Fiction // Dove
He parks in the layby along the lane. The bare tilled fields slope gently to the stream below and on the opposite side of the valley a stand of bare trees delineates the horizon. He climbs from the car and stands awhile looking out across the landscape. The sky is cold and cloudless. Pale white. In the fields’ chalk white furrows the blue glass faces of broken flints gleam in the wake of the pale sun. Crows wheel.
How long has it been since he was last here? He tries to remember. Tries to recollect those broken days when everything was disintegrating. Remembers instead the long ago. Ranging the valley with his father. His father’s old torn coat. His father’s old striped college scarf. Collecting kindling and deadwood for the fire. In later years walking the woods alone. Tracking through the dead brown bracken the cloven prints of deer hooves. On the tree boles the deer’s gnawed strips of birchbark. Yet other images refuse to disentangle. His father’s hair after it first grew back. The thin fair wisps of it. His mother stroking it gently from his brow. Sitting with them in the evening. The television on. Night at the windows and their reflections in the darkened windowpanes. The hearth cold and ashen.
He starts down the path. The ground is stiff with morning hoarfrost and the grass blades white with rime. Webs heavy with dewfall hang on the hoarcold fencewires. Nothing seems to live. Lifelessness across the breadth of that wintry landscape. In the thickets and copses. The fibroid hedgerows. He stops to listen but there is no sound. He inhales but there is upon the air no scent. He thinks what it means to be alone. To live numbly. To wake to an empty bed. To impressions of a life once shared. He thinks what it means to share a life and how numbness in the cold wake of its passing permeates all. Permeates the frozen mornings. The winter nights. Those drear weekends when winter rain slants against the windowpanes and there is within him no will. No inspiration. No impetus to move.
He comes to the stream below. The banks are high with dead teasels and the skeletal remains of dead cow parsley. Broken tracts of ice hard mud along the pathway soften in the morning sun and reflect palely the bleached sky. The stream is choked with wiry dead foliage from which glint umbrous passages of standing water. The standing water a reliquary for the eroded husks of long dead insects. Of the scattered and water polished bones of broken fauna. The melting ice leaching through their wickerwork gauze to the thawing soil below.
He turns. Follows the path in the direction of the woods scuttling the valley sides. Echoes here of his father’s strides. His father’s sliding footfalls in the oozing mud. The dull shucked slap of his lifted boots. Echoes of visits in later years. Picnic vistas in wildflower meadows. The wildflowers weeding through the wind waved heads of burnished cocksfoot. Cloudshadow haunting the landscape. The ash trees fringing the woods scintillant in the breeze. The breeze teasing the hair gently from her brow.
A gas gun discharges someplace distant and in the distant sky startled crows take flight in dark harried specks. Unconsciousness. His own footfalls. The broken stems of dead flora along the pathway brushing dewfall on the cuffs of his mudspattered jeans. The cold abstract. Fingers numb but the numbness somewhere beyond him. No longer any strength to feel. What does it mean to be back here? A kind of lifelessness. Walking weightless. Weightlessly seeing piecemeal these ancient totems of a past life. What does it mean to have grown here? To have lived amongst its pasturelands? To have been a nurtured son? Perhaps nothing. For in that weightlessness of thought there lies no kindling of joy now and the world its cradle bears no testimony but to the dead.
At a bend in the path he comes to a bridge. The railings bent. Rusted through. Ochreous lichen all along the parapet. On the upperbanks of the stream an elder tree scratching at the sky. He pauses and looks up towards the meadow. Not long now until winter’s end. He feels a stirring of it in the air. Along the cystic hedgerows the faint creep of life. So too the woodland beyond. In the boughs of the trees a faint restlessness. A stillness born of resurrection. First the green shoots of snowdrops and crocuses pushing through the frozen soil. Later the chrysalid buds of spring emerging viscid and pupal on the tree boughs.
He crosses the bridge. Is about to head up towards the woods when in the meadow a flurry of movement catches his eye. He stands a time trying to determine its form. A spasticity of movement in the stiff grasses. A frenzied threshing disturbing the stillness. His breath mists in fine plumes and dissipates in the cold morning air. A moment’s inaction. Of fingering pocketlint and the dried old crusts of mud amongst it. Of watching his breath. Its faintly dissipating plumes. And then that weightlessness once more. Unconscious footfalls. Hollow thud of bootsoles on the gelid earth. Following perhaps some echo of being. Some forgotten memory from long ago. He skirts the woods towards it. The trees loom over him and the thickets of dead bracken beneath their bower cloud brown the wooded hillslopes. Motionless as the trees. As the meadow grasses. As the shiftless blue sky. Watching fixedly as he approaches. The threshing flurried then static then flurried. Flurried then static then flurried. A rhythm to these strange convulsions. An odd synchronicity with that silent winter morning as slowly he comes upon it. First a scattered halo of abalone grey feathers in the flattened grasses. Here and there some gristles of hardened blood. Then at its nucleus a tangled mass of shattered bone and mangled plumage. He bends to it and the threshing briefly intensifies before dying away once more.
