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  • jdettmann

Not What It Seems

This morning I went outside and discovered the builders next door merrily bricklaying away at the wall of the neighbour’s house that sits on our boundary, just beside our dining room. Except they weren’t bricking all of it. There was a large rectangular gap where there should have been bricks.

‘What’s that window doing there?’ I asked.

‘It’s not really a window,’ the brickie told me. ‘It’s more of a vent.’

I said nothing.

‘So they can get some fresh air in this bathroom,’ he clarified. ‘It’ll be frosted.’

‘A frosted glass vent that opens and shuts is commonly called a window,’ I said in a pleasant enough voice that nonetheless contained the suggestion that he might like to go get the foreman, Paul.

‘I’ll go get Paul,’ he said.

Paul the foreman, to whom I am a frequent pest on account of how I keep looking at the approved plans for next door and remarking loudly when they deviate from them, popped his head through the wall, in a way that is only possible if the wall contains a window.

‘Hello again,’ he said.

‘Hello, Paul. This window or vent isn’t on the plans, is it?’

‘No,’ he admitted cheerfully. ‘The architect told me to put it in.’

‘Right, well could you please tell the architect to tell you to brick it back up?’

‘Will do,’ he said.

A quarter of an hour later, the hole was gone. I imagine they’re regrouping and having a little meeting about how to get more windows past me. Maybe they’ll try painting bricks on them.

Call it a vent or call it a window, I know when there’s a rectangle missing from a wall. Other things have been harder to diagnose, this past weekend.

We went to my parents’ place in the country for a few days, but the morning after we arrived, May Blossom’s grumbling about her sore tummy escalated to claims of pretty bad pain, so we spent twelve hours on Sunday taking her from GP to small country hospital to larger hospital, while they tried to rule out appendicitis.

We didn’t end up with a definitive diagnosis.

Apparently abdomens are full of the same sort of lymph nodes that swell up on your neck when you are fighting a virus, and when they swell they cause terrible tummy pain in some people. It’s called mesenteric adenitis, which seems like a grandiose term for something that can’t be fixed, isn’t really dangerous, and goes away on its own eventually.

Mesenteric adenitis is commonly mistaken for appendicitis, which in turn is commonly mistaken for mesenteric adenitis. One is harmless, one is potentially very bad. Bloody hell, who’d be a doctor?

Not H, that’s who. H is an enthusiastic amateur at many things, including both human and animal medicine. Yesterday he came and found me on the verandah, where Garnet and I were playing cars with the PlayTrak set I had as a kid.

‘Ah, one of the chooks looks like she may not be laying many more eggs,’ he told me. ‘Should I take the kids out and let them see?’

Now to my mind, that rather vague description meant a chook was sick, and that he was wondering if he should gather together our two kids and Other Jess’s two kids and perform a spot of bird murder in front of them.

My first instinct was that this was a terrible idea. After all, poor old May Blossom had spent the day before in hospital and had not submitted gently to having a canula inserted in her arm. Not at all. What she needed right now was probably not to be hauled out to the chook yard to watch her father kill his first chook.

I was also wondering exactly how he planned to euthanase the chook. Our family has a poor history when it comes to putting sick chooks out of their misery. One memorable occasion saw Mum try, unsuccessfully, to kill one using a box, a hose, and the exhaust pipe of a Prius. We’re not real country people.

‘Well,’ I said uncertainly, ‘if you think they’re up to seeing you do that, I guess it’s educational. Check with Jess, though, before you kill a bird in front of her kids.’

‘No!’ H was horrified. ‘The chook’s already dead. She’s in the laying box, dead. I wasn’t going to kill her in front of them.’

I won’t lie: I was relieved to have been mistaken. H had seemed, for a moment there, like someone I didn’t really know. It seemed out of character for him to want to kill an animal in front of kids.

‘Oh, if she’s already dead, go right ahead. They’ve seen dead birds before. Go for your life,’ I said.

But finding kids who wanted to go look a dead chook was harder than H had expected. May Blossom had Sick Kid TV Rights and she wasn’t going to give that up for a dead bird. Garnet and Jess’s younger son weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t wheeled, plastic and made in 1982.

Eventually he cajoled seven-year-old Hugo, who has a healthy curiosity about such things, into coming out for a bit of educational avian corpse watching.

Imagine Hugo’s disappointment when they found an empty laying box and a live chook marching about the yard.

When we interrogated H later about how he had come to the initial conclusion that the chook was dead, he said it had been sitting there doing nothing, with its head on an awkward angle, its eyes open. I found that slightly alarming, because I spend much of the day sitting, doing nothing, with my head on an awkward angle, my eyes open. It’s called writing a book.

H said when he tried blowing in its eyes it hadn’t reacted. It was probably too shocked. Blowing in its eyes?

Blowing in someone’s eyes is not a known method of checking for proof of life. It’s a way of checking for glaucoma, sure, but only in conjunction with the correct optical instruments and only when carried out by a licensed opthalmologist. It’s not for some backyard James Herriot and a poor innocent old bird who is just having a bit of a ponder about whether she will or won’t lay an egg.

In his defence, H said he also blew in the eyes of the chook in the next laying box, and she had blinked. The Country Medical Review Board did not find that much of a defence.

We’re home now, and May Blossom is not at school. She’s here on the couch, feeling pretty ordinary, helping me keep an eye out for unauthorised windows. I’ve blown in her eyes a few times, just to be on the safe side.

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