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The Blackbird's Song

Rosamunde Copping

Posted on Sat 30 Sep 2017

A new town and a new place to live, but this place was my day dream, my escape and as I sit looking at the constant blue grey horizon and the blue northern light I start to wonder if in fact I had expired and was living in the last few seconds of an endless fantasy. A beautiful place where the air is chilled with sweet pine and the constant smell of the North Sea. The shore line bubbles with foam and I remember how the boys used to laugh and throw it at each other until they were soaked and cold. They prefer places with people of their own age now and I feel sad that I wished away that vibrant exhausting time, taking in the blue air and light with my sweet cheeky boys missing.

A new place deserves a good clear out and letting go of things, a 20-year job, odd mugs and side plates, saving only precious things…….. so, when I found an old hand-written story I couldn’t decide how to let it go or how to save it……………… ‘The Black Bird Song’………………….

It lay in the palm of the little girl’s hand, naked still and cool, it’s eyes had never opened. Melisa’s face, smeared with mud, was motionless while her big brown eyes widened while the baby bird excreted a milky green fluid onto her chubby hand.
‘I think they are dead’ she said. The gravity of what the three had done mortified the children. The stillness of the moment was broken by Melisa’s sobs as she turned away from her sister and Peter and ran across the newly ploughed field.
‘I’m telling, I’m telling’. The chick lay in the mud discarded.

‘You must take you self-back to this morning and think. Think carefully about what you did and said, exactly. From the moment, you set off. Just sit down and trace back, in your mind every single step. You know what three year olds are like, got an idea and they are off.’
I looked at the young woman, probably the manager, no uniform in neat well- fitting clothes. God at this moment I would do anything to be her. I try to stop shaking but I can’t speak. I close my eyes and picture the journey that morning.
Oliver had been awkward. He wouldn’t put his clothes on so, in a fury, I had swept him off his feet and dressed him.
‘Do you want to go to Woolworths and get any sweeties?’ I asked, to which he balled:
‘No. And I don’t like these shoes!’. He pulled them off and threw them in the air and in tiny moments they had come down hitting him on the head. His face turned into a medieval gargoyle and his red nose bubbled with green snot, as a noise came from his mouth, that almost certainly was above healthy sound levels inside a small room. I began to think that this would be yet another day, that in my pathetic- ness, we would not get it together enough to be out in day light.

It was a small village and the day before Peter had called at the girl’s house with a marvellous secret. It was a perfect day to go out playing, and the first day for a long time it had been dry enough to walk across the fields to the Old Lane. The Old Lane was a grand place to play, with a deeply trod dirt track with banks either side. Tall old trees grew either side which were perfect for climbing.
Peter had discovered a Black Bird’s nest and had been watching and waiting for the chicks to hatch. He put it to the sister that maybe it would be a good idea to take the chicks and rear them as their own birds. Living things to care for and even more tempting in secret.
‘Look they are Hatched’. At the top of the tall trunk, on a high branch they saw the pointy greedy mouths of the chicks.
The Children set about collecting bugs and worms and building a nest by weaving sticks and under growth together. The final task was to steal the baby Black Birds. They watched as the Black Birds came back and forth delivering mouthfuls of worm and insect mush and were amazed at the endless efforts of the adult birds while the chicks screeched and snatched with wide yellow holes.

