Only a fool would keep picking at the same wound over and over.
Scars are permanent.
Yesterday was father’s day. That should be capitalised; it is not. I can’t remember the last time I sent a father’s day card, but I do remember the last time I saw my dad – it will be ten years ago next February. I turned up at his house to say goodbye, although he wasn’t aware he wasn’t going to be seeing me ever again.
This story begins sometime around the autumn of 2005. My nan had died that May, and – out of sheer boredom and being sick of the sight of each other – my grandad and I had decided to start visiting my parents (separately, obviously) in order to take advantage of their hospitality. It helped us bond. We’d get drunk and then go home and bitch about how bloody awful they were. We’d feel wonderfully grateful that we weren’t stuck living with any of those arseholes.
This is a story of a girl, an old man, a daft drunk racist and a little white bird.
Oh, and a murderer. (I forgot there was already an Alex on here so to avoid confusion I’ll refer to this one as Divers. For that is his name.)
Divers was my dad’s best friend. I say ‘was’ because I hear Divers is pretty dead himself these days. I was quite a way away from being born when the murder happened, but I’ve heard a fair bit about it. Divers found out that Mickey had been fucking his wife behind his back so, one New Years Day, he got a gun and shot him. Mickey was in a pub at the time, I believe. I also seem to recall that there wasn’t much distance between them; Divers just shot him from across the table.
I didn’t hear any of this from Divers, or even my dad. My mum told me about it once she found out my dad was knocking about with him because she was a bit concerned about safety. Not my safety of course, but her boyfriend’s. See, by some freakish coincidence, it turned out that Mickey hadn’t been alone in the pub that day. Sitting next to him, feeling the force of the bullet, getting splattered with blood and brain matter, was Mickey’s best friend: my mum’s boyfriend’s dad.
(If the timing seems a bit weird, it might help to know that my mum is around 12 years older than her boyfriend – she’s 62 and he’s nearly 50. My dad will be 70 next December. Fucking hell… They weren’t that old when I left them.)
Another – entirely unrelated – coincidence is that my mother’s best friend also killed someone. This was manslaughter; someone tried to rape her sister and she stabbed him in the chest. She was actually a lovely woman. She was the one who inadvertently got me started on ephedrine. It could have been worse, I suppose. She was Scottish; it could have been Buckfast.
Anyway. The little white bird originally belonged to Divers. He bred birds. He lived a few doors up from my dad in a house decorated in a way that I can’t even describe if you have never been to a council estate in Essex. White walls, white ‘marble’, white ornaments – big ones – and loads of gold-plated everything because that combination just oozes class. It goes really well with the animal prints. All of them. It doesn’t matter which animal. Just put them in. You need a big TV that is either stolen (identifiable by the lack of remote or genuine cables), ordered on credit with no intention of paying, or ‘off the back of a lorry’. A big stereo is necessary even though you ought to be punched in the face for your taste in music. Go for some Artex ceiling swirls, absolutely no books whatsoever, a fish tank with some clownfish and you’re on the road to being part of the reason I never visit Essex.
(My dad decorated when he was completely wasted and ended up with a remarkably well-painted but terrifyingly cerise living room. He also put Artex on the walls for some odd reason. It would have made a lovely yet slightly scratchy 70s brothel.)
I don’t know why Divers kept giving birds to my dad. Perhaps he thought he was a bit lonely since my stepmum left and a chatty little budgie would keep him company. Unfortunately, my dad is an alcoholic who takes huge amounts of painkillers for a gimpy hip that he got when he fell off his moped back when he was a mod fighting skinheads in Southend. He would sit in the garden until dusk, drinking and chatting to his little feathered friend. He would then go inside the house for something, forget what he went in for, pass out somewhere and then wake up to find an overturned cage and a forlorn scattering of feathers or a very, very cold, very dead bird.
My grandad and I turned up one day to find a cute little white budgie in the cage that had seen so many short-lived tweeters. I don’t like birds in cages. I wanted to let him out in the living room so he could fly around and land on my head. I sat on the floor next to the coffee table where the cage had been placed and the bird turned its head to look at me, fluffed up its quiff and made kissy noises.
I waited until my dad had gone to get more beer from the kitchen and leaned back to speak to my grandad, sitting on the sofa behind me. ‘Can we save this one?’ I whispered. ‘It’ll be dead in a few days if we leave it here.’ Grandad sighed. ‘You can’t just take a man’s budgie.’ I bloody well can.
I waited until he came back in and said ‘I really want a budgie.’ My dad – drunk, and still feeling terribly guilty that he hadn’t had enough to do with me while I was growing up – willingly handed him over. I should have gone bigger, in hindsight. Could’ve gotten myself a nice stereo.
We called him Murdock because he was a fucking nutcase. He bit my grandad on the nose through the bars of the cage, and attacked my hand every time I fed him. The little shit. He was so cute, though. He sang and talked and kept my grandad company and tried to fuck his own reflection in the mirror we hung up for him. It had a bell on the bottom so you knew when he was frisky: tweet-tweet-tweet-ding-ding.
We could not get him out of the cage. He just refused and attacked. I would take the cage down off the stand and sit on the floor, looking at him. How can you be a bird who doesn’t fly? It’s your thing, it’s what you’re meant to do. Come on, just have a go. Ouch.
As my grandad got more sick, Murdock spent more time in my room. I would stay up all night talking to people online and he would murmur little chirps at me from under the cover I threw over him to stop him going insane at 3am. When my grandad got really sick, the move became permanent. I left the radio on for him while I went to hospital and then came home to tell him all about my day.
Lonely little lives.
After my grandad died, I got annoyed at his refusal to fly. I put my hand in the cage, ignored the chunk he took out of my thumb and the little sweary noises he made at me, and placed him on my bed. He wandered around, confused. After a few more attempts, more bloodloss, and a strange incident where he seemed to mistake the end of my finger for a female budgie’s cloaca, I could get him to hop onto my hand and take him out of the cage. He still wouldn’t fly, nor would he leave the cage of his own accord, but this was still progress.
It took six months before he figured it out. I think I may have just gently thrown him through the air in the end and yelled ‘FLAP, FUCKWIT’ but he did it! He screeched as he flew, wobbly, around the room. And I cried my heart out, because my first thought was that I could finally tell my grandad that I’d got the handsome little idiot to figure out what his wings were for but I couldn’t tell him anything because he was dead. And then Murdock crashed into the wall, because landing is always harder than flying.
One day, I was sitting in the kitchen in a hippy’s house in Norfolk. I had been lodging with her for a while and had somehow started collecting broken budgies; birds that were either too weak to survive the viciousness of other birds in an aviary or ones that needed socialisation before they could join the god-knows-how-many others at the animal sanctuary I worked at. At the time, I had two others: a senile (yes, really) old girl called Myrtle who couldn’t see or fly and just used to walk around my bedroom floor yelling, and another pure white budgie who made the perfect girlfriend for Murdock.
I had put them in their cage and brought them downstairs for some reason. I think I was going to let them fly around in the conservatory for a while. I don’t remember. Suddenly, Murdock fell off his perch. He turned his head and looked at me. I reached in, picked him up and he wiggled in my hands for a minute. My last words to him were: ‘Please, no… don’t you dare fucking do this to me as well.’
He died in my hands.