Saturday, 3 September 2016

Scarlett's Way Out

Oak Tree

The bird bath was just over a metre high, with a wide, shallow basin, filled to the brim. The robin dipped its head in, eagerly lapping at the cool, still water. Jay sat underneath the oak tree, resting her head against its bark, gazing up at the gnarled branches that stretched out before her. She ran a hand through her grey hair, from the thick end at the roots down to the thin, split ends draped across her narrow shoulders. She smiled as the robin, content with its drink, looked up at her and took flight to land on the end of one of the branches she could see.

The sun was out, obscured only occasionally by a passing white cloud, full and fluffy. The grass beneath her was soft and cool, long but not wild. The small stream on the other side of the bird bath made a soft trickling sound as its waters broke over the stones that were scattered throughout it. Accompanying it its steady rhythm was the soothing sound of the leaves on the oak branches rustling as they brushed past one another, disturbed only by a sharper rustle as the robin decided to swoop up or down, from one branch to another, chasing the gaps of sun that shone through its thick covering of leaves.

Listening to the sounds of the stream, the sounds of the leaves, the sounds of the robin, basking in the warm glow of the sun, Jay slowly relaxed her muscles, let her head roll softly to one side and drifted into a summer nap.

“Jay!” Short, sharp. Distant.

“Jay!?” A bark, closer.

“Jesus, Jay! Wake up!” Closer, footsteps, heavy, quicker than walking but not a run. Panting. Jay’s head snapped up, her hair moving sharply. She blinked her eyes open to see Roy, half running, half walking, with the redheaded girl, collapsed, in his arms. “Roy.” She said it with a mix of realisation and urgency. She stood and walked swiftly towards him, together they slowly, gently lowered the girl into the soft grass under the shade of the oak tree. The girl's eyes were closed, Jay touched her forehead, listened to the rhythm of her breathing, checked the strength of her pulse. “What happened?”

“She just collapsed! The birds...the birds were fighting, she was on her swings and looked scared. I, I went over to reassure her, touched her arm and then this.”

“Jesus Roy. You didn’t even bring him back did you?” Jay glowered at him, the harsh, stern, judging eyes that only years of marriage can seek to justify. Roy didn’t respond but he did look away from Jay and the girl. “Go and find him.” He didn’t move and again he didn’t respond. “Now.” Her tone was stone cold, dead and serious, her eyes fixed on him. Roy stood and turned, rubbing dirt from his elbows as he did so. He walked off without making eye contact or uttering a single word. Jay turned back to look at the girl, running a hand, affectionately, through her soft, red curls.

“Oh you poor, sweet girl.” Jay stood and went to the bird bath, the robin, perched on a branch above, followed her movements closely. She took off her cardigan and folded it into a small, flannel like bundle before thinking better of the idea and heading to the stream. She knelt and, with one hand steadying herself on the bank, soaked the cardigan in the water, feeling the cool of it flow over her submerged hand. She stood and returned to the girl, gently placing the wet cardigan on her forehead, careful to brush any stray red strands of hair aside.

Jay could tell the girl was dreaming, she could see her eyelids twitching. Jay made a shushing sound with her mouth and gently lifted the girl, carrying her over to the base of the oak tree and sitting her against its wide trunk. The blue sky was growing darker, a thick band of white cloud had moved in but was being followed by grey cloud, growing darker as it moved overhead. The robin, upon seeing the sky, took flight from its bird bath, taking one last look at its haven amongst the branches before flying to the edge of the cloud, towards blue sky and out of sight.  

Looking down from the darkening sky Jay could see Roy stomping alongside the banks of the stream, making his way back towards her. Before his face came fully into view she could tell he was nervous. He walked with sunken shoulders and kept his head fixed on his walking feet. He did not look up to the sky, not even for a brief glance. He had not found his bird, his raven, the one that had been fighting as the girl collapsed.

He looked up up at her as he drew nearer. His eyes said it all.

He had not found his raven.

It started to rain.

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