New boy

I’m organising my things, in a ramshackle, desultory fashion – trying with habitual lack of skill to make sense of new space and old stuff. The blandness of over-worn, promiscuous student accommodation – thin synthetic carpet and tired emulsion paint with just a hint of grease. Through the open, low threshold ground floor window, a girl swings her legs through and sits. “Hi! I’m just trying to get this done. Is it OK?” She busies with her iPad, frowning slightly.

“Sure,” I say. I place the postcard from Angela on the desk, then find myself struggling to pick up the cheap multivitamin tab from the floor near the girl’s feet. I glance, up, mildly flustered. She must find me somewhat off balance. The blasted thing is in bits and powder – broken when I pushed it through the foil of the blister package. Fragments cling to the slight sweat of my fingers as I transfer the dregs to the egg cup on the desk.

She looks up, apparently satisfied. “Sorry – just sorting my new timetable. Pfff…”

“What are you studying?”

“Vulcanology.”

“Wow, interesting!”

“Yes – my friends all say so, but then ask what use it will actually be. But the whole history of how the earth has formed and changed, I love it.”

I’m no longer on my knees, but stand awkwardly, charmed yet discomfited by this casually uninvited guest. “Um, so you’re not in first year?”

“Oh no – fourth. It’s going to be busy”

“I can imagine. This is my first. First day, actually.” I feel vaguely annoyed with myself at revealing my ‘new boy’ status.

Kestrel

“Look! You can see how it just flickers its wings for a brief moment, and then hovers. It’s a kestrel!”

As the car continues, I twist and crane my neck to keep it in view.

“They’re slightly reddish in colour, though against the light perhaps you can’t see. There it goes!”

Closing its wings, it plummets to the ground. Moments later, it flaps heavily off to a location more distant from the road.

“I think it’s got something! Look how much slower it is now.”

The car rounds the bend, and the kestrel and its prey vanish behind a heather-clad cutting.

Sparrowhawk is something else. Sitting in the living room, face steaming with the healing vapours of thick cocoa, I gaze out at the snow. On the multi-headed bird feeder – more like a tree – they’re busy. Great tits, blue tits, chaffinches. Blackbirds and dunnets on the ground, gathering up the crumbs from under thy table.

Suddenly, a great scatter. They explode in all directions, like a silent, feathery firework.

Bang! Something hits the window glass.

Looking out, I see a pitiful small corpse. A chaffinch, so dusty-grey pink in its fine breast feathers, lies in the snow.

We pull on wellies and go round to the now deserted terrace. Picking up her frail warm form, cradling it in my hands.

“She may be OK still. Bring her inside in the warm.”

Inside, in a shoebox, sentinels warding off the cat, the fragile bird gradually comes round.

The Rabbit

It’s a few feet from the verge, looking slow and disoriented in our approaching headlights. Ben slows down to a crawl, fearful of hitting it.

“It makes me so angry!” says Karen. “No, we can’t leave it like that. Myxy is such a terrible death – they’re suffering so much!”

“D’you want me to run it over, love?”

I can feel Enya tense up beside me, gripping my hand, as Ben reverses the car a hundred yards, halts, then engages first and floors the accelerator.

“Get a clean shot!”

The rabbit wavers, and Ben swerves slightly.

Thud.

My body whole body spasms, spine tensing and tingling.

The car stops, and they look back in the darkness.

“Not sure. Did I get it properly?”

“Yes, yes.”

Ben seems ready to get out and take a look.

“Honestly. That was a clean hit. It’s dead.”

The good deed’s done.

Letter

I can’t believe she feels that way.

The roughly torn envelope lies on the duvet, glaring, and the crumpled sheets, close-written, lie on the crumpled sheets.

It’s the end.

My chest hurts, and I feel pain in the belly that’s not hunger.

Sitting out in the car at work’s car park, I can’t go in. Just sitting there. I call Sonia, lifeline, and words, kind words, reel my fleeing soul back in. I’m alive, aren’t I?

I start the ignition. Companionable diesel engine wakes up, and together we drive down to the sea.

“It was a good time, wasn’t it? We really did have good times.”

Counting blessings is worth the painful effort.

Sitting on the cold black rocks of the breakwater, I breathe in the smell of salt, seagulls and sewage, wondering whether there’s some way back.