The pink cockatiel jumped inside her cage, sprouting phrases as people passed; each one tailored to the individual.
“Wine O’clock!” it would chirp, for Linda.
“Bottoms Up!” for Gary. “Bottoms Up!”
“Yeah, we heard ya.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the cockatiel replied.
Linda wasn’t racist, but she told Gary, “Them Muslims over Monkey Tree Hill, I’ve got my suspicions. Their dog killed 100 head of my sheep. Happened right before them weird sacrifices they have. Very bloody convenient, if you ask me. Would’ve snuck up in the night and nicked a few I reckon, for their sacrificin’ and whatnot.”
Gary muttered noises of solidarity.
Linda hadn’t left the farm in years. She got homesick on the drive to Mudgee. “I miss my animals too much,” she said, when Gary left for supplies.
The pig patrolled the fence, snorting like a bathtub emptying. It ate everything they threw over the fence; lemons, bread rolls, icecream. Whilst the hills whistled a tune of isolation that gave Linda the heebie jeebies, she didn’t feel lonely. Quite the contrary; the animals were her gang. The mule, the goats, the Lab, the chickens; she loved ‘em all.
One evening she was walking alongside old Macy the Clydesdale, checking the water level at the back dam, when the old mare trod onto her steel capped Blundstone, breaking her foot. Linda didn’t remember passing out, but when she came to, the Muslim neighbour was beside her.
“Water level’s not great, is it?” was all Linda could think to say.
Her name was Sasha. “Let’s get you up on the horse,” she said.
“Why aren’t you wearing your… your thing?” Linda asked.
She appreciated Sasha’s help. She announced that she was not going into Mudgee to have her foot looked at. She would be fine on the farm, thankyou very much. At the house, Sasha helped her onto the couch, then fetched a whisky to wash back the Panadols.
“It’s lovely to talk to someone,” Sasha said. “I love the space out here, but John isn’t a talker, if you know what I mean, and it’s just so lonely sometimes.”
“Oh I love it.” Linda replied. “It’s not lonely when you’ve got this many animals.”
Sasha looked around Linda’s home; the spinning wheel, the bird cages. “True. Maybe I need more pets.” She patted the grinning Lab beside her, his tail thumping the floor. “I think I’ll get a dog. I need a friend.”
She crouched at the cockatiel’s cage.
“She escaped once,” Linda began. “Flew over onto that roof, there. But she was shit scared. When I found her she tucked her head into my neck, shaking all over.”
Sasha stroked it through the bars. “Hello Cocky!”
The cockatiel leaned toward Sasha. “I’m not racist, but!” it answered.
The bird bobbed up and down. “Not racist, but! Bloody Muslims. Cwack!”
Linda stared into her whisky glass. “The thing is, if they grow up in a cage, they don’t want to leave the cage.”