- Vol. 01
- Chapter 05
BirdsMa never liked me killing birds. She preferred to hear them singing. Or watch them gliding through the sky. But Goody and I? We killed them for fun. It was something we did in the springtime when the trees were coming into bud and the birds had flown back, reclaiming the branches for their own.
Goody – I called him that ‘cause his aim was so good, well, he pretty much slung shot the lot. Warblers, hawfinches, robins, chiffchaffs. He’d pull back the stone and release it at a speed, biting his lip and holding his breath until he made impact, sending feathers flying like smoke. I’d collect the dead. Silent beaks and broken wings.
Ma, she thought it was cruel, but it wasn’t really. It’s just what happens in life. The bigger things conquer the small. Fox kills sheep. Cat kills mouse. Cancer kills man. And woman. On it goes.
If you’ve ever held a dead bird before you’ll know that they’re lighter than light. It’s a wonder they don’t get battered half to death by winds, especially up where we were – The Shetlands. The wind ripped through the air at a pace in Yell, howling past the windows. It used to sound like screaming. There was a lot of screaming back then.
In those days I used to take the wee birds home, and sit under the big tree outside our house while ma was bed. Stuck in her room with the stale air. I’d examine their bodies and stroke their feathers, sometimes plucking them free sending them sailing away on a breeze.
Goody did it for sport, but I liked to keep the bodies. I’d cut them open and peel away the insides, slipping out the pink flesh like a jewel, and hooking out the gristle - taking out the bad and stuffing the skin with cotton. Once I’d finished sewing them up they looked like new.
It was Goody’s father that was the local doctor. He used to get a boat from isle to isle, visiting the wee ones like Whalsey and Trondra with only a few dozen people living on ‘em. Boat trips were the only way he could see the stranded sick. He wasn’t far from us though. Which was a blessing at the end. When he brought the morphine over it was a mercy. For ma. And for me.
The day she passed it was autumn with a wild October wind beating across the hills. I was in my room, numb and waiting for the tears to come, when the wind flew in through the crack in the window, whistling as it rushed in, sweeping the stuffed, songless birds from the mantelpiece. And, for a moment, sending them soaring through the air.