Yet These Birds Do Fly by Nick Norton

Here was a hole, very pale, shapely, a most comely hole. It was a hole we enjoyed for it was always moist. This was a sipping hole, an oft tasted delight. We flew down, we sipped, tasted, and we were refreshed. Our conversation was vital, sparkly, like the water; vibrant. Our nests we set all around in the gentle arms of white stone. The cliffs appeared to form a temple, all delight and all beauty, our voices funnelled into one chorus, the warm air buoyed the small crescents of our wings. Here was gentle living. It was home.

Our delighting and watery hole became of increasing renown; our health also was oft discussed. The parrots and the apes who came to partake of this moisture, they talked of our vigour. The butterflies sayeth nothing, not, at least, with their curly tongues. In truth, there was never much time for these endless rounds of comparison and contrast. Chat clinked as if pebbles rolled around and around in a bowl, it suited not our taste. Yet the butterfly and the parrot were all colour; all colours alive and dancing. And the apes were always interesting, if you wanted to take an interest. For me, for my friends; we sipped, we flew away. Ohhhhhhhhh, they swooned; such vigour. The guests decided to stay.

I wondered why they sat so long; it was as if their feet were turning into stone. They sat, they paddled in our hole, and in the surrounding pools; they rested and never ceased to admire our vibrant activity. It is the waters, they assured one another; it is the waters. And they dipped their ladles and cups, and quaffed and supped and talked on and on.

Seeds we let fall into this our particular, rich, and vivifying hole did not grow into bushes or trees, as always occurred at those darker, cooler, and muddy pools we visited. Here the seeds slowly rolled upon themselves and became stones. Twigs grew into rigid logs, and so it was that eventually a parrot dropped their hat and, over the next few days, friends gathered to watch as this hat became a boulder. A boulder in the shape of a hat: There was much squawk and there was much commotion. Butterflies rose in a great rainbow mist, disturbed of their salt sup. A vast and eager selection of clothing, toy, and peculiar paraphernalia were all dumped into the hole. In no time at all the hole became misshapen, and ever more crowded. People realised how they must stop stirring the waters but allow it to flow and to drip. Channels were dug for the drinking; a gallery was constructed for a wet influx of all things becoming rock. Our hole had all but vanished. The butterflies went to the dark, muddy places. We sipped, and we flew, and we did so swifter and sharper, we angled in quick and banked away steep.

A parrot drowned. Drowned or was drowned? The apes all denied and chuntered and leapt in eager protest, for this was a terrible accusation. So as to be seen to honour this death, the bird became its own funerary relic, a statue. This grievous totem was placed up high, in a niche above the wall of things becoming rock. A ghostly presence to be the lord of the mineral, and its family in mourning left their favourite feathers around. In its small recess there was a stone parrot who appeared to have shed its colours. Over time this noble stone became the ideal, and parrots deliberately shed their brilliance. All the colour was dropped below the statue and, of course, the feathers drifted down into the waters and soon the feathers were stone. Blade shaped slivers of stone; the apes who sat paddling studied the appearance of these feather stones with interest. The dun coloured birds and the watching apes no longer engaged in their endless chat, a smitten of suspicion had reached into this friendship and rolled a stony crust all around. In the ears of the hardened apes these dull birds now made a harsh and accusatory racket. The apes reached into the warm waters and picked up the feather stones, and in this simple action there arrived a strange, powerful realisation. The apes climbed out of the waters. They wore stone boots and they carried weapons; the calcified yellow, the sharp stone scarlet memory, and in their clever hands a white stone blade might be sharpened on a harder stone so just an azure tip peeked out.

A nuisance of drab birds hopped around, their increasingly anxious squawks were as if the worn out recall of a wittier conversation. The stone stomping apes gathered in and slaughtered all the dun coloured creatures, whose red blood plopped into the water and soon became iron coloured sand.

 

There was a hole once; a very pale, shapely, and most lovely hole. It was a hole we enjoyed for it was always moist. It is a place we are still called to, for our ancestors are here, knotted up scrawls of stone, their very own funerary relics. These stone extrusions are wings and beaks and tails scrunched beneath harsh and over eager ape hands. Our dead are stuffed into wet cement as if they were an embarrassment, an afterthought. High above on the limestone, in a recess naturally shaped by the persistence of water, there sits a stone parrot, an ancient surety, an unassuming exclamation mark. Few who pass this way ever believe it is truly the corpse of a bird, but most can nonetheless see a resemblance and allow that someone in the past may have thought it so. On occasion one will see an emerald or vivacious red and black and yellow, or perhaps an azure haze. It is a butterfly, a small twirling cluster of them, these tiny specks of brilliance hover around the stone parrot. And below them there is a remnant of a sipping hole, a once tasted delight. The butterflies float above it for a while, a dream of enchantment, but the stone boot crunch of a guard approaches and they lift and disperse.

We flew down, we sipped, tasted, and we were refreshed. We remember this, and still must remember this, therefore once a year we fly through this barren valley with its white walls and dark shadow. We do not stay for long.

Our breeding grounds are in the far north, several seas sit in between there, our future, and here, our heartbroken past. But although the apes with stone boots do not fly, they have demonstrated a most tenacious tread. They hide all colour beneath the dullness of their blades, and northward they come.

 

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Nick Norton’s work is described by Patrick Keiller: ‘A joy to read, Nick Norton’s wonderful book brings a headlong, associative sensibility to the literature of landscape. I wish there were more books like it.’ – Bookworks.org.uk

Nick’s short stories can be found in Shooter, Here Comes Everyone, The Happy Hypocrite, Fictive Dream, The Honest Ulsterman, Brittle Star, and elsewhere.

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