It seems to be the perpetual Summer of my old town, and we’re at their sunny flat. It’s an unstairs place with windows on three sides, warm, and comfortable. I remember spending extended periods of my early childhood there when they took us to give respite to our poor mother; growing three boys on your own seems to be far from easy.

She is there, although, we are not to call her She, which means “the cat’s mother” for an unknown, Grandmothers-only-reason, and leaning out one of the windows. She has her hand extended and is offering a small crumb of bread to the hardiest of urban birds, a Sparrow.

I learnt much about Sparrows that summer. I’m the only child of my age to know that the males have variable plumage, while the females are plain. I learn that they nest just off the coast on Goat Island (and am confused when I discover than near every bay or beach in New Zealand has the same set of rocks off the coast. Do the Sparrows live on them all?) I watch the Sparrows in the evening, flocking together in the sky, just above the town’s houses, and spiralling across the rooftops, South-East to North-West, heading to the island to roost, and graceful, swarming ballet.

For now she is still, itself something of an oddity, and calmly offering the crumb to the bird’ male, and curious. It sits in the window frame on a sill at its base, and hops forward and back, its head tilted, eyeing her and the bread in turn. I move slightly to get a closer look, and it takes fright. “Almost ett from my hand that time!” she says.

The bird is a project you see, one she has been working on in increments for weeks. A labour of an idle housewife who rightfully gave up working to raise five children, but retired to a life of women’s magazines and daytime TV upon their departure from home.

She has never learned to drive, because it is unlady-like. She smokes, but only Cameos, which she one day leaves upon the counter because the Doctor has informed her it is bad for her heart. Those cigarettes sit in that spot for two years, untouched, evidence of a battle of wills won in an instant. She is meanwhile fond of a glass of wine, but only in moderation. And she is, it seems, the self-regarding Daughter of rural gentry of a sort. A Taranaki sort. Bitterly and Imperially racist, and passionately dedicated to a Monarchy that appears to regard us as on outpost worthy of little but distain, despite our fawning, unrequited love.

And is herself a small bird of a woman. I can see her now, flapping her elbows in the way elderly ladies of a generation ago do to dance, chirping along happily to Perry Como, or the most full object of her adoration, Bing Crosby. She is big-breasted like a Robin, colourful, perky, happy. And she loves me deeply I can tell, though my brothers she appears to despise.

F,FLP

Advertisements