Tammy finds it hard to concentrate on her learning from home when Mum starts a vendetta with a raven.
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Hello and welcome to bedtime stories with me, R.A. Spratt
Today’s story is…
A tall tale about eggs and witches
Here we go…
Tammy was sitting at the table doing school work. She was doing learning from home and Tammy took this seriously. She didn’t want any of Mum’s irresponsibility to seep over and affect her academic performance. Tammy liked getting good marks. She found it reassuring. When you’ve got an older sister like Vanessa who always gets top marks in everything and is beloved by everyone, you need to work hard and get good marks if you’re going to have any chance of having self esteem.
Also, Tammy was physically incapable of sitting still for any length of time. Five seconds was a challenge for her. She was never going to win a teacher over with good first impressions. She needed to get good marks to get on their good side.
Although her current teacher strangely seemed to enjoy, Tammy’s ability to say imaginatively disparaging things to the year six boys. He seemed to think that this was an invaluable service to the school. But ‘burning’ boys was not something that would be included on her report card so Tammy had to try hard at work as well.
Mum currently had the opposite approach to her own work. She had been working hard for about 45 minutes in her office, become bored and come downstairs to procrastinate. She had made herself a cup of coffee and was standing by the big sliding door looking out at the garden.
‘Doesn’t the garden look beautiful today?’ asked Mum.
‘Urgh,’ said Tammy. She knew if she answered properly Mum would be capable of talking about gardening forever. Tammy wasn’t going to encourage her with any form of conherant speech.
‘I think my new landscaping has come up really well,’ said Mum.
‘Urgh,’ said Tammy. ‘I don’t think you can call dumping a ton on gravel on the lawn ‘landscaping’.
‘But it is,’ protested Mum. ‘That’s what landscapers call it.’
‘You only dumped gravel on the lawn because you couldn’t get the grass to grow properly,’ said Tammy. She was still trying to solve her math problems, so she wasn’t really paying attention.
‘Yes, and now it’s a zen rock garden,’ said Mum. ‘Just like the ones at the temples in Kyoto.’
‘They’d have less chicken poo,’ said Tammy.
Mum nodded. They did have a lot of chicken poo all around their garden because Mum had let the chooks free range for the winter. She put them back in their run that day, so she could rebuild the garden for the spring. ‘The plants love a bit of chook poo. It’s full of nitrogen.’
‘It’s gross when you step in it,’ said Tammy.
‘That’s just life when you’re part of an ecosystem,’ said Mum. ‘Don’t you love having a garden that’s a proper eco system?’
Tammy would have rolled her eyes. But Tammy couldn’t roll her eyes, so she just said, ‘Eye roll.’
Mum ignored her sarcasm, ‘It’s like we live in a forest. We’ve got trees, insects, frogs, chickens.’
‘Snakes,’ said Tammy.
‘Yes, sometimes we get snakes which just shows how healthy our biome is,’ said Mum. ‘Aren’t you proud that we have a garden where even snakes feel welcome.’
‘No,’ said Tammy. ‘It makes me feel unwelcome.’
‘It brings me so much joy,’ said Mum sighing happily. ‘Look there’s a raven, right now over by the chook pen. Just like the Ravens they have at the tower of London. Isn’t that something – Henry the eight had ravens like that. You’d like him- he had all those wives he killed.’
‘He only killed two of them,’ said Tammy. ‘He divorced two. The other two died of natural causes.’
‘And now you have ravens in common,’ said Mum. She fell silent for a moment and Tammy was actually able to concentrate long enough to finish the problem she was working on, but the tranquillity didn’t last long - Mum suddenly started yelling.
‘Oh my gosh! Did you see that?!’ She slammed her cup down on the table, coffee sloshing over the side and hurried to open the screen door. ‘That naughty little blighter!’
Tammy was shocked. Her first thought was that one of the neighbourhood boys must have got into the yard again. One of them was forever throwing rubbish over their fence and Mum was always on the lookout to catch him at it.
But as mum rushed out onto the deck she looked up on the sky. ‘If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would never have believed it!” cried Mum.
Tammy really didn’t want to ask because she never wanted Mum to think that she was interested in anything she had to say, but at this point she was genuinely curious.
‘That raven just stole one of the chicken’s eggs right out of the coop,’ said Mum.
‘Yeah right,’ said Tammy.
