by Marian Allen
I used to say I never met a Greenhorn I didn’t like, but Middle-C-F-Sharp-A was about to become the first exception. Maybe I shouldn’t have took him to the track with me, but there was always a flock of them there, having a good time, so I took him.
He knew I was ticked when I whistled his real name instead of calling him by the official Earth American one Immigration assigned him: Peter Bluefeather.
Pete was about my height, his green skin dark from working next to me on the farm. Two tufts of yellow feathers stuck up like horns from the sides of his head; the one blue one on the left gave him his Earth American surname.
Orange beak, red flag, like we say, and Pete’s was orange now. He was a sucker for a racetrack tout; bet a hot tip every race and lost every time. He’d just paid another ten bucks for another one.
I whistled the Greenhorn phrase for Don’t start.
He clacked his bill twice then held it open a couple of seconds, working his round pink tongue.
Between the Earth American he’d learned and the Greenhorn whistles he’d taught me, we did okay on the farm. Harder for him than it was for me, though, because I always been a good whistler, and he had to make lip sounds without any lips.
“Man go,” he said.
“What man goes where?”
“Man-go. Mango.” He shook his racing form at me and handed it over.
There was a circle around a horse in this race – the last race – named Mango, at 11-1.
“Oo, too,” Pete said.
So far, I had picked my own horses and broke even, plus enough to buy us hot dogs and beers. Maybe that second beer wasn’t a good idea for Pete, because now he wanted to seal our friendship by sharing his hot tip with me.
“How about you bet on my horse?”
I could tell by the way he cocked his head, he’d sulk for days if I didn’t give in.
I whistled agreement and we put our money on Mango.
When they played the Call to the Post, Pete twittered laughter along with the other Greenhorns; seems that phrase was a smutty joke in one of their languages.
And the horses raced.
The one I would have bet on came in first. Mango is probably still running, if he ain’t died of old age.
You never seen a sorrier-looking Greenhorn than Pete, outside of moulting season.
When we was about halfway home, I heard him mutter something the first guy he worked for taught him:
“Pete’s a dirty bird.”
It like to broke my heart.
“Pete ain’t no kinda bird.”
I whistled his real name – Middle-C-F-Sharp-A, then I whistled The Isle of Capri, which I learned early on is the same tune as a Greenhorn formal statement of friendship.
We whistled it in harmony the rest of the way home.