lamb stopped breathing. It was dead.

"Shit," I said.

It was tea time.

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