Ellen first saw the blackbird on the way back from the local shops.
|Ellen first saw the blackbird on the way back from the local shops.|
She rounded the last corner pushing her checked shopping trolley in front of her, and her bungalow finally came into view, peeking above the neat front hedge in the distance.
The blackbird was sitting on the post box right in front of her, chirping merrily, and pecking at the peeling red paint. When it saw her it cocked its head, beady eyes gleaming.
Ellen wheeled her trolley closer, inspecting the little bird with delight. “Well, hello you, aren't you a darling.”
It chirruped a song at her in response and Ellen laughed and clasped her hand to her chest.
She leaned heavily on the trolley and closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness; so close, yet it might well have a been a thousand miles away. Getting old was a bugger.
“All right there Ellen,” a voice startled her back to awareness.
The postman – Bill? Brian? - placed a steadying hand on her and she mustered up a laugh and shook it off. “Quite alright, it's just the sun getting to me a little, you know.”
Bill or Brian looked doubtfully up at the sky, where clouds were gathering in dark, heavy clusters about to burst in a spring storm.
He nodded at her. “Whatever you say love, long as you're alright. Number 48 aren't you? Not far to go now.”
“And go I must!” she said as brightly as she could manage.
She walked the rest of the way home painfully slowly, only picking up the pace when the first cold splatters of rain started to fall. By then she was only a couple of doors away and in her haste forgot all about the blackbird hopping and fluttering along after her.
It fluttered across to the birdhouse in Ellen's front garden and perched inside, sheltering from the rain long into the afternoon until the sun bloomed again.
Despite the storm, the evening had warmed nicely the previous day and Ellen had left the window cracked open to sleep. She regretted it this morning, the chill in the air that had developed overnight had stiffened her already painful joints further and getting out of bed felt an overwhelming chore.
She shifted to a half sitting position and paused a moment to catch her breath. A glance at the clock told her it was close enough time, so she sorted through the brightly coloured pills on her bedside table and washed the morning assortment down with the tepid glass of water beside them.
All was quiet outside other than the occasional distant car heading for an early start at work, so when the blackbird starting singing, she heard it clear as a bell.
She immediately thought of the blackbird from yesterday, the trilling little thing on the post box. She had an inkling it had followed her home. Spurred on, and curiosity provoked, she stood cautiously, and wrapped a robe around herself as she approached the window.
And there it was, perched plain as day on a lower branch of apple tree in her back garden. It gave her the same beady stare and she felt herself smiling.
Ellen pushed the window wider. “It's you again isn't it, you cheeky little minx!” The blackbird chirruped merrily.
She began to laugh, but the fleeting thought of Arthur tightened her throat. Arthur would have loved it, the little blackbird. Would have been setting up his camera already, in a rush to get some good snaps while the light was still perfect, still filtering through the branches of the apple tree in a golden cascade.
She closed the window and eased herself into a chair in the corner of the room, heart thumping. Today she felt every second of her age. It was a day to spend napping, she thought, and as she closed her eyes, she fancied she could still hear the blackbird's song.
From that moment, she often saw the little blackbird – for she was sure it was the same one – flitting in the corner of her vision as she walked back from the shops, perching out in the birdhouse in the late evening, hopping along the fence in the back garden. Best of all, she heard it, every morning without fail, its melodic voice welcoming her to a new day.
As spring aged into summer proper, she began to sit out on the back terrace and talk to the bird, sipping on a glass of lemonade each morning, allowing the memories she had so long kept to herself to find a new audience, before they were floated away on puffs of summer breeze.
Those achingly short spring and summer months, Ellen saw a blackbird singing to her even when she closed her eyes at night.
It was late July the last time Ellen heard the blackbird. She'd spent a sweltering hour sorting some of Arthur's old clothes out for the charity shop, and despite the fans spinning in the room, she felt faint with the heat by the time she'd finished. She'd put the task off a long time; for years in fact, those clothes had been piled in the cupboard. She'd woken today with a spark of energy and had felt like one last look through before she shipped them off for good. Maybe it had been all those chats with the blackbird that had sparked the trip down memory lane.
A wave of dizziness swept over her again, and Ellen decided a lie down was in order. She took the jacket she'd put aside and carried it with her into the bedroom.
She lay down, hugging the jacket to her chest and breathing deeply. It smelled faintly musty, but that wasn't right, so she closed her eyes and let her mind wander down it's twisting paths until the scent of sandalwood permeated the air. He'd been wearing this jacket the night he proposed, hair slicked back, trousers pressed. She'd thought him so smart and when he'd smiled and gotten down on one knee, she'd thought her heart would stop.
She remembered the fine drizzle, frizzing her perfectly coiffed hair, and the rushing sound of the waves on the promenade. He'd pulled her along after him and they'd raced along laughing under a night sky that had seemed infinite and sparkling with possibility.
Ellen awoke in the late afternoon, still clutching the jacket. Her eyes felt as sore as her bones and she was still so very tired. She stood briefly to open the window and shuffled back to bed hanging on to the dresser when she felt unsteady. Her heart was pounding again and her breath sounded weak even to her own ears. She laid down and focused on breathing in and out in slow measured breaths, the way her therapist had taught her all those years ago when she started having panic attacks. She knew it wouldn't help her now, but old habits.
The afternoon was too quiet, and she clutched the jacket to her again, turning her head towards the window. She felt sure the blackbird would come despite the late hour and it would be wonderful to have the company.
Ellen closed her eyes against the pain. For a moment, she thought she'd be alone, but then she heard it. It started with the characteristic flute-like warbling she heard every day, and then somehow started to grow, the melodious song rising into overwhelming symphony of overlapping sounds.
A whole host of blackbirds, enough to spirit you away on a carpet of wings and music, she thought, a serene smile gracing her face.
For a moment there was nothing but song.
And then silence.