She sits quiet, looking out the conservatory window at the birds on the bird feeder. Throughout the morning the sun has warmed up the room – it’s the only warm room in the house. Even the polished tiles under her woolly socks no longer feel chilly to touch.
The bird feeder is busy today. A pair of goldfinches, once known as the Lady of the Twelve Flounces in their gold and scarlet vestments, hop from foot to foot. A sisken, small and alone, pecks away at the seeds on the table’s smooth surface. A black cap, handsome with his noble head, has travelled all the way here from Lake Malawi to warble with confidence in this, the tiny garden outside of the conservatory.
Yesterday she walked 15 miles through the hills. Not mountains, a few feet off that achievement, but bloody big hills nonetheless. Down in the valley the sun had shone hot on her back, forcing her to strip off layers of fleece and gore-tex, a trickle of sweat snaking its way down her spine. Talking of snakes, she had seen an adder sunbathing on the edge of the pine copse. ‘Look,’ she had pointed, before pulling her hand back, remembering.
The sun had settled in the valley. But the higher she went, the cooler it got, until before she knew it she was back in her fleece and gore-tex, snow flurries settling on her hair, red-pointed ears protected by a fleeced headband.
Hill after hill, one after another, until she’d found herself almost running to the top just to see what it would look like from there. Just to know what would be revealed. She chased summit after summit, her heart beating hard in her chest, panting with the anticipation. Heather everywhere, the grouse calling for her to ‘get out get out’, the soft yellow grass reaching up to and tickling the strip of ankles above her socks so that it wasn’t hard walking, not really, just long walking, on the peaty earth.
At the top of each hill was another hill, until she stood in the snow crunchy under her boots and looked east to the coast, a sliver of gold and then the blue beyond. West, more hills, and a sky that stretched all the way out into another country and then, somewhere at the end of all that land patch-worked in gold and green and purple, more sea (a week later she would stop in the city street and cry because she couldn’t see the sky, not really, amid all those buildings).
But that was yesterday. Today she sits in the conservatory, watching the birds flutter and flirt and fight on the bird feeder. Her legs ache with the warm satisfied ache that sometimes comes after sex; an ache that intensifies a joyful memory, a happy achievement.
A female blackbird, incongruously named, the colour of polished antique wood, her beak a muted yellow compared to her flashy husband. She pecks for worms that burrow and squirm under the hedge that borders the garden. Finding one, she holds it vice-like in a proud display for a moment, inviting admiration, before swallowing it down in a satisfied gulp. She bends her inquisitive head to find another, eyes focused on the ground below her.
Focused on the ground below her so she doesn’t look up to see the sparrow hawk that lands with a silent crash into the garden, grabbing the blackbird by the neck in the brutal curve of its mouth. She convulses in an alarming shudder just the once, and then she dies.
The violence is over so quickly. The finches and siskens and caps have vanished into the blue sky. Silence settles. The sparrow hawk looks straight at her, inviting admiration, demanding respect, and then launches off again, the precious blackbird dangling down.
Slowly, one by one, and then pair by pair, the birds return to the table, pecking away at the seeds. The knit is sealed, the danger already forgotten.