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.

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