‘I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen him flying away, with the egg in his mouth. I never would have thought his mouth was big enough.’
‘Ahuh,’ said Tammy, with a tone of disbelief.
‘I wouldn’t make something like this up,’ said Mum.
“You make everything up,’ Tammy reminded her. This was true Mum had told some outrageous untrues in her time – she’d claimed she’s spent the 80’s working as a German super model, she’d claimed that the prime minister had declared a health emergency requiring the entire population to stop wearing underwear, she’d claimed that their grandmother had escaped a maximum security prison by using a pillow to climb over the razor wire. So to say that a bird had flown off with an egg was well within the realm of the time of thing Mum would fabricate.
‘Birds can do that,’ protested Mum. ‘I once saw a magpie steel a tennis ball.’
‘I definitely don’t believe that,’ said Tammy.
‘It’s true, I was jogging near the tennis centre at Homebush and a bird flew over with a tennis ball it’s mouth,’ said Mum. ‘It didn’t seem possible. But at least a tennis ball is fury and has some squash in it. It would be easier to hold onto with a beak. But an egg, you’d think it would slip out.’
Mum did seem genuinely agitated. Tammy was reluctantly starting to believe her.
‘I can’t believe a raven stole an egg. It’s just so rude!’ cried Mum. ‘After all I do for the native birds in this garden.’
‘You don’t do anything,’ said Tammy.
‘I do too,’ said Mum. ‘I over feed the chickens so they can steal some and I always have lots of water out. You know how they all took baths in the dog’s water during the bush fires.’
‘Yeah, it made the dog sick,’ said Tammy.
‘Because I’m a good person,’ said Mum. ‘And this is how they repay me – with stealing.’
‘It’s just one egg,’ said Tammy.
‘It’s an entire days work for the chicken,’ said Mum. ‘Stolen out from under her.’
‘You steal them and eat them too,’ Tammy pointed out.
‘I’m allowed to,’ said Mum. ‘I feed them.’
‘Uhuh, and that makes it alright,’ said Tammy trying to get back to her math.
‘Well this means war,’ said Mum.
Tammy looked up from her laptop. ‘You’re not going to try and hurt it,’ said Tammy.
‘Of course not,’ said Mum. ‘I would never hurt a native bird. That would be wrong. No, I’m going to mess with it’s mind. Where’s that rubber egg?’
Mum had bought a rubber egg from the cricket museum in town. It was meant to be for wacky practical jokes. But Mum used it to train new chickens where to lay their eggs.
‘I’m going to give that raven more than he bargained for,’ said Mum as she searched the back of the cutlery drawer.
‘What if it’s not really a raven,’ said Tammy.
‘What do you mean?’ said Mum. ‘It’s a black and it looks like a raven. It’s a raven. Trust me, I grew up living with Granny, I was thoroughly bored into being able to identify a wide range of birds.’
‘In story books animals are often princes or princesses who have been cursed,’ Tammy pointed out.
‘That’s true,’ said Mum, suddenly looking up. ‘There is a Grimm’s fairy tale about a witch who went around turning princesses into birds and then had hundreds them kept in cages in her house.’
‘There you go,’ said Tammy. ‘Perhaps it’s not a raven, it’s a princess.’
‘I suppose she might have done something to really annoy the witch,’ said Mum. ‘Like perhaps she ate her gingerbread house. It was a really impressive gingerbread house with candy cane door trippings and lolly roof shings and lots of icing. The witch would have been totally engraged - and kapow – cursed her forever to be a raven.’
‘Cool,’ said Tammy.
‘And now we’ve got a raven with a criminal record living in our yard,’ said Mum.
‘Criminal record?’ said Tammy.
‘For eating stolen food,’ said Mum. ‘First the gingerbread house and how our egg. It’s a pattern. Any food she finds she think she can eat. Well, we’ll see how much she likes the taste of rubber.’
Mum had found the rubber egg in the Tupperware cupboard. She held it aloft triumphantly.
‘I’ll show this raven who’s Queen of this garden,’ she declared.
‘You’re delusional,’ said Tammy.
‘It’s my garden,’ said Mum. ‘I’m allowed to be.’
She snuck out, darting across the lawn like a commando approaching a sniper position. When she got to the chook pen, she opened the back door and carefully put the rubber egg in the laying box. Then ran back to the house and shut the sliding door.