Finally, the front door closed behind us and we walked. Oliver pulling away from my hand
‘On my own,’ he grizzled.
‘No, the cars’ I answered.
‘I want to go on the bus. I want to go on that digger. I really want to go on that Crain up and down up and down up and down……………………..
I was thinking the only way to survive young children with my sanity was to switch to a mode of automatic, where routines are rarely varied and slowly and monotonously build each day; resulting in my own world being detached from the world created for my child and only in my mind. This morning I was dreaming of living in a big house in the country and my children having the countryside to play in as I had once done.
As Oliver chatted on I dreamt of a large kitchen table and a door opening to a large green wild garden. Occasionally I glanced at the other people in the street, a woman with nice shoes another with a pretty face, a man in his fifties suddenly bent down to Oliver’s face and said:
‘Hello Blondie’, his face was beaming and covered in a shiny taught skin which looked odd on a man of his age. Vainly his hair was placed to the side covering a thinning patch and his grin reminded me of a fair ground laughing policeman. Oliver looked hypnotised by the face as I gently held his hand and pulled him into Woolworths.
‘look it is Mummy and Oliver’ he said pointing to the screen as we walked in.
The Pic n’ mix shone like jewels from an exotic treasure chest and soon I was replacing handfuls of sweets back to their boxes as fast as Oliver could snatch them up.
I was reaching major stress levels as the hand full of sweets stopped going into the bag and started to go into Oliver’s mouth, pockets and down his trousers, when we again heard,
‘Hello Blondie.’
‘That’s enough!’ I yelled at Oliver. In a swoop, I collected all the sweets from all the safe places and put them in the bag.
At the till, we waited in a long line, past the stage of patience I held Oliver’s hand while he twisted and swung.
My mind wondered and I thought of a beautiful garden planted out with red geraniums, with a gate at the bottom leading to open flat fields with fresh groves and distant rows of trees and the song of the Black Bird filling the air.
I placed the bag of sweets on the scales at the till and looked around for Oliver.

Peter climbed the tree, reaching for the nest he places 3 of the chicks in his pockets and seemed to throw the remaining 2 into the nearby bushes.
‘What did you do that for?’ asked the elder of the two sisters
‘I thought I was going to slip,’ he replied. The girls looked at each other in confusion because the answer was so unconnected to the act.
The children tenderly placed the chicks in the nest and tried to feed them the mushed-up insects balanced on fine twigs.
The evening was closing in so after placing the hand built nest high up in the Den Tree and covering the chicks in straw the children went home for their tea and warm baths and cosy beds.
The following morning, they raced back to the Den Tree to find the chicks still and quiet and faintly pulsating.
‘Now we have to teach them how to fly, they won’t survive if they can’t fly’ Peter chirped.
‘But we haven’t named them yet,’ said Melisa.
‘Mine will be Dartanian after the three Musketeers,’ said Peter.
‘And mine will be Cromwell after my cat, ’said the elder sister.
‘I’ll call mine Sammie after Sammie,’ said Melisa.
The Den Tree was a magnificent den. It had a thick trunk that spade out into three thick branches leaving a platform about 6-foot-wide from the edge of the bank leaning over the lane.
Peter placed his chick flat on his hand and leaning over the edge with a jerky motion he lifted his hand up and away propelling the chic up and then watched as the chic fell. So, light was the baby Black Birds that there was no sound when they hit the ground, and they barley disturbed the twigs and leaves where they fell. As if playing a lottery, the children became more and more excited about who’s would be the first to fly as again and again the chicks were dropped from the Den Tree.
‘Who will go first this time? Not you Peter, it’s always you,’ said Melisa.
Peter dropped his chick and with one giant step Squashed what remained. Melisa looked down at her chic and realised that from early that morning the chicks had been dead.
She ran off across the field, while the other two watched with the impending doom that only children feel of adult’s rantings and ravings. Rantings and ravings that were only conducted in private with children because adults never ‘lost it’ in the same mad way with other adults.
Silence held the air in place as they stood quite still. They listen more and heard the gentle hiss of the Tree and the high beautiful sad song of the Black Bird and were frozen in the cruelty of their game and the absolute horror of stealing life.

Oliver was nowhere to be seen. Quite calmly at first, as this had happened before I had looked around the sweet isle, then around the toys. I walked around the outside isles then the inside ones, I looked outside the shop and down the street and as I re-entered the shop I looked up at the TV’s for sale. I saw a small child holding two older boy’s hands, the child’s coat was too big and the hood was up and the tiny legs dragged as they rushed and barley seemed strong enough to support the coat. I knew this image from the News, fear invaded me, this was the image of a young child recently abducted, tortured and murdered. Agonising stillness surrounded my air. Oliver was gone.
The staff were very kind they searched the store while the young woman looked after me. They said it was best not to lose any time and call the police.
As I sat shaking I remembered the Black Bird’s beautiful sad song, I rocked the way I had when I nursed Oliver and I imagined my cheek against his warm sweet-smelling face.
In just a few moments this dreadful terror would be over.


The Blackbird's Song


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