It is a collared dove. Twisted on its back. One wing splayed. The wing crippled. Hollow bones broken. The soft pearlescent chest gnawed and bloodied. Chestfeathers matted with blood. A little purple worm of protruding viscera. Leg twitching. Spasms in the cold air. The breeze lifts. Movement in the broken wing. The wind over it. Riffling the matted feathers. The other wing weakly pumping. Dreaming of flight. Black bead of its eye staring up at him. Shattered beak. Nare. Maxilla. Coated in half dry blood. A piece of beakshard pushed inwards. Lodged in the bloodied gum. The mandible softly convulsing. Tongue squirming. Beneath its head a smattering of blackened blood. Chest pulsing. Spasmodic. Entering the pained throes of its death.
He remembers. Summertime. Out in the garden. Sun on the grass. The floral borders. His mother crouched by them with a trowel. The soft scrape of the trowel in the rummaged dirt. Soft drone of bees. Soft drone of insects. Looking back at the house the open patio windows. Breeze lifting the net curtains. Ghosts of their furling movement. Furling in. Furling out. His father in the armchair. Crossword on his lap. Pen poised. Halfmoon spectacles perched on his nose. Up on the television aerial a collared dove. Perched there through days immemorial. Soft three part nest call. Coo coooo coo. Coo coooo coo. Sometimes taking flight. Arcs of it flight in the blue sky. Soft beating of its wings. How the bird became synonymous with those long summer days of childhood. When everything felt safe. Untroubled.
His eyes alight on a large flint in the grass nearby and he finds himself taking it up unconsciously and without forethought. Finds himself feeling its heft. Feeling its smoothly contoured surface. He takes it to the bird. Difficult to tell whether the convulsions are its final moments of life or the nerve endings of its death. The eye still staring back but the fear gone from it now. A strange communion between them. The wind picks up and the trees sough in its cold passing. He kneels. Brings the flint up above his head. Falters a moment. Listens to the branches’ rhythmic swaying. The sound travelling deep into the woods. Into its cold heart. He closes his eyes and with disembodied violence brings down the flint. Hears the dull thud as it hits. Perhaps the shattering of bone or simply the hollow reverberations of the frozen earth. The echo of that reverberation travels through him in waves and he loses all sense of time. His knees become one with the cold earth. Numb and marrowless. His breaths come short and uneven. He wonders are they even his. These quietly disembodied breaths that seem as one with the wind. He feels the flint still clutched in his hand. Resting coldly and savagely on the cold unhallowed ground. His fingers wrapped stiffly around it. He waits there immobile.
Finally resurfacing. Opening his eyes once more. Flint. Impact in the lower abdomen. Both legs broken now. Bent inwards. Horribly deformed. Viscera from the shatterbone opening. Matter. Worms of it. Glistering abnormally in the alien sun. Little wormy pulps of viscera. The viscera on his fingers. On the shattered edge of the glassy flintface. On the thudded grass. Blood already starting to congeal. Little spasms of movement in the bird still. Wind or nerve endings or the last glimmers of its life. Twitch of its beakshard. Twitch of its broken wing. Twitch in its bloody plumage. With open eyes he raises the flint and plunges it down onto the chestbone. Raises the flint and plunges it down onto the chestbone. Feathers and blood and bone. Collared dove cooing on the television aerial. Father in his armchair. Crossword on his lap. Halfmoon spectacles on his nose. Insects in the borders. The drone of bees. Meadow grasses. Wildflowers weeding through. Breeze teasing her brow. Raising the flint to the cold blue sky. Snapshot of it. Sharp flintedge. Gristles of bloodied feather and boneshard. Gristles in the meadow grass. On his raw numb fingers. What does it mean to be thus? To be alone in this cold field? To be suspended thus? He plunges the flint down. Into its head. Once. Twice. Pulverises the head into the earth. The shattered beak shattering deeper into the caved skull. Into the ruminant earth below. Bloodied mess of viscera. Bloodied mess of bone. Bloodied mess of feather. Coo coooo cooing on the television aerial. Taking flight. Endless arcs of that flight.
He stands. Looks down at it. In looking down at it feels the earth start to shift beneath his feet. The earth ruminates. Beneath the earth the seeds squirm. Within the seeds the embryonic shoots push and writhe against the outer seedshell. He feels and hears the outer seedshells start to tear beneath him. Hears the embryos writhing and pushing through the thawing soil. Feels and hears this all across the meadow. The slow emergence of those seeds as they suck and writhe in the leaching soil. The deafening toil of it all across the meadow. Pushing forth to enfold the winter’s dead.
Walking away he thinks of the cemetery where he goes walking at the weekends. At the edge of the cemetery trees encroach upon the ancient headstones. Grow up through the rotted coffinwood. Push up through the weathered beds of lichenous grave gravel. The headstones nameless with time. Their epitaphs eaten through by lichen. Broken by the snarled tree growth. Trodden down into the bosky undergrowth.
Walking away he thinks how everything is this.
A passing into nothingness.
Ste Marie la Mer, Winter 2020
Christopher Boon spent his formative years in a small village in rural Hertfordshire. He studied English at Manchester University and, upon graduating, worked for three years as an English teacher in Ogaki City, Japan. He now works as a teacher in southern France.
The Passing of the Forms That We Have Loved, Christopher’s debut novel, will be published by époque press in 2021.