thank you for the birds

Short Stories / Monday, April 27th, 2020

The day started with 120 birds falling from the sky. It looked like a stupendously horrid miracle; 120 birds flying one moment and dropping from the heavens like stone the next. The people driving on the road beneath stopped their cars by the curb and got out to come to the rescue, they ran onto the field where the birds had fallen but they could not help them; all of them were dead, save three, and those died within the minute. Someone called some kind of government department or other, what department do you call when 120 birds fall from the sky like stones, no one knew, so the man with the mobile phone in his hand just called the first municipal number he could find on google and told them that he’d just witnessed 120 birds dropping from the sky, and what they were to do with them, pretty please.

The municipal man on the other end of the line said not to touch them and not to leave either, just to stand there and wait, if he would be so kind, so that they could send someone to clear this up. To clear this up, thought the man who’d called the first number he could find on google, what do they mean now, clearing up the mistery of the dead birds or the misery the birds are making on this field? But he didn’t ask that, he just said yes and hung up, and told the others to just stay there and wait. So now, there were not only a 120 dead birds on that field, but also, haphazardly strewn about, some seven passersby standing in the tall grass, metres away from each other, surveying the birds on the ground and surveying the road and each other, all of them not quite sure what to look for.

A flock of birds flew past overhead, and all of them on the field (the people, not the birds) held their breath out of fear that these ones, too, should fall prey to the strange current of wind or the electromagnetic field up there which was responsible for the death of the 120 birds they saw lying in front of them. But their worries remained ghosts, the birds remained solid up in the sky and flew on and on and on until they could be seen no more.

“Sterlings, these,” said one man. He was the one standing closest to the birds. His moustache looked a stained yellow and he wore a cowboy hat which had seen better days and his boots had been muddy already when he’d stalked into this field, one could tell that. “The ones just passed, I mean, not these poor creatures down here,” he added, nodding towards the bodies in front of him.

“Starling, you mean,” said a woman standing metres away from him, and the people around them thought her quite rude for exposing the man so.

“Pretty sure that these are called dearlings, starling, uh, sterlings, darling” said the man placidly and the people around them were at ease again now, because apparently, this was a married couple, and the woman was not really rude. It was silent again, and nobody really knew what to say because this was quite an odd situation, wasn’t it, and all of them were inclined to speak about the weather (it really was a dismal day, had been drizzling rain all morning, hadn’t it) but it didn’t seem right to do so when they weren’t sure whether the sudden death of the birds might have had anything to do with the meteorological circumstances. Robbed of the conversation topic they all knew they would have been at ease with, they all tried feverishly to find another thing to talk about, but everything they could come up with would have sounded strange being shouted across several metres of field towards the others, but none of them thought it was possible to move now, when they had been standing and freezing in this position as soon as the man who’d called the first number he could find on google had told them that they were to stay exactly where they are until someone from the municipal services would come.

A young woman started saying something and one could almost hear the frantic relief all of them were feeling at something being said, even before they knew what it was that was being said, main thing being that something was said and it wasn’t quiet as a church while they were standing around a 120 dead birds on a field under a grey sky.

“I wonder what drove ‘em here, silly things, coming from the warmth and all that, just to breathe their last on a dismal field in Middlesex.” She had a broad accent, something heavy there, she could have been from somewhere around Yorkshire, the man with the moustache thought.

“Well technically speaking, most of them breathed their last breath while still in the middle of the air, so it would not really have mattered where they are, as the sky is pretty much the same everywhere, I think. I mean, as far as I have seen different skies, they’ve all been kind of similar, like. I mean, sure, some have been lilac in the evening, and some quite cloudy in the mornings, but, mostly like, I think the skies are the same everywhere.” All of them turned to look at the young man who’d been speaking, he looked quite boyish because of his unstubbled and at the same time acne-spotted cheeks. He looked very soft, as far as they could tell from their distance, very sweet and kind.

