‘Dandy Corey! Dandy Corey!’
The yellow and blue budgerigar skittered up and down along his perch, and fluttered up against its dangling mirror from beneath which a tiny bell tinkled. In my little bedsit, the cage was right beside the table and every time Dandy Corey did a poo I heard another quiet tap on the lining paper of his tray. I put the sheet over the cage hoping that Dandy Corey would go to sleep, and tried to focus on my paperwork.
‘Nighty-night, nighty-night, nighty-night, nighty-night…’
It was exactly what my mother used to say as she tucked me in when I was a little girl. It even sounded like her voice. It was unnerving considering that she had been dead for two weeks.
Probate is the cruellest of legal duties. I was the only child and had to wade through forms, bank statements, utility bills, identity papers (hers and mine), letters from the solicitor; there had been the funeral to arrange and all her possessions to be disposed of; wardrobes of clothes and boxes of stuff that had no monetary value but was hoarded perhaps because she didn’t know what to do with it. I had listed a box of Royal Worcester china on eBay but no-one had bid for it. My table was still covered with her financial papers, the debts seemingly greater than the assets and the landlord still pursuing me for her rent. There was supposed to have been an insurance policy somewhere but it was nowhere to be seen. And then I had the damn budgerigar to look after. No one else would take him in. I had no time or space to grieve and often felt a dull resentment that she had left everything like this.
Although I loved my mother, we had never seen eye to eye. She had always seemed so unreasonable, quick to anger, quick to criticise. We were political opposites and she had disapproved of my way of life. Ever since I had reluctantly suspended Dandy Corey’s cage from its chrome stand beside my desk he had reminded me of this at regular intervals.
‘Get a proper job, get a proper job, get a proper job,’ had been her response to my wanting to be a writer.
My divorce had not gone down well either; she had been obstinately faithful to my father and never remarried after his death.
‘Worse than a whore!’
I had not been a frequent visitor and for weeks at a time, Dandy Corey had been her only companion. He would perch on her finger, or run up and down her arms, making her laugh. These days I really felt that he was deliberately trying to punish me, to drive me to tears. Sometimes I would shout and swear at him to try and silence him. It was bad enough trying to cope with the bereavement; to listen to this recitation of everything critical that my mother had ever said of me was unbearable.
I thought of having him put down but quailed a little at the thought of silencing that voice for ever, so I decided that I would take him to the city farm. After making some enquiries I put the cage on the desk of the city farm manager, a middle-aged man in neat overalls.
‘What have we here?’ he said.
‘He’s just a budgie,’ I said, ‘but maybe he would be interesting for the children, I believe you get quite a lot of school parties coming here to learn about the animals? He can talk.’
The city farm manager peered through the bars of the cage, and Dandy Corey stuck his head on one side to look at him.
‘Dandy Corey! Dandy Corey!’
‘Hello, Dandy,’ said the city farm manager.
‘Willya feckin’ SHADDUP?’ said Dandy Corey.
I bit my lip.
‘Worse than a whore!’
The city farm manager shook his head. ‘I don’t think so.’
Back home I hung the cage back on its stand in a cold fury. The bird would have to be destroyed: there was no other way. I called a local vet’s office but they wanted £50. I didn’t have £50 and wondered if I should just wring the bird’s neck. I didn’t really know how to do that, and looked with growing horror at the knives in the kitchen drawer. I didn’t want to touch him, and the thought of the beak and the claws put me off.
It was a cold miserable day outside, late November, developing into a freezing fog. I would take him to the grave. If they loved each other so much they should be together. Dandy Corey would freeze to his perch. I put the birdcage in the car and drove down to the cemetery. It was almost dusk and the gates would be closed in an hour. I carried the cage to my mother’s grave and stood there looking at the newly turned soil that was starting to flatten in the damp, trying to say a prayer, to connect with the soul that was gone. I would have to order a headstone – heaven knew how I would pay for it – but for now a simple wooden cross marked where my mother lay under the ground.
Dandy Corey for once was silent. I put his cage down on the earth and turned to walk away; I would come back and remove it in the morning. I got almost to the cemetery gate when something made me look round. Mist rolled across the grave and obscured the birdcage, from which no sound came.
I went back.
The little bird was hunched on his perch, feathers balled out against the cold, and shivering. A small black eye peered reproachfully up. I relented, picked the cage up, wiped the earth from underneath it with my fingers, and took it back to the car. Heaving a deep sigh, I put it back in the boot and drove home.
As Dandy Corey warmed up he started to flutter and squawk.
‘Here we go,’ I groaned inwardly.
‘In the coffee-pot,’ he said. He was still saying it as I carried the cage back into the bedsit and hung it on the stand.
‘Remember it’s in the coffee-pot.’
My eyes fell on the box of china that was waiting for an eBay bidder. I opened it and pulled dusty bubble wrap away from the crockery. Evesham pattern, white bone china with gilded edges and patterns of luscious fruit. I pulled out a tall coffee-pot wrapped in newspaper. Inside was a roll of paper and a note from Mum in block capitals:
I LOVE YOU DARLING AND I JUST WANT YOU TO BE COMFORTABLE.
The insurance policy: £500,000.
I started to cry.
‘Dandy Corey! Dandy Corey!’ My budgie hopped along his perch to look.
© Maybelle Wallis 2020
For details of my debut historical novel ‘Heart of Cruelty’: (Link)