by Sharon Boyle
AS BRIAN CONTINUED to stare out the window, Jenna entered the kitchen and announced, ‘There’s another missing-cat sign in the post office.’ She switched on the kettle. ‘Some sick fuck is poisoning them.’ She upturned two mugs. ‘They better not come after Hamble. I’m keeping her in nights.’ She paused. ‘Brian, what’re you looking at?’
‘You’ve been strange since Monday. Since you had to clean up those feathers.’
‘A bird got in. That’s all.’ Brian sidled past and stared out of the hall window.
Jenna called after him, ‘Judy Fisher’s budgie escaped. Wants us to keep an eye out for it.’
Brian turned. Bluey? Escaped? Not good news.
When Jenna left for Pilates Brian kept himself busy by reading newspapers and convinced himself he was concentrating.
Tap, tap, tap.
A pigeon, opalescent necked and dun coated, perched on the lounge window sill, staring in, vulture-bold.
Brian had a choice. He could either plug in ear buds and risk another bird dive-bombing through the cat flap or he could open the window. He slid up the sash.
The pigeon stood side-on, head bobbing. ‘Seed.’
‘I agreed to fill the feeder every Friday morning. Friday. Today is Thursday.’
‘I’m not made of money.’
‘Money. The stuff I need to get seed. There’s a whole garden of worms out there.’
The pigeon tapped out a dance. ‘Seed.’
‘Fine.’ Brian closed the window and headed to the shed for bird food.
On Friday the pigeon tracked him to the study window. Brian turned from the PC.
Tap, tap –
‘Yeh, alright.’ Brian shoved up the window.
‘Food not fill.’
‘I did it yesterday. You know that.’
The pigeon cocked his head.
Brian exhaled. ‘I don’t have enough money.’
The pigeon stilled, its glassy eye glinting. ‘You lie, Brin.’
‘Find your own food. It’s coming into spring.’
‘House, Brin. Land used up. Less farm too.’
‘Look, I can’t feed you every day.’
As Brian replenished the feeder a strange lull filled the garden. To steady his nerves he counted the birds perched on the fence. Twenty-six, including a yellow budgie and a cockatiel. And not one making a sound.
Brian typed birds and articulation on the keyboard. African Grey, budgerigar and Amazon parrot could mimic or utter accidental words but nothing hinted at the possibility of a two-way conversation. He tried talking pigeons and suffered a five-minute video of an Indian gentleman coaxing a pigeon to emit a strangled hello. Brian’s pigeon needed no coaxing. His pigeon wouldn’t shut up.
He clicked on history of birds. Descended from dinosaurs, they’d survived for 167 million years. Impressive. Humans—five million. But look at how far humans had progressed in their eye-blink existence.
A fuss of wings outside drew his attention. He studied the bird—a spotted thrush. Attached to those wings were bitty pieces of claw, beak and brittle bone held within a weightless husk. A far fall from the pterodactyl branch.
Brian was woken by a sporadic fluttering. The pigeon was above him, on the light shade. Jenna had already left for work.
Brian groaned. ‘Most of my money is going on fucking seed.’
The pigeon refused to leave. It seemed impressed with Brian’s ‘nest.’ And he wanted to discuss Human v Bird.
‘We fly, Brin.’
‘Heard of aeroplanes?’
The pigeon flinched and spoke of noise and grime.
Brian smiled. ‘We’ve been to the moon. Beat that.’
Brian learned not to leave the house without first feeding the birds after they strafed him with shit. He had hared back inside and spied them lined up on the fence, including Bluey looking bolshy with a puffed up breast.
He filled the feeders every second day, alternating with Judy Fisher. They covered one another’s shifts if they couldn’t manage the schedule. It worked well enough till Brian was caught in a zoom meeting that ran on into the evening. When he sprinted to the shed he stumbled over a lump on the lawn—Hamble: eyes pecked out, fur shredded open, heart missing. Brian swung round as a mass of birds rose into the sky, torpedo smooth, silhouetted against a conquered moon. Their collective noise was loaded, fierce, heady.
Curious about the noise, Jenna looked out the kitchen window and caught sight of Brian. He was standing on tip-toes, arms extended, neck stretched, fingers reaching—his whole body straining. But bulky bones and poor evolution kept him earthbound.
Sharon Boyle lives in East Lothian and writes around her family life and part-time job. She has had several short stories and flash pieces published on-line and in magazines, including Ellipsis Zine, Exeter Writers, Oxford Flash and Cranked Anvil. She loves mince pies but hates Christmas pud. She tweets as @SharonBoyle50.