by Martha Watson
It is late February when you take a fancy to my garden. Your feathers are soft, brown—what some might call plain compared to the startling black and orange of your partner. You watch from the fence as I stroll around the lawn, the sun painting your shadow into the grass. You are cautious of my presence, unaware of my right to be there, your wildness untamed by meaningless human boundaries.
I become used to your visits, watch your antics through the window as I work at the kitchen table. Your feet patter on the soil as you listen for worms, your plumage expanding as you berate your partner. In time, you grow used to my presence, your caution still visible, but contained. That beady eye still follows me as I totter through the flowers, but you creep closer with every passing day.
Soon, you begin to gather twigs. I watch you return to the fence, your beak crammed with leaves—and laugh as you dig stray dog hairs from the soil and add them to your collection. I anticipate your signature chirp as you alight on a branch, and I know even before I glance through the window that you will be there, your tail shot straight out as you look for danger. My heart softens as I realize that, for the first time, the danger is not me.
I find your nest a few days later, tucked away in the shadows of a blackthorn bush. It is small, the twigs intricately entwined, and I marvel at your architectural abilities as you gather food nearby. I begin popping by every day, a brief glance revealing only more leaves and mud, until finally, a small, pale blue egg appears. Perfect, yet so fragile. You land nearby, tilt your head as you watch me, but no warning sound escapes your beak. As I step back you resume your position on the nest, feathers tucked in neatly, and your eye glitters from the darkness. This is where I will find you for the next two weeks, as another egg appears, and we wait for them to hatch.
It is a Sunday when the first shell begins to break. A crack, a beat, tiny hammering from the inside. Slowly, the chick emerges, a mass of matted pink, its skin so thin I can see its heartbeat. It can barely move, barely breathe, yet your love is clear and boundless. Its sibling follows soon after.
For thirteen days, I watch them grow with you. I stand, fresh-faced and sticky-eyed in the mornings, as the sun catches your flights to and from the nest, your beak wriggling with worms. I hear you tweet at your partner as he arrives, taking your place on guard, and I imagine your words of annoyance. I listen to the rain lashing at the windows as I lie in bed at night, and I cross my fingers, praying the bush will keep you safe. With every brief visit, I see the chicks are stronger, bolder, with squashed, grumpy faces as they await their parent’s return.
It is a Thursday when I am faced with the empty nest. As always, I sneak a look, expecting the usual cluster of feathers, or your beady eye, and instead finding nothing. Panicked, I am searching the ground, moving stones with my feet, when you arrive as always, alighting on the fence, your head at a tilt. You chirp, as if to reassure me, and your feathers dust the air as you head to a nearby bush. My body flushes with relief as I duck down and see, amongst the twigs, two chicks. Your chicks. They are round, their feathers uneven and downy, and you watch proudly from the lawn as they take their first flights.
They have come so far, grown so much. Survived the rain, the sun, the night. But danger is lurking, always.
When you start chirping at me, at first I think I have strayed too close to the chicks, and I step backwards, shielding my eyes from the sun as I watch your silhouette. But still you chirp, louder, angrier. Desperate.
It is then that I see the chick sneaking through the gap under the fence. It is then that I see the white fur, creeping behind it, slow, purposeful. It is then that I realize you aren’t warning me off; you are begging for my help. I charge at the fence, hissing, spitting, making as much noise as I can. The cat bolts, a flash within the reeds, too quick for me to follow.
It is then that I realize I am too late.
You do not return to visit. Your nest lays abandoned in the bush, slowly deteriorating, chicks gone. I sit by the window, and await your sweet song, only to be met by silence. I do not blame you; I have failed you, betrayed your trust. I lie awake listening to the rain beat the windows, and I pray you are out there, somewhere, safe.
And, as the winter fades, and spring returns with the soft green stalks of daffodils, I hope that soon, when I look out of my window, I will see your silhouette, hear your call, and maybe you will trust me once more.