The Puffin (vi)

On that block of ice I wasn’t think of eating arms however but I did convince myself that it would be alright to eat the poor puffin, someone had to survive, and it may as well be me. I set about freeing it from the cage, no point eating it while it was still stuck fast with tar, it would take forever to get that out of your teeth. I had to near pull half its ruined feathers in the process but finally I had it out. Sensing its freedom immediately, the puffin wriggled out of my grip and waddled like a mad goose to the waters edge. It took a run up and spread its wings out to take off – I cried in despair, my dinner was about to fly away – but to my joy it fell flat into the water. I sat down and watched it swim away. The stories are true, I thought, it is both fish and bird. But I didn’t enjoy this revelation because it meant that I had just lost my only food. Dark clouds brooding behind my eyes, I felt a tantrum coming on. My mind was just as trapped on this ice as was my body. I had no one to blame, to shout at, or to hit but myself. I stomped around the iceberg but soon that became tiresome and I hit myself. It started with slaps to my face, which stung both my hand and my flushed cheeks, but my energy dissipated, my arms hung by my chest and I could only flick my ears as I cried into my jacket. I tired to sleep but could only cry more as my mind would not rest and continually went over my failure to capture the puffin again and again. You will be ruminating as I died slowly, a creeping and twisted voice whispered to me. But the thoughts did eventually come to an end and I once again had a dreamless and hungry sleep upon the iceberg.

I woke up to it snuggling under my arms, I decided to deal with it in the morning and for now let it share my warmth. All throughout the night it shivered , I wonder how long it had tried to last out in that cold ocean. “Poor little persistent thing at least you will be warm in my belly,” I told it, which its only reply was to look up at me with its beady eyes shaking in its skull like a lost child on the verge of tears. Then it occurred that it would be more compassionate to end its suffering now. I looked down again at the half feathered thing but it was no longer looking at me but at the tin of worms.

“Hmm,” says I, ” It wouldn’t hurt to fatten you up a little.” And so I picked up a worm and wafted it in front of the puffin, who did not hesitate to snatch it up. I saved the rest of the worms for fishing because I knew this little puffin wouldn’t feed me for long… oh how I was wrong.

And so that morning  I slipped out the gutting knife out of my boot with the intention of using it on the Puffin. I whistled and it waddled to me at once, more obedient than that long lost donkey. How long it was it that I sat listening, drenched in melancholy, to his fading heehaws?How hungry I was now. I grabbed the puffin and pressed its small face  into the ice with the knife at its throat. I closed my eyes and prepared to paint the ice pink with his insides, but then I had an idea.


<- Part 6 of 9 ->

The Puffin (v)

There lay the puffin, a tarred wretched thing, its wings were stuck fast to its cage. This ruined my carefully planned ascension to become the apex predator of the sea. Instead of a huge fish, I had caught another hungry mouth that needed to be fed. I sat for about half an hour, thinking about what to do. Of course, I was tempted to eat the poor thing and it would have had no choice in the matter. By now your mouth is probably watering at the thought of dining on one of these tasty birds, grab your handkerchief and watch you don’t smudge these words under your dripping mouth. If for some reason you are not salivating then I have one question for you. Do you live under a rock? Crawled out from some jungle cave have ye? Jutted your chest out, strut upright on two legs and put on the stolen spectacles hanging down off your hairy neck to read my solemn words? I’ll explain for the literate cannibal — who is a minority, I am sure — the pleasures of the puffin’s flesh. For the one who has found this message in a bottle on some island would only know the taste of coconuts, fish, and his kinsman’s flesh.

Take this puffin caught in front of me for example, if its line had not broken somehow and it was taken into a port it would immediately be chopped into various fish shapes. Puf-fingers, puffin fillet, Puff-ella for the Spaniards, and beer battered puffin and chips for the Brits. From the gutter to the throne, from the peasantry to the clergy, all of society convinced themselves a bird was a fish. Everyone played along in this mass conspiracy and every man, woman and child thought themselves the sole bearer of the truth. All because humankind was sick of Fish Fridays. You would find it impossible to see a wink or hear a giggle shared across the dinner table on a Friday evening, not between a loving family nor even a band of thieves. It would only take one brave and very foolish person to simply whisper: “A puffin is a bird” for the whole charade to come smashing down on the sharp rocks of good reason. This doesn’t include sea folk who find all this ‘fishy business’ very amusing and very profitable.

That said the puffin is still a very tasty fish, though a fraudulent one. I assure you all of these puffin meals I mentioned, dear savage, taste better than human flesh. Nothing worse for body, mind, or spirit than to steal another property, especially the tender cuts of his buttocks and back. Beg forgiveness for what you did to Captain Cook – even as he tempted you with his poorly chosen name. O’brother eat a wing, rather than an arm!


<- Part 5 of 9 ->

The Puffin (iv)

With a grin, I slipped the first worm onto the hook and let it fly over the water. It cut through the thick fog, I could not see where it had landed but determined when it hit the water by the vibrations that swam up the fishing line. Like most games of great patience, fishing was as easy to me as doing nothing – which was all it really took after all.

