A Painted Gull

Submitted into Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone heading home from work.... view prompt



Antony Brook of TemperYahealth Ltd put down the phone on his company’s most reliable first-aid trainer and let out a sigh of contentment. ‘Debbs nailed it again, finished up in Pambula without a hitch. Knew she’d make all 35’. Antony’s nonchalant exhilaration was matched similarly by his remaining colleagues spread out in varying degrees of lassitude as they raised a Friday beer in the name of Debbs’ perfect streak. At 5.35 the handful of TemperYahealth employees still at work threw back the dregs of their stubbies and slowly weaved their way between clean plywood desks and the occasional stack of blank first-aid certificates, out through the open-plan office like a flotilla of crisp white sailboats set out to catch the Sunday breeze.

           At the pub, the conversation turned briefly to the subject of Debbs’ epic 12-hour drive back to Coffs Harbour. Her tour of service was over for now; 35 first-aid courses in almost as many days stretching all the way from their Harbour in the North over 1000 km down to Pambula on the southern border. ‘Rather her than me’ burped a member of the accounts team ‘she chooses to stay out for longer, no?’ Antony gave a more or less nod from behind his glass. ‘Debbs likes the road and it works for us to give her long stretches… God, after half-a-day in the office she’s tearing the place down, keeping her back would be like trying to clip an eagles wings, everyone’s just better off with her outside and on the go’


Debs slipped her phone back into her jacket pocket and refocused herself. She had always had a way with animals, birds especially, sharing kiwis and bananas with the brush turkeys and cockatoos that gathered around her childhood home. She knew how to draw them in close enough to stroke, how to whisper and coo until they came and climbed on her shoulder or leg. As she sat overlooking the Boyd lighthouse, the Southern Pacific Ocean foaming on the cliff below she cooed with kiwi and banana in hand until an oversized silver gull rested its beak against her knee.

           Powdered was the easiest and safest to apply. Debs flipped the clasp of a wooden toolbox and eased out a little more than a pinch of brightly coloured dye between her fingers and massaged it into the neck of the serene sea bird. She worked quickly and with great care, fanning out its wings and stroking the colour into every feather. When the bird was done, vivid against the sand brown grass, she went to feed it one final piece of kiwi when a pair of dusty black boots startled the gull and it took flight.



‘Yea, but it will wash out in the rain and it’s non-toxic’ Debs rapped multi-coloured figures against the small of her back. ‘Do you have any idea the damage and destruction interfering with animals in their natural animal habitats has on the status of state wildlife?’ Debbs was a little taken aback by the vehemence of the officer.

‘Don’t you think they look more beautiful in colour?’

‘No! I don’t. Did you consider the effect this change would have on their familiar relations; chicks waiting to be fed by parents who come back to their nests a completely different colour; scared lifeless no doubt; I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t find thousands of dead seagull chicks, having fled in sheer shock horror’.


Officer Charlie Nash sat in the front seat of his NSW state patrol car and, under the direction of one NSW’s finest first-aid trainers, applied light to moderate pressure to the bite wound on his hand. ‘One of the first things to remember when administrating self-aid is hygiene, doesn’t matter that it’s your own body, you need to keep the gear clean… if you’d let me out the back, I could come have a look at it mate, I’ve been practising and instructing first-aid for over 7 years. You couldn’t be in better hands’.

Officer Nash glared at his suspect through the rear-view mirror. Moments after resisting the second phase of her arrest, transferral to the back seat, Deborah Marrow, 5-and-a-half-year veteran of TemperYahealth Ltd, had bitten Officer Nash’s outer palm with all the strength of a small saltwater crocodile and had in-kind held the offending hand clasped tight in a diminutive death roll for some 2 minutes before cramping up and retching on the slow trickle of blood from the wound.

           ‘You will be staying in the back! In a matter of minutes my backup will arrive and take you away to be tried for one, failing to comply with an officer of the law, two, biting an officer of the law and three, deformation of local wildlife.’ As if in well-deserved corroboration of Officer Nash’s tirade, a giant multicoloured seagull landed on the bonnet of the patrol car. ‘And there you bloody well have it. Look at that mess’. The gull seemed to be unphased by its change of plumage. Its mischievous black pearly eye worked well with the fluorescent pink of its neck and as it spread lime green and blue wings open and howled the effect was something like a copper rivet of made gold. It was like a shaft of a rainbow had been broken over the bonnet of the patrol car.


‘Look I’m meant to be back in Coffs Harbour Monday. I was about to make the drive back up north. Can I at least call the office and give em the lowdown’. Officer Nash and his back up drove on in silence. Debs’ pleas of leniency, phone calls and first-aid advice were soon lost between the roar of an open window and the blast of local radio. The patrol car bounded along the stretch of cliff road from Boyd’s bay to the local station unflinching. The road was quiet and the sky blue.

There was no sign of it before they came.

           A tornado of fantastically coloured birds swooped out from under the cliff edge. Hundreds of kaleidoscopic gulls rose up into the air above the patrol car and dive-bombed the windshield. Wave after wave came pummelling down until the police car slowly rolled to a stop, its drivers silent and technicolour their prisoner free.

March 06, 2020 22:06

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