The brown water dragged itself off the mud and the stones, out and away to sea; a boy and a girl padded out from under the church to see what the river had left them.
Michael found a coconut, and kicked it out to the waterline where it smacked unbroken onto the rocks, just short of the first tiny wave. He picked his way out for another swift kick, and was soon lost in his game.
But Jennifer’s steps were smaller, and more mindful, as she carefully scanned the mudbank. Some of the most beautiful finds were the smallest.
She reached the tideline. Waterlogged wood from out past the city washed up here daily, licked into animal shapes by the Thames. She’d got Michael to carry some back before, and now a great wooden beast lurked in their borrowed home, limbs twisting out to tap unwary guests on the head as they sat on the sofa.
Wrapped around the sodden branches was the common city junk; wreathes of plastic, bottles and foam, bags and toys, and the shoes and trainers (never a pair), laces dragging more oddments into the fray, some still stiff, shiny and new, with buckles, and stories that Jennifer thought were best left behind.
But she didn’t care for shoes today, or plastic or coconuts or even the wood.
What Jennifer wanted today was something special to play with, something she could make beautiful.
She found it.
She stamped her feet - tiny quick excited stamps.
“Michael! Come look!”
Michael hopped over, gnawing at a piece of coconut, and they both looked down on the river’s gift, a beautiful feathery find, purple-black and plump and shiny.
Jennifer bent down, lightly fingered the glossy black feathers, the huge black beak and the cruel claws.
“You taking her home?” Asked Michael.
“Not this time.”
She pointed to the twisted wood, and set Michael to making a high place, to raise up her find, show off its wing span.
And its coming transformation.
The mud was thick and deep, and it squelched and bubbled and spat as Michael plunged his twisted cross far down into the slippy bank until it sucked in the timber and gripped.
After all that, it wasn’t very high, only shoulder height.
“Thankyou Michael, that’s lovely,” beamed Jennifer.
Later, they stepped back to take see how she looked.
Longer than an arm’s length the wings spanned the wood, and the head lolled back and the lethal beak pointed east to the faraway coast.
“She will welcome the water back in from the sea,” proclaimed Jennifer, “and change with the weather and tides.”
She skipped away with Michael.
The tide had come and gone seven times, her feathers had fallen and the eyes were gone, and she moved once more, with small, wriggling blind white life.
Another great black feathery beast perched on the wood and pecked at his sister.
The water came.
The water went.
The bones fell.
It was beautiful.