June 2016 Flash Fiction Competition: 3rd place
‘A sparrow, a robin, a blackbird, a thrush…’ I trail off. Was that really a thrush? It could have been a wren. I tick ‘Thrush’ on my checklist and ‘Wren’ as well.
‘Does it matter?’ asks Viv. She’s sitting on the fence, her bare legs dangling, her hands gripping the fence top to hold herself steady. She’d told me earlier she often fell off things. ‘It’s genetic. Probably. My dad’s the same. Though that could be the booze.’ She laughed like crazy when she said that. Who knew what was true? I’ve never met her dad. What I do know is that she’s the coolest and the palest person I’ve ever met. Her skin is pure milk white, not the creamy sort, more like skimmed milk. It must glow in the dark I thought and I hoped to test that theory.
‘It matters because this is my summer job. I’m monitoring birds for the National Trust. They need to know for a government biodiversity grant. Or for publicity. I can’t remember which.’ I stop, realising how useless this makes me sound. Like my mum getting me the job, I definitely won’t tell Viv that. ‘Either way, they’re paying me for it.’
Viv isn’t listening. She’s staring at something near the pond. Is it a water bird? Or should that be water fowl? I don’t really know that much about birds. ‘Did you see something ?’
‘No. I heard something like a snap and a sigh.’ She frowned. ‘Very odd.’
I walk to where she is looking. It’s a dark green pool, which the manager calls an Ancient Watering Space, but looks to an untrained eye like an overgrown garden pond blanketed in underwater vegetation where your own face won’t even register in the blackness.
‘I can’t see anything,’ I say, but then I do. By the side of the murky pool is a small bird, bright blue and green with a flash of red on its wing. But what is it? I have no idea. All I know is it isn’t moving.
‘Is it dead?’ says Viv who has jumped or fallen from her fence.
‘I don’t know.’ We crouch down to inspect the little body more closely.
Viv places a pale index finger over its tummy, ‘I felt something,’ she says, ‘I think it’s breathing! What shall we do?’
The pressure of not knowing squeezes my own chest. ‘I don’t think you’re meant to pick them up. That might cause more damage, sometimes it’s better to leave them alone.’
Viv tuts. ‘Is that it? Leave it here to die? That’s pathetic.’ She gently puts the bird into her hand and strokes its head, ‘I’ll take it to the vets.’
‘But we don’t know if that will kill it!’
‘You don’t really know anything do you?’
There is a flutter of wings and the tiny body shoots out of Viv’s hands and into the trees.
Viv walks away without looking back.
I tick the ‘Unknown’ box on my checklist.
Yasmin Keyani is a freelance writer living in Norfolk. She mainly writes short stories and likes to add a touch of fantasy and the absurd. She has been published in story and lifestyle magazines and is currently writing a crime novel.
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