October 30, 2015 § 7 Comments
These days he lived by himself. The native woman had got tired of his drinking and run away. He didn’t bother looking for her, but he missed her cooking. He lived where the forest met the water. A one-roomed shack perched on stilts. Every year the rains came and the river slithered under the hut and crept into the forest. It grew into a lake with trees poking out of it like guards with no legs. He called this time ‘the drinking season’. The water lapped at Jonty’s floorboards and wild things came looking for shelter. He let most of them stay. He was fond of spiders, particularly the Brazilian Wandering Spider that poisoned the frogs that kept him awake.
He knew the rains were nearly over because it was the time he got the sickness from the mosquitoes. He knew he had the fever because he was talking to the bottles of Chinese vodka lined up on the kitchen table. Jonty took a last drag on his cigarillo. He was one of those deep lunged men who could get through a cigarette in two or three long pulls. He filled the space around him with a cloud that looked like steam. It would be his last smoke for a while. He aimed the stub at the doorway, and missed.
‘Cripes!’ squawked the green parrot. ‘Watch out boss.’
Jonty shuffled over to the bird, and reaching through the open door of its cage, fished out the smoking butt. He flicked it into the swirling water.
He was familiar with malaria and knew what to do. He scratched the bites of the chigger mites until they bled, took a bottle from the table and climbed into bed inside the mosquito net. ‘You’ll see me when I’m better,’ he said.
‘Pucu make tea. Pucu come back.’
‘She won’t come back, you daft bugger. She won’t ever come back. You make it.’
‘Pucu make hot tea. Pucu good.’
‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘I have the headache from hell.’
The parrot fluffed its crest into a sharp arc and turned its back, and one of Jonty’s favourite spiders edged across the ceiling and began to spin a web between the hook holding up the mosquito net and the foot of his bed.
The man slept for days, getting up only to empty his bladder into the gurgling flood and to grab another bottle. The parrot slumped miserably in its open cage as if it had forgotten it could get out and forage whenever it liked.
The creature lived in the water, and out of it. It was half fish, half snake. The Surucucu Bushmaster coiled around one of Jonty’s stilts and slithered into the hut. The man snored and cradled his bottle. The spider stopped spinning, and rubbing its legs together made a hissing sound like a small, angry snake.
‘Watch out boss!’ shrieked the parrot.
Jonty swore, turned over and belched.
The snake slithered casually over to the bed and curled up on the bedside rug. The spider let itself down on its silvery thread. The snake felt the movement and uncoiled itself, raising its head like a periscope. It wound itself up the bed leg, flexing and curving towards the warmth of Jonty’s body. Finding a tear in the net it began to slither inside.
‘Bugger!’ squawked the parrot. ‘Bugger. Watch out!’
The spider landed on the bed sheet with a thud, and the snake coiled back on itself its mouth open wide ready to bite, but the net was in the way. The spider pounced, bit the tail of the snake, and scurried back up its thread. The Surucuco Bushmaster writhed. Then it spat feebly. Once. Then lay perfectly still.
Jonty kept his eyes closed and took a swig from the bottle. ‘Told you not to swear. Bloody parrot.’
The spider went back to its spinning and the parrot breathed out like a sigh and closed its eyes. Jonty opened his and stretched. ‘What the hell is a dead snake doing here? Must be seeing things. Too much vodka in my veins.’ He climbed out of bed and taking a few wobbly steps, threw an empty bottle at the river. The parrot squawked as it flew past his cage.
I’d forgotten about you,’ said Jonty. ‘You must be hungry because I am.’ He dragged the snake across the floor and kicked it into the river. ‘I really don’t understand,’ he said. ‘Something must have disagreed with it.’
‘Stupid boy,’ said the parrot.