The Birds

I am eight. We are staying in Portland, a coastal town in Western Victoria, in a hotel. The board in the lobby advertises a show tonight. The board is all glittery with the words Les Girls on it and a picture of a beautiful lady. I want to go to the show. Not appropriate for children is the response from my parents. Well, not for other children maybe…

My parents leave for the show and I feign tiredness, dramatically yawning a few times to really sell the idea. An age passes waiting for Grandma to nod off in the chair. Finally a snore. I throw back the blankets, still fully clothed. At eight I am ripe for a career as a ninja or an international spy. I have a phenomenal memory for every groan of a floorboard, and the endless patience to unlock and open a door at such a glacial pace that it will emit no whine, no squeak. Soundlessly I exit the hotel room. The world of the night lays before me. Staying flat to the walls I creep down the hallways of the hotel in the direction of the music.

As I descend the stairs I catch a glimpse of them. Elegant, bedazzled birds. Tall blue and pink, feathered headdresses bob as they totter on impossible heels across the lobby and disappear through a doorway. Several feathers float gently to the ground in their wake.

the birds

I must have those feathers. It’s a risk though. I’d be out in the open. I weigh the consequences then screw my courage to the sticking place. The coast is clear. I dart across the lobby and gather them up. I have them all. Mission accomplished. But wait…someone is watching. I turn slowly. My eyes take in the full account of the giant bedazzled bird. Gold platform heels, spangled tights that seem to have tiny lights on them, satin bodice, a cascade of marabou in the back, her great crest grazes the ceiling. I’m in trouble. The escapade is over.

Then…
Here, have another one. She plucks a feather from her headdress.
How many have you got now?
Five.
I’m sure we can find you a few more. What’s your name?
Alice.
And then she sings in a deep mellifluous voice – ‘In my dear little Alice blue gown’ and laughs till she snorts. Follow me.
The dressing room is bright and smells of sweat and make-up. All the birds turn to look at me.
Girls, this is my dear little Alice blue gown. She’s collecting feathers.
Oh, I’m sure we can help her out, says another bedazzled bird.
I can’t believe my luck – before me are racks of costumes – I have hit the mother-load. I have two handfuls of feathers now. The birds have no compunction about moulting for a good cause.

I sit on a make-up table and watch them paint and primp. They are delightful conversationalists, very kind and terribly interested in everything an eight year old has to say. I think that the night’s adventure cannot possibly be any more successful when one of the birds asks me if I’d like to see the show.
My parents are in there, I confess.
Oh, don’t worry, we’ll smuggle you in.
Two minutes later I’m spirited in through a side door, deposited under an empty back table, raspberry lemonade in hand, with strict instructions not to move – they’ll come and collect me just before the show finishes. The plan is cunning in its’ simplicity.

I lie on my belly and lift the long white cloth. I have a clear view of the stage. I watch my new friends sing and wiggle through a number full of salty double entendres, smug in my grownup-ness. Suddenly I’m wrenched from my hiding place. My dad’s spidey senses must have been working overtime tonight. My feet don’t touch the floor and one minute later I’m back in bed.

But I’ve seen the beautiful birds and now I have 22 feathers.

Alice

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