“You’re right, I guess,” said the young woman with the broad somewhere-around Yorkshire accent and everyone felt that now the subject was closed and started to panic again, for there had to be something said, and everyone felt under pressure to be the one to say it. The man with the moustache was excused, so was the girl with the accent, they both had bravely put themselves forward and found conversation starters (too bad, though, thought the acne-spotted man, that both of their suggestions had been kind of silly to begin with, because silly remarks never hold themselves long in a conversation, but then who am I to talk, thought he, he couldn’t even think of a silly topic).

“Might we want to call a veterinarian?” There, a brave soul! This was an old woman, she was sure to be a grandmother already, she had all the telltale signs of one (wrinkled cheeks and round glasses and white tufty hair and wellies on, along with a felt skirt).

“A Vete-what?” said the young woman.

“A, you know, a doctor for animals. Maybe there’s still hope for some of ‘em,” said the Grandma.

“I don’t think so, they do look quite dead to me,” said the man with the moustache, who had it on authority since he was the closest to them.

“Oh, well then,” muttered the Grandma, but of course no one could hear her muttering as they all were standing so far away from each other.

“I knew one, once,” she added, louder, and everyone’s eyes rounded at this bold woman, this daring old lady who not only made one but a solid two efforts at being a conversation starter.

“One of what?” said the wife of the man with the moustache.

“A veterinarian, he was quite nice, I think. I’d had a bit of an unfortunate encounter with the neighbour’s cat once, and he’d helped stitching her right up, and didn’t even call in the police officer afterwards to tell them to take away my licence.” All of them looked kind of to the side and wished she hadn’t tried to start the conversation a second time, because this was really quite uncomfortable and no one wanted to talk about her incident with a cat, and all of them were now thinking even harder so that she wouldn’t make a third attempt.

“I think there’s a car coming,” said the sixth of them, the only one who hadn’t had spoken so far (it really was about time now that he’d bring something to the table, the young girl with the accent thought). “I think it’s the municipal truck,” the man added, his voice funny in an unfunny way. And he was right, shortly the municipal truck pulled over to the side of the road where they were standing in the field and a man from the administration got out and looked at all of them.

“What’s this then?”

“You said to not touch them and to not leave them either, so that’s what we’ve been doing the past half hour, not-touching and not-leaving anything, Sir,” said the man who’d called the first number that he could find on google.

“Aye, I meant you of course, didn’t know that there are six other of you buggers.” The man with the phone looked quite embarrassed now and everyone felt kind of sorry for him, because they thought that the same thing would have happened to them, had they happened to be the one who called (and none of their minds crossed the thought that all of them could have thought of their not being necessary to the proceedings, anyway).

“Naw, don’t fret now, it was nice standing here in the field with you all,” said the man with the moustache and as if a ban had been lifted from him, he moved his legs and walked towards his wife to take her back to the car.

“That’s what I wanted to say,” said the girl with the broad accent and sort of half-turned towards the man with the acne-spots, “don’t you think so, too?” The addressed nodded indulgently. “By my word,” he said and they both started to move back towards the road along with the married couple who by then were on a level with the two of them.

“Thank you for the company, anyway,” said the Grandma, and followed them towards the road along with the guy with the funny unfunny voice who’d spotted the truck coming and now nodded in accordance with Grandma’s words.

“Thank you for the birds,” said the man who called the first number he could find on google to no one in particular, maybe to God. “I mean, not the dead ones, of course. I mean, not thanks for the dead ones being dead, but just, in general, you know, thank you for the birds.” And he, too, followed the others out of the grass and they mumbled their consent and that evening, they all thought about the strange day they’d had, when they were all back home, safe and sound in their houses and in their beds, and I’m willing to bet that most of them will have thought ‘thank you for the birds’ contentedly before they fell asleep that night.

I read about this story in the papers a few weeks ago and yesterday this short story tumbled out of my head.

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