So ah was in the lavvy scrubbing dishes when the front door went. The light outside was low but ah could jist make out a bulky figure through the bathroom windae. The frosted glass warped ehs dark outline and a weird distorted arm stretched out and battered on ma door. Ma heid was burstin wi the felly’s persistent thumping, and ma hands were shakin like yon Back To The Future felly as ah carried the plates back through tae the scullery.
The big boulder that had fucked the kitchen tap lay untouched in the sink under the windae, but it wasnae like ah was preserving evidence or nowt– nae cunt gives a fuck about auld Jim Gersham in this neck ay the woods.
Ah then hears the felly trying the doorbell fae inside ma cupboard. Ah was looking fir some cleaning stuff that wid remove spray paint, but aw ah could find were half empty bottles eh vodka. Ma nerves were frazzled and raw, the last eh the tramadol wearing aff ages ago, and ah thumped ma heid on a shelf as ah stood up. Things looked aw fuzzy and dark as ah pulled ma housecoat tight and made ma way tae the front porch. A big drinks cabinet stood in front ay the door. Ah’ll be fucked if ah ken how it got there, but it took aw ma strength tae move it out the way.
The man ringing the doorbell was a stout cunt wi a long woollen overcoat the colour ay thunder. He had ehs collar upturned tae ward off the unexpected cauld and ehs flabbly neck hung ower ehs white turtleneck. A pair ay slim and narrow glasses were perched on ehs hooked nose. Ehs beaked nose and fleshy gullet reminded me ay a fucking pelican.
“Mr Gersham.” the man said.
“Look mate.” ah said. “Can ye no jist leave me alone? Can youse no jist stoap harassing me? Ah’ll phone the polis. Ah’ll fone the polis if ye dinnae leave me alone, ah swear tae fuck ah will.”
But the cunt jist pulled oan ehs lapels and wheezed.
“I don’t mean any trouble.” he said.
“Then dinnae give me any.” ah said. “Ah mean it, Ah’ve had it up tae here wi trouble.
“I’m a neighbour Mr Gersham. You know that? You know I live next door?” he said.
“Oh ah ken who you are. Dae you no think ah know who ma neighbours are?”
“Mr Gersham, I…”
A gust ay wind howled up a nearby alley, knocking ower a bin and scaring a stray cat. The light was poor fir the time ay day and ah couldnae quite focus oan the man’s face.
“May I come in?” the man said, pulling ehs big sooty overcoat tight against ehs breast.
The cauld was snapping at ma ankles. A bitter chill climbed its way up ma naked leg and shrivelled ma baws. Ah turned back intae the hoose, leaving the door ajar, and the neighbour followed me in.
The air in the living room was stale and it was dark oan account ay the curtains being shut. Ah moved a glass ay vodka fae the arm ay the couch and rolled up a quilt and some cushions. Ah signalled fir the neighbour tae sit and collapsed intae an armchair in the corner.
The man perched ehself oan the edge ay the couch, planting ehs feet wide apart and resting ehs hands oan ehs thighs.
“I’m concerned Mr Gersham–” the man said.
“Look mate, you’ve nothing tae be concerned about. Don’t go concerning yerself about me, ye hear?”
“What I mean is…” the man said. “when did… well, when was the last time you went outside?”
Ehs voice was barely audible and yet he spoke wi a gentle sincerity.
“Ah don’t” ah said. “Ah dinnae go outside oan account ay the abuse. What dae ye make ay that?” ah said. “What do ye make ay a man entombed in ehs own hame?”
“I’m no here to judge, Mr Gersham. Honest, I’m no. But tell me, have you been outside today?”
“Naw” ah said. “But ah could. If ah wanted tae. Ah can go out oan ma own property, can ah no?”
“Have you seen them Mr Gersham?” the neighbour said.
