By mark p
Graham had not slept properly for weeks, since the new neighbours had moved into the flat below just after the Pandemic hit the world.
They were a young couple, probably not all that long out of school, and living off that august institution, ‘The Bank of Mum and Dad’, as neither of them appeared to be employed and they seemed to have an endless income which afforded them endless deliveries at all hours from couriers bringing various meals from food outlets within the pandemic ridden city.
Zed and Hannah, they were called, had no idea how to behave, Graham had lived in the place for twenty odd years, and was incredulous at the noise they made at all hours of the night, the incessant banging of doors, the shouts of argument, and so on. This had gone on for months, and given the social distancing measures, approaching them about the noise was out of the question, at least until this virus thing died down.
Graham had become acutely sensitive to noise over the last few months, there was another sound in the building, the constant chirr and cheep of the birds, in the chimney, and outside the place.
His was a top floor flat, and early mornings were an absolute festival of bird song, a free for all, a cacophony of corvids: jackdaws, crows and magpies, all cackling and cawing, flapping and squawking, the incessant cooing of pigeons, and the chirrup of sparrows heralded the beginning of the new day-the Dawn Chorus.
This ‘festival’ was not always a good thing, especially at the weekends, when Graham would emerge gummy eyed, from last night’s extended conversation with the whisky bottle, something he had taken to in the hope it would help him sleep, as the neighbours below seemed to up the noise levels at the weekend.
He was often startled as an avian presence flashed by the back window under which he slept.
This seemed to have become worse during his period of furlough, being home all the time made you acutely aware of what went on in the environs.
The phrase ‘the beat of black wings’ broke through the surface of his conscience, as a swimmer might from the depths of an ocean, he had no idea where it came from, a book, or a song from days long gone. Someone whose music he was in thrall to in his younger days, when cassette tapes had been the order of the day as an alternative to vinyl. He reckoned it was Joni Mitchell or Linda Ronstadt, someone like that, some American singer-songwriter from the early 70s?
He would Google it on his phone later if he remembered.
As the year progressed, the bird song gradually became more and more of a background music to Graham, it was a healthy antidote to the noisome two downstairs, who carried on their cacophony, with little or no regard for others.
Birds became an obsession for Graham, he often dreamed of being able to fly, didn’t everyone have dreams like that, he wondered? He had avoided checking a dream interpretation website just in case this was evidence of his potential breakdown, his losing of the so-called plot.
Wouldn't it be great to soar like an eagle across the land and watch the little specks of humanity living out their busy little lives from up above?
Graham avidly watched movies : - ‘Birdy’ from the ‘80s, with the soundtrack by Peter Gabriel, Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’. He read books which referenced birds, and flight, books by the likes of ‘H is for Hawk ‘by Helen MacDonald, J.G. Ballard, and M. John Harrison also came to mind, and his recently purchased copy of Joe Hill’s ‘Strange Weather’ contained an image of a dead bird, emanating from a ‘70s style camera, the story’s title being ‘Snapshot’.
Being a music obsessive, bird references came into that also, apart from the reference to Joni Mitchell, there was Iron Maiden’s ‘Flight of Icarus’, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’, Blackfoot’s ‘Fly Away’, and those were just for starters, his mind was rambling as he lay in bed unable to sleep , turning over song titles like there was no tomorrow, he was genre-hopping into country music , having started off with rock, here was Mary Chapin- Carpenter’s ‘Why Walk When You Can Fly’, Townes Van Zandt’s ‘To Live is to Fly’, on to Frank Sinatra, his mum’s favourite, ‘Come Fly With Me’ , wow it was endless, who needed Google, when you couldn’t sleep?
Then the soot came down each night, landing all over the fireplace, first small incursions, which were easy to clean up with the aid of the Dyson, something must be trapped in the chimney, he concluded.
This conclusion proved correct, as on Sunday of the week in question, he awoke, hungover, to a mess of soot all over the fireplace and the carpet in his room, amid all this blackness, was something else, a pigeon, or at least, the corpse of a pigeon.
Bloody hell, he muttered under his breath, hungover, and feeling bad, and he had to clear up all this, the joys…
This was the day when he noticed the growths on his body, skin abrasions, what was this psoriasis or something?
His skin was flaking on his arms and upper body, it was itchy, like nothing he had ever seen before.
He was also developing what looked like feathers, a weird rash if ever there was one
In this, the year of Covid-19, you could not get a doctor’s appointment, or at least not a real one, it was all telephone, Zoom, Skype or whatever, but something weird was happening, maybe it was the stress of the noisy neighbours, not to mention the wretched pandemic.
On the second day, he looked in the mirror to see that his arms were changing their structure, and what was that forming on his back-something that resembled wings?
On the third day, his voice was gone, replaced by a corvine caw.
On the fourth day, Graham now half man, half avian, opened his back window, flapped his wings, spread them, and jumped out into the air, he was flying, in the words of the song, he was ‘free as a bird’, free of the pandemic, noisy neighbours, the human world, now he was one of them nesting on the roof, cawing in the morning, in the early dawn, waking the neighbours, getting his own back.