My patient will have been trained, I was not born with it. Whenever my father would leave for the sea – in which he would be away for up to two years – I would hug his knees and beg him, “Please stay Pa, I’ll miss you.”
“Be patient Leif, be patient and it won’t seem like so long.” I didn’t recognise it as he said these words but there was a deep sadness in his eyes. He was lying, it would be a very long time till I saw him again. Even Hel, who has been patiently hiding underground for eternity till she can snatch Baldr’s soul, would feel the strain of this wait. But I took my father’s advice on faith. I started practising being patient being standing and doing nothing for hours. It was a way to spend the hours after playing with toys became boring, and it was better than the small games boys with no fathers play: skipping stones, throwing a ball against a wall, talking to toys, learning how to shave by yourself. I played all these games but the most challenging were the waiting game. I started staring at walls, then my feet and then finally the sky. My mother thought it was strange and wanted to take my to a doctor but when I told her I was trying to bring back Pa quicker she burst into tears,

But all the patience training I had done was wasted, when finally it could have have been used to save my life, for the line began to pull just a minute later after casting it. There was a great commotion behind the fog. Squawks and garbled screeches echoed out of a foam cloud which I pulled closer and closer. What crazed beast had I wretched from the deep? Is that the Kraken’s wicked beak which cries hungrily for my gizzards? I pulled with all my strength as it resisted with a courage that was unusual for a fish. By the time I had it in sight my arms felt limp. Falling to my knees with exhaustion I looked up to see with disbelief it was a woven cage that my hook had pulled in – and sinking further into disbelief I saw that imprisoned within this cage was a Puffin, deep brown eyes stared out from behind the bars where frightened but neither blinked nor looked away from me – its would be reaper. A caged puffin just like the dream I had of my father’s bird trawler. Had the fog plucked it from my leaking dreams to trick me? I hauled onto the iceberg, this was no trick it was physically there and it began to make a confused moaning sound. I nodded in agreement with whatever lonely feeling the trapped bird had expressed. It went silent and all was quiet, we were like a frigid pair at a dance who both have no idea what to say or do next.

<- Part 4 of 9 ->

The Turtledove

The turtledove at my window cries and cries and cries. I can still picture when I first saw the bird, it’s doll eyes staring up at me, a baby bird sitting next to its broken sister. It was frozen with fear and wouldn’t leave its dead sibling’s side until I scooped it from the cold ground back into its nest. That was at least five or six years ago. I haven’t forgotten that childhood memory. How could I when it sings for me at my window every morning? It is a dull repetitive song, no good deed goes unpunished as they say. It wakes me up so I never hear the start of the song and because I throw books at my window to frighten it and go back to sleep – and so I never hear the end. Despite my angry outbursts, it comes back faithfully every morning.

Perhaps it isn’t singing for me, or singing for a mate – but singing for his sister.

One morning, I wake up to the same grey gruelling tune that leaks out from my window and instead of throwing a book it lulls me into a trance and I start to think. I start thinking harder about my own life than I ever have before, with the raw emotions of a painter or poet I cut past the litter and sound that clutters my mind. My thoughts are forming some image but for now all I have is the palette to draw from.

I think about my sister, I think about heaven. I hope she is there and I hope there is a there. I dream about walking the fields golden and green, plains that stretch forever, and rolling hills. Over this hangs the eternal blue sky with brushstroke clouds and the smell of sea salt in the air. This is an image that is hard to hold, so beautiful that it blurs with tears but I can see my sister – as young and innocent as a flower in bloom. The words I witnessed a deacon tell my mother after the tragedy come back to me: “A flower bud has burst on earth, to bloom in heaven.” She is playing with the other children that were taken too soon, they glide over the grass on a summer breeze, flying like a swift, which when it leaves the nest it never again lands. Waving to me, she dances over the meadow. I run to her but I am stopped by a river. It is a raging torrent and I would be swept away but still she waves for me to wade through it. I cannot pass over.

From above an angel said, “Your sister also feared the river of death, but while passing over realised it was only a little brook after all.”

It was true for her it was only a little brook so easy for her to glide over with her tiny cupid wings. My heavy body would surely drown me, I look within myself and see my soul is also weighed heavily. My knees in the water, I kneel and beg, “Free me from the fetters – lust, greed, jealousy – that hang over my neck like iron chains, every day pulling me deeper into the dirt and filth.” I sit on the riverside and cry, my sister wishes she could wash away my sadness, to live like the blessed – over the way, where there is no more suffering for the little flower buds. The turtledove’s lonely song ends, breaking my trance. The vision is lost. I look out the window for the turtledove but only see my own weary reflection.

Did I really see heaven? I like to believe so. Of course, I would like to believe, what’s the alternative? Katherine died of leukaemia and now she lies in the dirt, that’s that – she will never smell the flowers we place on her grave, these words will never reach my baby sister and the only company she keeps is worms. All my life, eye sockets full of worms have haunted me while I slept. But there is no point trying to get back to sleep now, the sun is shining into my room. I get up and write this. Then I regret writing this because unlike the other bird stories in this book this one is of my own life. I have left the comfortable and easy heights of fiction and landed on a limed branch to become some creature’s dinner. If you be that hungry creature reading now, I offer up my heart for you – still beating and bleeding on these now stained pages.