“Seen what?” ah said. “Av no seen nowt. Ah’ve been cleaning up mess maest nights. In fact jist the other day there, they men, they–”
“The blackbirds Mr Gersham, have you seen the blackbirds?”
“Blackbirds?” ah said. “Av got nothing tae do wi nae fucking blackbirds. Look Mr… What’d ye say yer name was? Ah think ye better leave. Ah think it’s best ye jist leave me alone.”
“I’m no here to accuse you of anything Mr Gersham. I think you can help me. I think we can work together on this.”
The neighbour dropped ehs shooders. He looked weary, but sort ay patient tae.
“I mean your back garden Mr Gersham. Have you seen your back garden?” he said.
Well this stumped me. Ah didnae like where this talk was going and ah was nervous as fuck walking tae the rear ay the house. The neighbour followed me. Ah could hear ehs wheezing chest, and ehs big broad shooders eclipsed the light in the hall.
Now believe me when ah say ah’ve seen some things in ma time. Done some too, ah suppose. Maest things, they werenae ma fault– Am no a troublesome cunt. But these things, they have a habit ay finding me, ye ken. Take the lassie fir example. Ah knew what ah was getting intae that night– or at least ah thought ah did. Ah had ‘made my bed’ as they say. Ya cunt, there wasnae much going on in ma bed back hame, believe you me.
But ah sure as hell didnae know her age. Ah swear oan ma wee boy’s life ah didnae.
What am saying is, ah’ve paid the price fir that night ever since. Still paying this very day. The things they dae tae somecunt who’s gone and done something like that. There’s nae sympathy fir the devil, put it that way. But what ah seen out that windae, ah swear av never seen the likes ay before. Ya cunt, ah hope ah never will again.
In the dim light ay the bedroom ah could jist make out the individual bodies; their heids cocked – snapped – at unnatural angles. A sea ay black feathers– thousands ay them, aw mangled and intertwined, their broken beaks and cauld black eyes carpeting the whole back garden.
“Jesus Christ.” ah said. “Have ah no been punished enough?”
Ah turned around, pivoting on the spot and wildly searching the room. Ah rubbed a hand ower ma thick stubble. Ma heid ached, the floor spun under me, and a dull darkness fell behind ma eyes.
“Are you in oan this?” ah said. “Ya sick bastard. You’re in oan this, eh?”
“Mr Gersham you must believe me.” the neighbour said.
Ma face tingled wi cauld sweat and ah clenched ma fists intae tight balls. Ah took a step back and remembered tae breath.
“’Mon then.” ah said. “Tell me what’s next.”
“I think we must get rid of them Mr Gersham. It’ll soon be night. Dark.”
“Get rid? How’d ye fancy we get rid ay five thousand fucking blackbirds? We gonnae bake them in a pie?”
“I say we burn them.” the neighbour said.
“Burn them?” ah said. “And how’d ye suppose we dae that?”
“I was thinking a bonfire.” he said.
“You’ve got the wrong holiday mate.” ah said.
But ah pulled oan ma work boots– only by then ah suppose they were jist boots, ‘cause there’s sure as fuck nae jobs fir me around this town, believe you me. Ah pulled oan the boots and met the man out the back. He awready had the beginnings ay a pyre built up where his garden met mine. Ah joined him and started piling wood.
“Where’d ye get this wood?” ah said.
“My furniture.” the man said. “I seen those birds this morning, I got to chopping up wood right away. A bonfire Mr Gersham, like I said.”
“You chopped up yer furniture?” ah said. “Will yer auld lady no have something tae say about that?”
“I have no use for it Mr Gersham. I lost my wife some time ago.” he said.
“Pfft.” ah said. “Ah lost mare than ma wife mate, believe you me.”
Ah regretted saying that, it was kind ay a shitey thing tae say. So ah said “Tell me. Tell me about yer wife.”
