Soft night-murmurs rouse me from my sleep and take me to the bedroom window. Below, in the garden in the moonlight, is a child, her breast bloodied, in her hands a dying songbird. She holds it aloft in offering. I have no daughter, I do not know this child. Yet she knows my name. She mouths it with a holy gesture. The she turns and disappears into the trees.
I go downstairs and into the garden, but there is no sign of her. She has vanished. I find a lone feather on the grass, blue like the whispers of December mornings. My feet frozen in the night grass, I return to bed and fall asleep with the feather in my hand.
Some days later, my mother calls me to tell me that my grandfather has died. We bury him on a cold, dry day in a vast cemetery filled with cypress trees. In one of the trees, I hear a songbird. I leave the ceremony and wander the paths of the graveyard, searching for her. Here and there, I see flits of blue, the flutter of a wing or tail, but I cannot get close. When her song ceases, I return to the graveside. Everyone has departed. I am alone in the cemetery by the side of a grave filled with fresh earth. I kneel beside it and smear my face with the soil and weep until I fall asleep next to my dead grandfather.
I awake in the bed of grieving. Soft night-murmurs have roused me from my slumber. I go to the window, but there is no one below in the garden. I close the curtains and curl up in the bed, and softly whistle the songbird’s melody. I am filled with longing. I get up from the bed of grieving and leave the house and return to the cemetery to wander among the cypresses. The cemetery is filled with an amaranthine silence. A short time later, I hear the wet shuck of a shovel slicing the earth. I follow it and am led to my grandfather’s graveside, where a lone gravedigger is excavating. I give him my silent blessing. It isn’t long before his spade strikes flesh. The soft thud fills me with terror. Clawing the soil, he drags the body of the child from the earth, a songbird still clutched in her stiff hand. I weep over the body and kiss her cold cheek and return to the bed of grieving.
There is a book on a shelf in my study. It is called The Deathless Dying. Its pages are worn and mucked with the soil of the earth, pocked with the fingermarks of young and old, stained with ageless blemish. I read the close: ‘…and the child immemorial took the bird in her hands and killed it so that I might live, and I saw it and wept for those who had already passed. For those who had passed were gone and my time would never come.’
I place the feather the colour of December whispers between the pages and close the book, replacing it on the shelf. Outside in the garden, I fancy I hear the murmur of a songbird.
‘Celestial Night Music’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.