• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 05
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Sometimes I went with them to the blind. Papa would wake me while it was dark and the three of us would walk down to the lake while the darkness bled from the sky, the beeches and elms across the water getting blacker and blacker.

I found the birds too quick to follow. Papa was only quicker sometimes. Often as not they caught him yawning as they broke for the sky.

Mostly I remember kicking my boots, looking down at the now-dirtied straw put down to cover the ridges and hollows of muddy water at our feet. Looking down but leaning into Mama, cold tweed against my face, waiting for some hot soup – big soft hunks of carrot and swede steeped overnight in game stock – steaming from the flask, steaming out into mist and damp of the morning.

Papa was the same everywhere. But out in the hide – or out foraging for things to eat along the roadside – Mama expanded a little.

Papa was a lousy shot, I think, but he usually caught a couple at least. Rollo, our lop-tailed spaniel went to fetch them from the reed beds or whatever shallows they fell in. Then he’d come back, with mud and I-don’t-know-what matting his liver-and-rice fur, and lay them at Mama’s feet, grey feather, green feather, white feather, pearls of water dripping from their feet, necks drooping in death like flower stems after dusk.

“Not to me, you dolt,” she’d tell him gently. But he didn’t listen.

Walking home Papa would say, with a kind of shy contentment, “I bagged four today.”



“But you missed nineteen,” Mama would reply. Although, if you looked at her, you’d have thought she was watching the sky, not the birds, all along.

It didn’t seem to detract from Papa’s contentment. “All the more for next time,” he’d say. But it added to hers, I could see.

When I was older and came back again, when Mama couldn’t move that much and stayed home. I bought her this ridiculous duck from the old Hungarian lady’s bric-a-brac shop off the high street. Some kid had stuck some gonk hair on it. No-one else wanted it, I suppose. it had been keeping the door open, as if spying for custom.

When Papa came home from shooting after that – clearing space for the birds himself on the kitchen table, moving the papers, the unopened mail, the bottles of this and that – he still said, “Three today” – or however many it was.

But now she would nod at my gift and say, “You didn’t get that one. You didn’t get mine.”

I have it now, of course. Papa’s gun too, somewhere.

I keep it by the window where it can watch the sky and I can look for that blue-white speck of brightness as bores right through its eyes.