When the birds fly up, I'll be there

The words came to him in a dream at an impressionable age, when he was secretly in love with an English teacher twelve years his senior. 

He knew instinctively that some spells evaporate on breath, so never said the words or even mouthed them. They slept and woke in his memory like a line from a childhood prayer, surfacing whenever he stood on balconies, roused by the cries of gulls near harbours and rubbish tips.

All through his twenties, he gazed expectantly from his small office window at the parapet of the bank across the road while eating the sandwiches he brought from home.

An ill-fated marriage proposal, aged forty-four, was the result of a car backfiring near a pigeon-festooned fountain in Naples; a later flirtation with a neighbour waxed and waned with the arrival and departure of the brent geese one year.

Today, eating his dinner alone in front of David Attenborough, he is vexed to find himself pausing, fork mid-air, and straining to discern something in the wake of a migrating flock.  Snatching the napkin from his collar, he rushes to the back step and, eyes clenched shut, shouts the words into the empty garden. The sound of squealing fills the air, and he opens his eyes to see a thousand starlings in the nearby paddock rise into the dusk with the certainty of fate.

Penny Davis lives on the east coast of Scotland with her partner and a large, disobedient dog. When she is not earning a living working in education governance, she writes about plant-based baking, reads, and thinks about short fiction. Her work has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction prize.

See more of her work in 11.2

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