Nine – Ellie Cottrell

I wrote this in autumn. When the sky hung low and bruised clouds fell heavy. They swallowed the tops of the trees, sucking the light from the day. It was October, the rains had come, but not kicked the heat from the city. It sat, as ever, between the rivers, sweating and smoking. She sat, perched high on a wooden stool, hair playing around her cheeks as she watched the sky crying in solitude. She saw men rolling their trousers uselessly against pooling water, women tottering under quivering umbrellas and narcissistic bikes sailing brazenly along the streets. I watched her as she took her quiet breaths, lonely and deliberate.

Decisively she gets up, ringed fingers clatter against wooden furniture, she clutches her umbrella and braves the falling sea.

Eleven minutes later she tore silently through the front door, and placed the umbrella beside it. He’s in the bedroom of course: he’s always in the bedroom. She passed quietly through the house, collected the bird cage and moved back to the door. Carefully she placed the cage, with its beautiful inhabitant on the floor. She went to the kitchen and found it cold. How she had left it. She boiled the kettle and fetched a teabag, taking time to decide on the Earl grey over the peppermint or Ceylon.

She opens the bedroom door without ceremony, chooses not to see the strewn remnants of a life she never owned, or the naked man in the bed. Neither does see his face, she doesn’t care. She places the teabag on his chest, and pours the recently boiled water atop it. H e r e ’ s y o u r f u c k i n g t e a . She walks down the stairs, collects the bird and closes the door with a silent shudder.

She held the cage by a pink ballet ribbon on its top; and, having left her umbrella upstairs, she and her wonderful emerald companion were destined to drown slowly with the afternoon. Her watch told her three o’clock so with no other plans she made her way through the treelined streets to The Bird Park. She glanced at the old mansions with tumbled down gates, their yellowing paint peeling with the damp. She felt sorry for them, for their neglect,

they had been beautiful once. She listened to the dull patter of the rain dropping on leaves above her, slowing down as the sky she never knew, began to clear. She whispered softly to her feathered friend, apologising for the soggy outing he was no doubt unimpressed with.

She arrived at The Bird Park shortly after the heavens had once more closed their gates, and kissing the rain off her shoulders, she felt the wash of familiar relief fall over her. The large expansive park reached from the mansion houses in the west, to the ramshackle old quarter in the east; and at this time of day was filled with particular people taking refuge under particular trees with their own particular companions. She manoeuvred gracefully to her usual seat, on a bench towards the outskirts of the group, and put the cage on the floor at her feet. Immediately the singing gently fell from the cage, mingling with the cacophonous voices from the two dozen or so others.

She allowed herself her usual register of faces; the sullen man of sixties in the corner, trousers held under his nipples, coffee in hand, with the ever regal Hyacinth Macaw chattering next to him. The maudlin woman escaping her ghosts, waif thin and silver haired with the Kokako wearing a matching frock, paint splashed at the bill. The twins sat, almost drowned, their long limbs bordering on incestuous, chattering to everyone at once, their pair of bright Breasted Rollers at their feet. The handsome man. Sat as always, a cigarette half through, his eyes and smile almost melancholy in their beauty. His glasses perched high on his nose, deep in conversation next to three Yellow Faced Myna’s menacing with charm. They were all here just to talk, not the humans ones that is.

Her languid limbs and tired eyes sent her mind retreating in on itself. The birds seemed happy, chatting to each other like guests over macarons and lemonade. The other members of the small group remained cheerfully conversing in the waning light. She felt trapped, alone. No longer in control of herself.

The evening is mocking her, the grey sky is smeared red as an imaginary sun sinks beneath the horizon. She moves calmly between the people, almost unnoticed as she makes her renegade path. One by one she opens

every cage with quiet clicks. In a minute the park is filled with sound and colour, freed and euphoric, the birds dance and soar. Shrouded by the commotion she watches the ridiculous flock from behind her veil of solitude. I watch as a small smile sneaks across her face and she turns and walks away.

I wrote this on a long day. In a city I don’t yet know, where the rain takes me in. It swallows the streets and fades the colours, washing everything to grey. I watched her walk through the dulled city, as the night released its creeping fingers. It was October again and the autumn was eternal.


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