The Buzzard

My short story The Buzzard was used by Liar’s League Hong Kong, read by Fraser McPhie (click here to watch and listen).

Buzzard photo by kind permission of Glyn Evans

Read on for a transcript of the story:

Julia squints up into the sun to watch a buzzard circling in perfect motion, soaring on outstretched wings. A black dot so high up, riding invisible thermals. She stretches her arms from side to side, testing their breadth, splays out her fingers, turns her hands up like the bird’s primary feather-tips. The warm autumn sun plays with her hair as she closes her eyes to dream, and she feels as if air stirs beneath her wings.

‘Where’s my dinner?’ shouts Alan from indoors.

Julia’s feet thump onto the concrete patio, and her spirits sink as she turns to his voice.

‘Coming, love.’ She sighs, hunches her shoulders, and enters the house, its vertical window frames like prison bars.

 

Later, her rubber gloves squeak against the glasses as she washes up, rinses, stacks the crockery the way Alan insists. She gazes out of the kitchen window. Perched on the tallest conifer at the end of the garden is a buzzard – her buzzard – which glares unblinking at Alan’s rabbit pens. ‘Take the bloody things, please,’ she whispers, remembering how he looks at them, caresses their fur and croons to them. She wills it to swoop down, grab one of the stupid creatures in its claws, use its hooked beak to tear at the flesh before flapping its wings and disappearing with its prize.

‘Get on with the washing up, woman.’

She flinches.

Alan has crept up on her again, in his new rubber-soled slippers. The room grows colder and so do his eyes. She glances at her husband’s thick neck and sagging jowls and wonders what happened to the handsome young man with the warm smile. She sighs again.

 

Alan looks out as a blackbird flies towards the house, calling a warning about the buzzard.

‘Where’s my air rifle?’

‘You can’t shoot – ’

‘Do what I want on my own land – ’and he rummages in the under stairs cupboard. Julia pads outside in her slippers, flaps her arms and shouts to warn the buzzard. She runs, and she takes off, airborne. She flies, heavy, clunky, and disbelieving towards the conifers, sees that it has gone, and circles back to land softly on the patio as Alan bursts out through the back door clutching his air gun.

‘What on earth are you doing, you stupid cow?’

Her heart races and she pants: ‘I frightened it away. You can’t shoot at it.’

‘What would you know? Fat cow. You’ve come outdoors in your slippers. Stay in the kitchen. Haven’t you got cleaning to do?’

She says nothing, for she is reliving her circuit of the garden. Did she run, or was she really flying?

He grunts. ‘Don’t just stand there.’

He takes a rabbit from the hutch, strokes it and coos: ‘Don’t worry, my darling. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll keep all my babies safe.’

Julia goes inside. She doesn’t want to listen.

 

Julia decides to clean the spotless kitchen cupboards while Alan is in one of his moods. These days, he is usually in ones of his moods. There is a cricket match on TV and she is hopeful she can slip outside later. Finally, as he dozes off in his armchair, she is able to reach above his head to the shelf of DVDs. Behind the home-fitness DVDs he insists on buying her and which she pretends to watch, she hides her battered bird book. The spine is cracked so that it falls open on the British birds of prey page. Like an unsure lover, breath held in anticipation, she strokes the photograph of the buzzard, beady eye looking into her soul and seeing her darkest secrets. She checks the text: … a hungry buzzard is quite capable of taking rabbits … She smiles and looks towards the window.

She spots the buzzard once again on his conifer-top perch, majestic and serene. ‘Wait for me. I’m coming, I’m coming,’ she whispers, and lets herself into the garden.

Creeping to the rabbit pens, she undoes every latch of every hutch, and, where she can, turns them onto their side. ‘Come on out, let’s see how you cope with freedom!’ Two rabbits lollop onto Alan’s perfectly-manicured lawn. ‘Go on – eat his prize blooms. Enjoy!’

The buzzard remains motionless, unblinking, staring, watching, waiting. Julia tenses every muscle in her body. A door slams behind her.

‘Oi’ shouts Alan.

Without looking back, she kicks off her slippers and lumbers further down the garden, scattering rabbits, which emerge blinking into the sunlight.

‘Wait for me,’ she shouts, extending her arms and beating them up and down. The buzzard flaps and takes off away from the conifers.

‘What the – ?’ shouts Alan. ‘My babies! You’ve let my babies out!’

‘Wait for me – miew,’ she screeches, breaking into heavy, clumsy flight. She circles around, looking down. Rabbits meander across the lawn and into the flower beds. One of them noses at her discarded slippers, and Julia swoops and impales it in her claws.

Alan stands at the back door, staring, his mouth open wide and his chins trembling on his chest. She lets the rabbit drop right in front of him.

‘Miew,’ she squawks, as he disappears inside. She flies over the rooftops, watching their garden and house shrink into insignificance. She stretches her strong wings and feels their huge span. Her primary feathers tingle as she ascends. The flow of air over and around her head chills her but there is no need to blink: she feels the warmth of an updraught and soars in it, spiralling up and up above their house. Alan has his air rifle at his shoulder, and she hears some distant shots, but she is beyond his reach now. Past the town lies a patchwork quilt of fields, and a ribbon of river snakes through a wood. There is a freshness on the air, and her next ‘miew’ is answered. The other buzzard slips into a perfect circle with her, and they soar in stately motion on the thermal.

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