Saturday 26 June 2021

'Brittle' by Tracy Fells

The bird raises its head and the apricot flush of chest feathers is unmistakable. A sparrow hawk. It’s caught a starling; pinned the fledgling, screeching like a banshee, to your lawn. The noise carries through the open window to where you stand with hands stinging in a sink of hot water.

On dry Sunday mornings your father took you fishing on the coast. It was your job to pin the flexing shrimp, piercing the hook down the opaque gullet and out through the curve of its tail. Protest tears were futile, falling, along with the shrimp you clumsily dropped, into rock pools. The fish responded better to live bait, he lectured. Life was tough, nature cruel, and even girls couldn’t afford to be soft.

The hawk is solid sinew and muscle, a female who will have her own chicks to feed. Your father died a year ago, yet his voice is still in your head. Brittle, and brutal as the raptor’s killing beak.

Too bloody soft.

You slap the window, hard and loud. This small act of defiance feels good. The sparrow hawk glares up at you, then takes flight. Your legs wobble and shake, crumpling you to the soap splattered floor. The tears come hot and fast like summer rain. Outside the starling gang is raucous, squawking tunelessly. You imagine the iridescent hooligans jeering insults, or perhaps praising their resurrected youngster like a Homeric hero.

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