'The things we call signs today' by Elaine Dillon

When the ground was hard in winter, you’d tell me the birds couldn’t get to the worms. You drizzled a tap over the stale end of a loaf, tearing beak-sized chunks, and I made it my job to carry the bowl down the garden. The brittle blades squeaked, bending under my feet. I inched forwards, following the long plumes of my own breath, your corduroy knees at one elbow.

Heavy wingbeats and burbling coos signalled the arrival of the pigeons on the telephone lines, their fat bodies sagging the cables.

"Greedy birds,” you'd say, as we watched the robins hopping round the outskirts, searching for a gap amongst the plump, cobalt feathers.

Robins started to visit me, after you died. Christmas cards would have us believe they are a winter bird, but they came in incongruous seasons; landing on the stone sill of my kitchen and cocking their head, peering in with one shiny eye. I wonder if you knew the legend of the robin’s red breast. It's said that he flew to Jesus, comforting Him as He died on the cross, and is forever stained with His blood. The robins watched my lips through the glass.

Kirsty chews the corner of her mouth as she listens to me talk about the birds. Then she talks about the sweets you always had in your pockets, and how you drew kids like swarms. I watch the window mist over with the steam from my cup. A kid’s trike has been abandoned outside but the colours are muted under the condensation, until the glass starts to run with heavy beads of water. Kirsty sighs, tells me there was talk too. She curls around the mug she is clutching, hiding it inside the folds of her coat that fall forward with a curtain of dark hair.

I think of the play-park at the end of the street. When I was done with the swings, you’d take my hands and spin me until my feet left the ground, going faster and faster until sky, grass, and the faces of children I didn’t know all became one streaky circle. Your big, laughing face was the steady centre in my blurry world.

You’d lower me carefully, my feet dragging a giddy arc in the bark chips, where I’d rest pink cheeks and inhale the woody flakes, the dampness seeping quickly into my clothes. When I rolled over, you were already twirling another, as the kids flocked around you chirping me, me, me, me, me!

When I read more about robins I find out they are a spring bird. They are about renewal and rebirth. A sign to forget the past, one post says. And I wait for one to appear.

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