Thursday, July 11

The Once Tenderness

I WAS SAT ON the sofa, reading a magazine on one of my days off, with the sun coming through the windows most brightly and myself feeling a tad morose … when there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anyone but opened it to find a gentleman offering to clean my windows for a very competitive price. I thought that clean windows in the summer would be a real pleasure so I paid him some dirty notes from my wallet; a task performed quickly and with an experienced hand; and when he was finished my windows were clearer than crystal so that I was obliged to tip him decently.
No sooner had I sat back down to continue with my magazine when there was a thump on my newly cleaned window! I leapt up as if stung. Someone is throwing rocks! I peered out, only to notice on the lawn a stunned and somewhat injured goldfinch. He wriggled in agony. Immediately I hurried outside, picked him up carefully and took him inside.
He tweeted – ‘Ow, ow! I hurt so much!’ So I calmed him down and put the kettle on – something my mum had shown me for soothing any situation. The goldfinch kept uttering his pain. I told him that the kettle was on and the he needn’t worry; he was in good hands.
With utmost tenderness I fashioned him splints from toothpicks and tried to fix his broken limbs. Sometimes he would wince and tweet to let me know how much it hurt. Very quickly we understood each other. When the kettle was boiled he even enquired if he might have a saucer of Chinese breakfast tea –
‘Glady,’ I said.
He sat on the sofa, ruffled his feathers, looked about my living room with his little black eyes and said – ‘I like what you’ve done with this place … great use of space–’
‘Thank-you!’ I cried from the kitchen.
‘–But I wish you wouldn’t have such clean windows. I never even saw them … and I’ve been around long enough to know a window when I see one!’
‘I’m sorry, I just had them cleaned.’ The goldfinch was a treasure to look at, so stunning, colourful, a feast for the eyes, and, it turns out, good company. ‘It’d be rude of me to not offer to look after you, feed you, take care of you … you know, make sure you recover.’
‘I don’t have anything planned … that’d be wonderful!’
So for the rest of the week I took care of the goldfinch – his name, I learned, was Rodolph – and we had some good times together. I admit that his penchant for Chinese breakfast tea was a trifle strange, but we got on splendidly. My previous feelings of sullenness and misery left me; Rodolph was a fantastic friend and I enjoyed every moment we were together. In the evenings we had dinner together – his portion always much smaller than my own – ‘This steak is delicious. No one does medium-rare as well as you!’ he would tell me with oily blood all over his little beak. I thanked him, of course. It was an honour to cook for someone who genuinely appreciated my efforts. After dinner we would play the odd game of chess – I had to move the pieces for him as they were too big for Rodolph to push – and then he’d have flying practice. He made excellent progress. By the end of the week he was flying all about the house, from my knee to the top of the wardrobe, from the television set to the dried flowers I keep in a vase by the oven. He recovered his ability to fly and he was, I admit, an adept flyer. He would show off, reveling in my impression. Often he would mount the edge of the dresser to sing the sweetest song for me; afterwards, I would applaud and, laughing, demand an encore.
Within me, though, was a sadness; a sadness that he was getting better and would soon be well enough to be free again. I put off mentioning it, and he never brought it up. In the end we had no choice but to discuss it, openly, and with sorrow in our hearts.
The day came and we said our good-byes. I took him to the front door and said – ‘Good-bye, Rodolph.’
To which he said ‘Good-bye, L—.’
My eyes were wet. His eyes were wet, too. He was perfect, so fragile upon my feeble index finger. He twitched his wings to show that they would still work, that he would be fine.
Then an idea struck me…
I clutched him in my hand and threw him with all my might at the floor, the garden path that ran from my door to the pavement.
His tiny bones cracked; I heard them.
His tiny beak moaned very softly. I looked at him lying there. Sobs pulsed on my face and ran out from my eyelids. With all I the strength I could muster, I brought my foot down upon him and crushed the life out of Rodolph.
That was it.
He was motionless now. His colourful feathers were disturbed; his beak was out of joint; one of his eyes had burst; blood was doing the decent thing and leaving his body.
I left him there and went back inside. All summer I watched him rot. His skin and feathers have gone, eaten up or blown away, but his bones remain.

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