Excerpt of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott
(Page 1 of 7)
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Above the bush, the pink and orange streaked sky had
faded to gray. Inside, it was almost dark, and Grandpa,
in his chair beneath the room's only window, caught the last of
the light. He sat completely still, smiling at our confusion.
His whisper had silenced the conversation. "Look who's joining
us for drinks," he had said. But nothing had moved. The door
remained closed, the cat curled peacefully on the sofa. No new
sounds interrupted the soft ring of chirps, rustles, and faraway
We waited for an explanation. He gave none. His gaze alternated
between us and the ceiling; his body remained still. One
hand clutched a small glass, full with an equal mixture of red
wine and grape juice; the other lay on the armrest, long fingers
digging into the worn velvet covers.
Then a flicker near the ceiling, and a shadowy creature
plunged out of the gloom.
Just above his head, close enough to brush wisps of thin
white hair, it stopped a giant brown moth, suspended with an
unsteady flutter. The moth, joined moments later by a second,
began a jolting orbit of his head.
Grandpa gave a satisfied grunt. He lifted his glass and took
a small sip. The moths, ignoring him, continued to circle, and
as carefully, he lowered the glass again. He sat motionless, his
taut and flattened. He hadn't swallowed, and as his eyes
the moths, a drop of liquid grew at each corner of his mouth,
pausing just before it was full enough to slide down his jaw.
Suddenly, a dark butterfly shadow eclipsed his cheek: one of
the moths, wings flat against his face, long proboscis reaching
for a drop. The second moth descended on the opposite cheek.
The first flapped away. It was magical and ridiculous: the
clumsy creatures taking off and settling again; Grandpa, until
then so fiercely intimidating, looking like a gentle, badly
He smiled at those dowdy moths as if they were beloved pets;
and only when they left, when the last traces of daylight had
and a paraffin lamp spluttered to life in the corner of the
room, did he return his attention to his audience.
"Nice trick, Ivor," said Dad, as the moths joined clouds of
that appeared out of nowhere to dive- bomb the lamp. "But what
these kids really want to see are snakes."
"Whaddaya say?" Grandpa leaned forward and cupped his
hand behind his ear. His voice was high- pitched and sounded
strange coming from such a tall, imposing man. Squeezed between
Mum and the cat on the sofa, Damien and I stifled a laugh. Lulu
didn't manage, giggled, and buried her head in Mum's lap.
Dad repeated himself.
"Hard to please, eh?" Grandpa fixed his gaze on each of us,
half amused, half accusing. He turned back to Dad.
"Keith," said Grandpa, pointing to a frayed brown armchair
in the corner of the room. "Show the kids what's under that
Dad raised an eyebrow and smiled, but didn't inquire further.
He stood up and walked slowly toward the chair. "Come
on, chaps," he said, grabbing the armrest, "not suddenly scared
We all shook our heads. None of us moved. I didn't trust
myself to speak. Desperate as I was to see snakes, after all
stories about Grandpa Ivor's wild, laugh- in- the- face- of-
life, the prospect of whatever lay beneath that chair in this
house was suddenly terrifying.
I turned to Granny Betty, who sat quietly at the end of the
long sofa, stroking the cat with a bony hand. An amused smile
flickered across her face, but she remained silent.
"Go on," said Mum, smiling encouragingly, "Dad and
Grandpa Ivor know what they're doing. This is what you've been
Excerpted from Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (chapter 1, pages 1-14) by Robyn Scott. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Robyn Scott, 2008.