Authors: Jean Little
Birdie For Now
Birdie For Now
Copyright Â© 2002 Jean Little
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Little, Jean, 1932-Birdie for now
I. Title. PS8523.I77B57Â Â 2002Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â Â C2002-910032-1
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage's Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), The Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
Cover design by Christine Toller
Cover & interior illustrations by RennÃ© Benoit
Printed and bound in Canada
Orca Book Publishers
1030 North Park Street
Victoria, BC Canada
IN THE UNITED STATES
Orca Book Publishers
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This story is for Ben and Jeanie; Ian and Douglas; Angus, Jack, Daniel and Katie; Melanie and Emilie; Liam and Sebastian; and Hugh and Donnie, with my love.
My affectionate thanks also go to Susan Milton, who introduced me to Toby and Panda, my Papillons, without whom Birdie would never have lived.
Dickon Fielding hurtled down the stairs that Saturday morning, still in pajamas. His feet were bare. His fair hair, which usually hung down smoothly to his eye-brows, was on end. And his dark eyes behind his glasses were anxious.
What if she had slept in? He jumped the last two steps and skidded to a stop.
But his mother was wide awake. Gazing sideways out the kitchen window, she stood and sipped her morning coffee.
“When do we leave?” he yelled, his voice shattering the silence, his body bouncing up and down like a Nerf ball.
She turned her head.
“You need your hair cut,” she said.
Then she gulped down the last of her coffee and busied herself at the sink.
Something was wrong. No empty coffee cup needed that much rinsing. He sidestepped, trying to see her expression.
“Mum?” he began.
Then the truth hit him. She was going without him.
She turned in time to catch the shock on his face.
“Birdie darling, don't look like that,” she began, reaching out to smooth his hair and straighten his glasses.
She tried to sound ordinary, but her words stumbled and jumped like bare feet on sharp stones. Her cheeks
were a tattle-tale pink and she did not look him in the eye.
“Mum, you said â¦” he exploded.
She put her hand over his mouth.
“I know, sweetheart. I did plan to take you, but â¦”
“You ARE taking me. Just last night, you said, âGet a good sleep. We have a big day coming up.'”
“Stop!” she snapped and took a deep breath, huffing it out like the Big Bad Wolf. “Last night I faced facts. I cannot keep track of you and the movers at the same time. If you were there, I'd be worried sick. You could get lost or hurt or â¦”
“Please, Mum,” he begged. “I'll be good. I'll be an ANGEL! You promised â¦”
But she had not promised and they both knew it.
“It wouldn't be fun for you any-way,” she continued. “Hazel is coming to pick you up. You're going to sleep over at her house. You've never been on a sleepover like other kids, Birdie. Here's your chance. And tomorrow I'm coming back to get you.”
“Kids don't have sleepovers at their babysitters,” he said, but she swept on.
“I'll be back for you early tomorrow. We'll go to our new home together then.”
“Tomorrow?” he cried, boomer-anging around the room, missing the piled- up boxes by inches. When he fetched up in front of her again, she grabbed him and held on.
“You'll have fun at Hazel's,” she insisted, almost shouting herself. Then, more quietly, “Birdie darling, be reasonable. Hazel will be here any minute and the movers are due in an hour. You have to get dressed!”
“I don't feel reasonable and I don't want to stay with a babysitter,” he flung at her, pulling free. “I hate you!”
She looked stricken and he was glad. He backed away and stood stiffly, ready to do battle. Then he glimpsed the tears gathering on her eyelashes. He hated it when she cried. It wasn't fair.
He whirled and shot up the stairs.
If only his father had not taken off, this would not be happening. Mum was
different before his dad walked out on them. She stayed home. Every afternoon when he came in from school, she was waiting with milk and homemade cookies or some other treat. She sat smiling at him, wanting to hear every detail of his day. She laughed more than she cried then. It had been great.
Well, mostly it had been great. Sometimes, when his day was downright boring, he had wished she would just leave him to watch TV. Sometimes the true answer to her question “What happened to my Bird today?” was “Nothing.” Or, to be more truthful, “Nothing good.” He had trouble staying still and paying attention. They had parent-teacher conferences. But when he got home, both of them pretended he was doing fine. And he always came up with some little triumph to tell her.
A couple of times, in desperation, he made up stuff. But that had back-fired.
“The art teacher says I'm gifted,” he told her once.
All the art teacher had ever said to
him was “Can't you keep still, young man?” But his mother almost phoned her to see if he should have extra art classes.
“I don't WANT art lessons,” he pleaded.
“Leave him alone,” his father said. “You don't want the big homecoming quiz every day, do you, Dick? You want her to treat you as though you can breathe all on your own.”
This upset Mum so much that she forgot the art lessons.
Still Dickon hated it when his father spoke in that hard, joking voice. Somehow, he knew that Dad was really speaking to Mum, not to him. But Dad hadn't been home that much. He worked most afternoons and evenings. On weekends, he either watched the sports channel or slept. Mum made excuses for him at first.
“Your father is overtired and mustn't be bothered about us for a bit,” she said.
But before long she gave up the little speeches about how exhausted Dad was. A few months later Dickon's father moved out.
Dickon was surprised at first by how little had changed. The days marched calmly by for a while. Yet that calm spell did not last. When Mum came to believe Dad was gone for good, she began to cry all the time. Dickon thought she might never stop. They moved in with Aunt Eloise for a while. Aunt Eloise's apartment was crammed with things he mustn't move, mustn't touch, mustn't break.
He smashed a porcelain figurine by mistake. Then his mother's doctor told her it was time she made a new life. So Mum found a part-time job and they moved back into the house they had lived in before the break-up. Dad had taken all his stuff and gone out west. He sent Dickon one postcard, but all it said was, “Sorry, son.” His son threw it away before Mum saw it.