About Barney

 “Are you going to tell her or do you want me to?” He asked.James sighed as his wife looked mournfully at the dead bird in its cage. 

“I’ll tell her”, she said. “I know how to handle these things.” 

“What will you say?” James asked. “I’ll tell her the truth.” Hannah said. 

James sat on the twin bed with roses on the duvet cover. The room was a mess. Shoes cluttered the floor and peeked out from under the bed, little white tights with pink flowers lay draped over the chair and little pastel coloured clothes were scattered around the room. 

“Are you sure about that?” James said. “Can’t we tell her something else?” 

Hannah looked at her husband and her lip curled into an impatient sneer.  “I told you we shouldn’t have left her alone. She’s too young. I might have known something like this would happen.” 

“Can’t we replace it?” James asked. “She probably wouldn’t notice.” 

“No, James. It’s time she learned some responsibility. She wanted to stay at Gemma’s for the weekend. She insisted that she would come home and feed Barney while we were away.” 

James searched her face. She looked as though she would cry at any minute. 

“I know, but he was her first pet. She’ll be gutted.” James said. 

“James, she’s old enough to understand that if you want a pet, you have to look after it. What sort of a message are we sending her if we get her a new one? She’ll think it’s okay to starve your budgies because Mummy and Daddy will just run out and get you a new one.” 

“She loved that bird. Besides, she’s only seven. Do you really expect a seven year old to understand?” 

“You can’t always protect her. Look at this room. It’s a mess.” 

“And?” 

“And…I’m not her maid.” Hannah said. “You never punish her. I always have to be the one to tell her when something is wrong, so I’m always the bad guy. On second thought, you tell her about Barney.”

“All right. I’ll tell her Barney flew away.” He said. 

Hannah shot him a look of disapproval. “No, James!” She slammed her palm on the top of the bureau. “Tell her she killed her bird. Tell her that she has to grow up and realise that if you don’t look after things they die.” 

“You’re taking this awfully seriously, aren’t you?” James asked. 

Hannah folded her arms across her chest and looked at the dead bird. It looked so peaceful. The water from its dish had completely run dry. The poor thing must have known that the end was near. No food, no water for days. Did it ever give up hope that it’s master would return, she thought, or did it think right up to the end that it would be saved? 

“This is serious.” She said. “We have to let her know that nothing lasts, that the only way to keep from getting hurt is not to invest your feelings on what you’re not prepared to look after.” 

James stood and went to the cage. The small green bird’s thin feet were curled up and stuck in the air. “You’re not talking about Barney, are you?” 

Hannah shook her head, eyes to the floor. “I’m talking about a lot of things.” She said. 

James took a step back and glanced out the bay window. He could just make out Ginny’s petite form coming up the path. Gemma walked beside her. The two girls held hands. 

“Didn’t this weekend help at all?” He asked. 

“I thought it would make a difference, but it hasn’t. We’ve lot too much.” She said. 

James looked at the cuddly toys one the bed, the Barney the Dinosaur poster on the wall, the abandoned hairclip on the floor. “What do we tell her?” He asked. 

“Everything.” Hannah said. 

“What about Barney?” He asked. 

“When it’s all over, I’ll get her a kitten.” Hannah said. “When they grow old enough, they don’t need anyone. We won’t even need the cage.”

© Eliza Dashwood 2004

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