‘Now I just need a blanket,’ said Mum.
‘What for?’ asked Tammy.
‘I need to construct a hide,’ said Mum. ‘That’s what birdwatchers do so the birds can’t see them. Ravens are very clever, if it looks in and sees me standing here it will just fly away.’
‘Aren’t you supposed to be writing a book?’ asked Tammy.
‘Pish,’ said Mum. ‘My publisher can’t expect me to work when by property is being stolen by a brilliant, possibly royal, avian master-criminal.’
‘You’re enjoying this aren’t you?’ said Tammy.
‘It’s the most exciting thing to happen to me all week,’ agreed Mum.
‘Look, it’s back,’ said Tammy.
Mum spun around. The raven was back. It had just landed on the ground near the entrance to the coop.
‘The audacity of that bird,’ said Mum. ‘It steals one egg and comes straight back for another! This bird is a hardened criminal.’
‘It’s probably just hungry,’ said Tammy.
‘I’m always hungry!’ said Mum. ‘I don’t go around stealing food.’
‘You steal Dad’s chocolate that he hides at the top of the wardrobe,’ said Tammy.
‘Well Daddy needs to do a better job of hiding his chocolate,’ said Mum. ‘I don’t want to eat chocolate but if he’s going to hide it in plain sight how can I not.’
‘It’s going in,’ said Tammy.
Mum got out her phone and got ready to video the bird. It hopped out of the laying box a moment later with an egg in its beak.
‘There!’ exclaimed Mum. ‘I told you so.’
‘Wow,’ said Tammy. ‘It really is stealing an egg.’
‘A rubber egg,’ said Mum. ‘Let’s see what it makes of it.’
The raven put down the egg and pecked the egg a couple of times.
‘Hah!’ said Mum. ‘Good luck breaking into that. It’s solid rubber.’
‘This is just cruel,’ said Tammy. ‘You’re taunting a poor animal.’
‘It’s not poor,’ said Mum. ‘It’s gluttonous. It’s just had a whole egg. That must be 10% of its whole bodyweight. If you ate 10% of your bodyweight youi’d be physically incapable of flying about to fetch more.’
‘Maybe she doesn’t eat the eggs,’ said Tammy. ‘Maybe she has to steal eggs and give them to the witch.’
‘That’s a good idea!’ said Mum. ‘And after a thousand eggs, only then will she be turned back into a princess.’
The raven gave up pecking the egg, picked it up and flew it up to the gutter on the garage.
‘Now what’s it doing?’ asked Tammy.
‘I don’t know,’ said Mum.
They watched as the raven pushed the egg along the guttering and into the downpipe. They had a leaf catcher on the down-pipe so the egg dropped onto that, rolled out and landed on the path below.
‘Oh my gosh,’ said Mum. ‘That raven is a genius. ‘It’s figured out it can smash an egg open by rolling it through the downpipe onto the pavers.’
‘If it’s that smart, perhaps it is a real princess,’ said Tammy.
‘If it’s that smart it can’t be a real princess,’ said Mum. ‘Princesses aren’t exactly renowned for their intellect or lateral thinking. You never hear of royalty winning the Nobel Prize for physics or discovering a medical breakthrough.’
Tammy thought about it. She tried to image Queen Elizabeth sitting on their garage roof rolling eggs into the downpipe. But Tammy always got Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II confused. So she was imaging a red headed woman with a huge lace collar and a puffy dress. This was a very strange scene in her mind.
‘Well we’ll know tomorrow if she is a princess,’ said Mum.
‘Why?’ asked Tammy.
‘Well if the witch eats that egg, she’ll choke to death, then the spell will be broken and she’ll return to human form,’ said Mum. ‘Then the princess will pop around tomorrow to say thank you. Oooh, if a princess is coming to morning tea we should make banana bread!’
‘You’re just looking for ways to avoid going back to work,’ said Tammy, turning back to her own computer screen.
‘Well I can’t work on an empty stomach,’ said Mum. ‘And all Daddy’s chocolate is missing.’
‘You’re an idiot,’ said Tammy.
‘Compared to that raven, I may well me,’ said Mum.
‘Compared to that rubber egg, you may well be,’ muttered Tammy.
‘Good one,’ said Mum. Tammy really did have a talent for burning people. Mum got to work mashing the bananas.