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The Scrivener: A Way With Animals

Florrie, a nursing home resident, has a way with animals and birds. But what of her way with men?

Brian Barratt tells an enigmatic tale.

Do visit Brianís intriguing Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

'Florrie, you certainly have a way with birds!' The nurse's warm voice echoed across the tree-shaded lawn. 'And animals, too. I know about your possums!'

Florrie adjusted herself to turn, leaning on her walking stick. Her grey blue eyes twinkled as she greeted Nurse Maureen. Although it was one big happy family at the Nursing Home, the staff members were still called by their official titles.

'Shh! You'll frighten my blackbirds. I just thought I'd give them the scraps from my dinner.'

When she had moved in, a few years earlier, Florrie had no intention of vegetating, as she put it. Let the others sit around and do nothing all day, waiting to die. I'll find an interest, she had decided.

'There are some new birds in the bushes over there,' she announced with obvious glee. 'I'll have to find out what they need to eat. How did you find out about me and the possums?'

'I saw you creeping out at night with an apple. And a jar of peanut butter from the kitchen.'

But Florrie ignored the pleasantly disguised telling off. She'd been busy all her life, and intended to stay that way. Particularly if she could bring pleasure to small creatures.

'I always used to feed the birds when I was a little girl. There were so many of them around our property.' Her gentle face reflected the joys of her long gone childhood.

She didn't tell Nurse Maureen about Billy Spate. He was one of a gang of boys who used to trail after her. He had ginger hair, one of his ears was higher than the other, and he was always talking.

'Shut up! Go and play somewhere else!' she told him.

His response was always, 'Narny narny NAH NAH! You and your silly birds!' She hated him.

As they grew a little older, she realised that he was just an immature little boy, to be treated with contempt rather than anger. She continued her bird feeding and he persisted in following her.

'I'll show you something new in those bushes,' he said one day. The other kids had already gone home. 'Come on. It's one you've never seen before.' Unwillingly, she followed him.

Florrie screamed when he showed her. She ran from the bushes, and never went back to feed her birds and animals. Now, in the quietness and security of the Nursing Home, it was such a pleasure to regain her earlier childhood innocence.

In between, she had enjoyed an active life, always on hand to help other women. After her stroke, it was a bit of a nuisance suddenly to find herself relying on a walking stick, but she did not need anyone to help her get around.

Most of the other old folk watched from the verandah as she made her way across the lawn each morning.

'Well look at that! She's teaching them tricks!' Slowly, Florrie had taught the birds to have no fear. They gathered round for food. The braver ones sat on her arms and hands.

Nurse Maureen turned to the other oldies. 'Isn't she marvellous? You could go and help her.' But they just liked to watch. Anyway, they would get a sound telling off from Old Florrie if they frightened her birds.

One of the new residents preferred to sit apart from the others. He parked himself on the lawn, beneath the trees. He rued the day he'd been condemned to this wheelchair.

'You can help me, if you like,' Florrie sweetly told him. 'I'll put the crumbs on your lap.' He enjoyed that.

It didn't take long for the birds to get the idea. They transferred their allegiance to the wheelchair. Its occupier loved the experience. Nurse Maureen was delighted to see an apparent friendship develop. She did not notice when he fiddled with the zip in his trousers and asked
Florrie to help him out.

During the day, the birds fed from his lap and his plate. In the evening, the possums willingly nibbled whatever he offered. As the weather was fine, Florrie suggested that they both eat outside, on the lawn. What a good idea! They took their evening meals down among the trees.

'I'm a bit worried about him,' Florrie confided in Nurse Maureen. 'He seems to be losing weight.'

'Oh, don't you worry! He's not a boy any more. I'm sure he gets a lot of pleasure, what with you and your birds and possums. And his meals with you are the only time he'll eat.' Nurse Maureen was tactful enough not to state the obvious, that the old fellow was gradually fading away.

Staff members took the day's main meal to the old couple sitting in the far corner of the garden. Later, they would collect completely empty plates. Not a crumb in sight.

'My goodness! He must have been hungry!' observed a helper. Florrie twinkled her knowing eyes. The old chap smiled weakly and tried to say something but he was now unable to respond. Each evening, Nurse Maureen wheeled him back to his room, jollying him along with her positive chatter.

The summer crop of fledglings joined in feeding time. Baby possums grew fatter. The old chap's plate was always clean when they finished.

One morning, towards the end of a fine summer, the watchers on the verandah saw Florrie waddling her way across the lawn alone. In the absence of the old man, the birds renewed their allegiance to her. She looked so contented. There might even have been a hint of glee on her face.

Nurse Maureen quietly said to her, 'What a shame about poor William.'

'Why? What happened? Isn't he well?'

Nurse Maureen gently broke the news that he had passed away during the night. After all, he was very old, and had become rapidly weaker during his last couple of months at the Nursing Home. 'He just faded away,' she said.

Beneath the trees, with all her plump and healthy birds and possums, Florrie muttered to herself very quietly, 'Narny narny NAH NAH! Away with animals!'

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007


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