Wednesday, June 3

Blood Red Bird

I AWOKE, BECAUSE OF the call of a bird in the middle of the night. It was not a rooster, or even a crow. The stranger’s bed was immediately apparent, because when you are asleep you do not notice the bed you are sleeping in; only when you are awake do you notice the differences between it and your own bed. The bird kept on calling, not singing, but calling this sound out through the night. It was not pleasant, and it had woken me up.
I had been asleep in my cousin’s old bed, in my uncle’s house for the weekend as I made my way south to get away from some things in my life. The trip was long. Their house was a welcome stop. My cousin had moved out some time ago leaving his sister alone with her parents. The bed was different to me, and all of its differences very accentuated to my body and senses, as one grows accustomed to their own bed. The sheets were old cotton, almost as old as he, I suspected, and worn to the threads. Little bobbles were all over it from the wash. My fingers played with the bobbles. The bird kept calling. I rolled back and forth, playing with the bobbles and hearing the bird calling. My thoughts drifted to something my uncle had said to me the night before, over dinner as we shared meatloaf and a bottle of wine. The smell of meatloaf hung in the kitchen. My aunt smiled and listened to my uncle and I discuss things, as we had not discussed things in a long time and I knew that he missed his sister, my mother. His moustache moved as he talked to me; his hands gesticulated with silver cutlery conducting in the light. I thought about what he had said. It was a lot to consider, and so tired was I and resistant of the thoughts that I got out of bed in my underwear, led, by my turgid sex, to the window sill where I looked out into the large garden of my uncle’s house.
I was shocked to see – at first scared and surprised – my cousin sitting on the grass in the darkness. In her lap was her cat. She was stroking it. She was sat in the grass in the dark. In summer the dark of night is not very dark but is deep blue like ocean, neither brutal nor inhospitable. They were drenched in blue. She sat there on the grass with the cat, stroking it. The cat was black and white, spotted. I could tell that the cat was enjoying being stroked, while its head flicked at the bird calling. What was my cousin doing awake, sitting on the grass? It must have been gone one.
I got back into bed, shooed away my thoughts and fell asleep.
In the morning I saw through the kitchen window that my uncle was out in the garden, watering his flowers from a long green hose that extended from his shed. In bare feet, embracing the warm morn, and with a coffee & smoke, I went out to the cherry tree, picked some within reach and went to him. I ate the sour cherries (mug steadied carefully on the ground), spat the stones into the grass and said—
‘Morning, son.’
I did not mind him calling me son, not at all; I disliked it very much when anyone else, excluding my father, called me ‘son.’
‘You all right?’
‘Yeah, you?’
‘Yeah, just watering the beds. It hasn’t rained much.’
‘I know, but I’m not complaining… but, then, I’m not a flower.’
He swished the hose water around. The hose water turned the light soil dark, like the night an ocean.
The cherries were sour, the coffee good—‘I was thinking about what you said last night, at dinner.’
‘What was that?’
‘About how life is cruel and the proof is because you have to watch your parents die and your children have to watch you die.’
Pause. Eyes down at the flowers.
‘What were you thinking about it? My own father, your grandfather, told me that.’
‘I was thinking that because it’s cruel, it’s not… you understand? Because we loved our parents and our parents loved us, life isn’t cruel. It’s just that last kick in the teeth that life has, and probably enjoys.’
He laughed. We laughed. The flowers laughed with some hose water thrown on them.
‘Exactly right, my boy.’
We stood and watched the hose water. The morning was light upon us. Birds sung in the trees and the leaves shimmered in the angled sun. It was a good morning. The coffee was good. About my feet were cherry stones; gnarled and flaps of flesh hanging on. He did not move the hose much, not around the bed. His garden was very big, I had never seen a garden so big, and around it were beds of flowers & shrubs, standing up and wobbling in the breeze.
‘You know that Lydia sits in the garden at night?’ I asked. It punctured the air, especially as I thought I was handing her in, giving away her game, perhaps spoiling her—‘She had Tibbet with her. The two of them were just sat on the grass over there.’ I pointed.
He shook the hose water—‘Yeah, I know. I seen her myself a couple of times. They just sit there for hours, as if there’s a sun in the sky to be bathing under.’
I smiled—‘It was very peaceful actually, just watching them… I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I just watched them.’
He bent the hose in half, cutting the water—‘Ah, good luck to her. She loves that cat.’

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