So he telt me, the neighbour. He telt me how he married ehs childhood sweetheart. He telt me he got this joab in a fish market and how she travelled door tae door selling books and magazine subscriptions. They never wanted waens, he said. They were happy enough in each other’s company. He had dreams eh owning a farm, and she had supported him. They had invested every penny they had, the neighbour and ehs wife.
Only things didnae go so good fir them out oan that farm. They had these chickens. But ye cannae make a living jist selling eggs– or so the man said. They had nae experience wi crops so he invested in livestock, buying this big ginger cow. Only the cow wouldnae calf.
The neighbour, he told me about ehs cow as we finished building our wooden base. It was night by this time and ah could barely see ma hand in front eh ma ain face. We shovelled up the broken bodies, a dozen at a time, and the neighbour went on about ehs heifer.
Ye cannae milk a cow that’s niver calved– this is what the man said. Ah suppose ah hadnae really gave it much thought tae be honest. So the neighbour and ehs wife and their big auld barren cow, they were aw the way out oan this farm, wi no two pennies tae rub thegither and nae milk tae sell.
Eventually the man had tae go out and find work elsewhere. He got a joab as a sort eh handyman— fixing odds and ends around the nearest town. A cash in hand sort ay deal, ye ken. This is when the man got tae drinking. He would walk the three miles intae town, where he pottered around daen wee joabs here and there until it was time tae quit. He then stopped by the local bar for four or five whiskies, before stumbling the same road back hame.
Only efter a while there was mair and mair whiskies, and the hour got late. The wife, she was lonely oan the farm. Christ, ah’d be lonely tae, out there in aw that isolation. When the neighbour was hame, he didnae talk. It was either they wernae talking at all or else they’d be shouting and screaming at each other. One night, the wife, she had enough. She started throwing pots and pans and plates and things about the kitchen. She was shouting at him. Shouting that he wasnae a real man, wasnae the man she married. That he kept her prisoner out there. That she was locked away oan the stinking auld farm. She screamed that the closest thing she had tae a friend was the dumb auld heifer. She wished the cow was deid. She wished she was deid.
The man, ma neighbour that is, he grabbed ehs auld hunting rifle down fae the top ay a cupboard. He marched right out, ower tae the big ginger cow, his wife following behind. He didnae say a word, no tae his wife, no tae the cow. He jist pointed the rifle right between the poor beast’s eyes and pulled the fucking trigger.
Well that was the end ay it, the neighbour said. He telt me the wife went out west tae stay wi her sister. That he sold the farm. He didnae say how much, but ah bet it was less than he paid for the thing in the first place. A year later, the wife, she got sick and died. Cancer eh the breast, he said.
Ah couldnae see the neighbour’s face as he finished ehs story, but ah heard him sniff. The shadowy outline ay ehs big black shooders shuddered and heaved, and ah rested a hand on ehs broad back.
“’Mon mate.” ah said. “Let’s dae this thing.”
“Of course.” he said, and ran a sleeve across ehs sloping nose.
The neighbour got a Jerry can fae somewhere in ehs shed and approached the mound through the dark. Ah was blind and disorientated in the black ay the garden, and the smell ay kerosene filled ma lungs as it glugged ower the feathered carcasses.
“You ready?” the man said, stepping back beside me and striking a match.
“Ready.” ah said.
Ah squinted at the heap ay blackbirds through the light ay the naked flame.
He put ehs hand on ma shooder and tossed the match. Our mound went up in a big blaze ay oranges and whites. A rancid smell filled air. The stench ay charred feathers stung at ma nose and things crackled and burst fae the heart ay the flames.
Big shadows sliced through the garden and everything in it. Things were crystallised in a sharp white glow. Ah put ma hand ower ma mouth. The blaze illuminated everything around me– things that ah hadnae seen before. Ah could see everything then. Everything was burning.
Chris Di Placito
Chris Di Placito is a previously unpublished writer living in Fife, Scotland with his partner and their two cats. He has a BA in Visual Communication and Digital Publishing and is currently working on that elusive first novel.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
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