Parrot and Olivier in America
that day. This was mostly birds and animals, and his commentaries, particularly about the birds, were very queer and very personal and often of surprising length.
    When my da was in his cups, we had some strange conversations, but none like this. For Watkins' memories could turn him so suddenly and wildly happy, and he would make a picture of stomping on the moor and all the colors of the birds and gorse he could count off on his fingers. You would think he was a saint with the light of heaven on him. In this condition he could make you share his wonder at plain old tomtit, for instance, and it was by catching this intoxication, that I drew a field mouse for him, showing off, right on his floor.
    I had done this trick so often, I knew I was a prodigal. So when Watkins peered at my mouse and twisted himself around and I saw his hand burrowing under a cotton cover, then why, I thought it was my just reward. I was in no way surprised to see a big square of chocolate.
    I put it in my mouth and saw him laugh at me. It was hard and brown, would break your teeth.
    "What is it?" I asked. I was used to beer for my daddy or taffy for myself. Not this, this cold hard thing inside my palm.
    "You are not an artist's bootlace," said he.
    "What is it?"
    "It is a brush box," said he, "and if you are an artist it is butter beneath your knife."
    I asked him was he an artist.
    For answer he would only smile and I thought how large his eyes were when they hid behind his purplish lids. He retrieved the square of steel-hard wood like a cardsharp on the Strand, not letting me touch it but allowing me to glimpse the very artful drawing of a quail he had made upon one side. I hated it and was angry that he would not praise me. At the same time he was a mystery like none I ever knew. He was uncanny, pot-bound, excitable. He was watchful and ugly but graceful too. He was close as a tomb but on that same day I drew the mouse he revealed to me, a boy, his great ambition and the reason why he had sold his services to Piggott. He planned to amass sufficient geld to produce and print the best book of birds the world had ever seen.
    Saying this, his watery eyes were very bright and everything in that dreadful little tomb seemed illuminated by his joy.
    "What are you smiling at?"
    I said I was thinking how nice it would be to see a book like that.
    "You can't imagine, boy."
    I supposed I couldn't.
    "You don't know what I am," he said.
    "I am just a boy."
    He looked at me very close as if sizing up my utility and, without shifting his gaze, reached out for the shiv, that lethal-looking object we have been waiting for. I bolted for the door but he stuck his leg out so it would not open and then, picking up the brush box, he began to work. I understood he would not murder me, but he did not look up at me or speak to me for a very long time, and even then he had not finished his work but I saw how he wielded that burin.
    When he had done all he planned to do he let me touch it very briefly. I was not his bootlace. He sent me out so he could do his business in the pot.

IV
    A FORTNIGHT PREVIOUS the precocious Parrot was Leonardo, Cicero and the perfect future of the workingman. Now he had been plucked and naked, a printer's devil, the silkworm's fag. There were more suitable skills to be acquired--for instance--holding the piss pot off the floor with my elbows and pushing through the darkness on my knees, a painful business.
    The first pot I dispatched into the hydrangeas, and for this I got my ears boxed and would have got my bum whacked except Jack be nimble Jack be quick. It was a case of dig hole, bury shit, return empty pot. No time for drawing on the Church of England's slate. Collect empty water pail. Fill pail in stream. Other matters besides: ink--trolley--don't get lost. At the end of each long day I received from Watkins some ten parcels the size of four house bricks, sealed with red wax and wrapped tight with brown paper. These I pushed along the burrow

Similar Books

True Heroes

Myles Gann

The Clones of Mawcett

Thomas DePrima

To Be the Best

Barbara Taylor Bradford

The World's Largest Man

Harrison Scott Key

The Stranger Beside You

William Casey Moreton