I said I did not know.
She said, “Did Sniffy die?”
“I don’t know, miss.” I thought I could draw a swan much better. I was bursting to show her what I could have done.
The third day began just the same. I washed. I got dirty. Mr. Piggott himself came to give me my instructions.
“Get the trolley, lad,” he said. “Today it is a pickup.”
I set off at a great speed in order to get the heavy trolley up onto the road, but he snatched the machine from my care, and shoved it underneath a pussy willow. He then led me through some stinging nettles, arriving hard against the backside of the house, at a place where there was a stink of moss and lichens, also a peeling gray door, which I was told to open. I found myself in an empty dark stale-smelling room which had once been a kitchen. From here I was shooed like a hen into another room which held nothing but a big fireplace of gray carved stone.
“Now,” said Piggott, “come in the fireplace and I’ll show you.”
I said I was not allowed in fireplaces.
For answer Mr. Piggott threw his head back against his wide shoulders. Then he folded himself up, all shoulder, head and knees and— maintaining this strange arrangement of his limbs—edged himself inside the fireplace.
“Come here with me,” he said, taking off his spectacles and sliding them inside his apron.
“I’m going to fetch the trolley,” I said.
“Forget the blessed trolley. We need no trolley.” He came crabbing out to snatch at me, his naked eyes gone wet and fishy. He twisted up my shirtfront in his fist. I tore away and broke my buttons and rushed out into the dappled woody light of morning, bawling in fright, but I wanted a sleep and a feed and so fetched the stupid trolley from its hiding place and brought it back to the main door of the printery where I met my father rushing the other way, a stick of type grasped in his hand.
Mr. Piggott rounded on us, arms swinging, head nodding.
“What’s he done now?” my father said.
Mr. Piggott removed the stick from my father’s hand, assessed the type composed there, before laying it carefully on a windowsill. Then he led my da away from me, down toward the stream. I saw the water sparkling behind their dark figures, light shining like a halo through Mr. Piggott’s ring of hair. The Master stroked my da on his long back, then watched as he returned to his son.
“What?” I asked.
He attempted to mimic me but he did not have the ear. He was hangdog, red neck, and could not look at me. “Come on, my Parrot,” said he at last. “Master needs your help.”
“No,” I said slipping from his grabby hand.
My daddy permitted himself to be led into the stinging nettles, through the empty kitchen, to the empty fireplace. I followed. This time I noted Piggott took the trouble to explain, and when he did this his voice became both whispery and loud.
Said he, “I have a very good pressman working in a very hard-toget- to place.”
My father squatted and peered toward the chimney.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Piggott, jerking his head at my father.
“That’s it, John.”
My father winked at me.
“Nothing’s going to hurt the nipper,” said Mr. Piggott. “All he has to do is.”
I took a step back but my da had already locked his arm around my shoulder.
“That’s it,” whispered Mr. Piggott. “All he has to do.”
He got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the fireplace.
“Come on, young’un,” he whispered, and I smelled an airy rush of peppermint.
Excerpted from Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Carey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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