Cardinal
by Ben Galley
mother picked out were long gone, the white ones with the little cornflower patterns pasted on them by a careful designer
sat in some Swedish office far away in a place we never went.

The wind is cold, and threatens to dislodge me while I wait, so I decide to retreat to the safety of a branch nearer the
trunk. Clouds scatter across the grey sky and run fearfully from the approaching storm. At least it isn’t raining any-
more, I think to myself, but through the flapping leaves I can still see the dark clouds on the far horizon. The night
before had been terrible, with that disgusting type of wind-driven rain that hits you in the face like a thousand liquid
hammers. Two boys from across the street are playing with a hose, only gods know why in this unfriendly autumn
weather, but still their childish shrieks floated on the wind to where I hid unseen in the branches of our oak tree. A brief
gust of wind tugs at me again and I hold on tightly with both of my feet.

I built that house, every stick and stone of it, wooden frames, doors and window sills. It’s a nice area too, a strange old
couple across the way but they’re nice enough. I can see their twitching curtains from here. I wonder with curiosity at the
blue car that had taken up residence in my drive. Strange, I noticed, as humans how much we fear change. Seems so
bizarre to me now.

Movement in my house. I shiver and hold on to the tree a little tighter. The house is dark inside and no lights are on yet,
but I think I see a shape moving around in our bedroom. The figure stoops and picks up something that looks like a stray
sock. It’s you. I can tell from the way you move around in little bursts of movement, pausing and then moving again like
a little bubble of energy. Your hair is longer now and I can make out that you’re wearing those clothes that you always
wear around the house, like that old t-shirt I bought you in France.

I let the wind rustle my feathers. I think I can hear a clang in the garage above the howling wind. The old tree must be
almost breaking under the stress; the pain was audible in the creaks and moans of the old, oak wood but still I cling on to
the wet branch.

Another shape joins you, a bigger man-shape, still dark in the bedroom that you decorated. You always said that blue and
brown together, I preferred red, but obviously I let you win, so you painted it blue to go with our expensive brown
sheets. I narrowed my little beady eyes and just watched, a darkening curiosity growing under my hollow bones.
He touches you gently and I swear I can hear the laughter. It’s probably just my imagination or the boys across the
street. My old life continues to play out on a muted TV screen as I watch from my tree. Something is different now; it
feels strange and odd to be here one last time. How many times have I done this now? I ask myself.

I watch this uninvited man I don’t even know run his hands up the woman I once knew intimately. I shudder and my
wings flap involuntarily. I’m cold, and I’m starting to feel the wind slowing my heart beat, despite the activities in my
bedroom. I can see you laugh from my hiding place behind the leaves, showing off that brilliant white smile of yours. As
the two of you move around the room I wonder if you ever got that promotion down in the city, and if that colleague of
yours is still bothering you like he used to.

The man-shape turns on the light on the bedside table and one of my questions is instantly answered. The same man you
complained so often about to me is now standing in my bedroom holding my wife, that guy from resources you said was a
bit too “touchy”. I love irony, even though my understanding of it has become a little lost recently. I am starting to lose a
lot these days, like the memories of us, the accident in the river so long ago, and not only the big things either, even the
little memories and intrinsic things that you take for granted: pin numbers, tying shoelaces, the smell of petrol and my
own birthday. I suppose I have two of those now anyway and I think blithely how many more I’ve forgotten.

This is why I came back, to find you and see your hazy face again. But this isn’t my life; it’s someone else’s now, two
strangers in a room in a house that a man once built. I feel like leaving, but my little eyes can’t tear themselves away just
yet.

I stay for an hour, maybe two, watching you wander around the house doing chores. Once you come outside to check if
that new blue car was locked. It was and you hurry back inside shivering in the old t-shirt and golden hair blowing wildly
in the wind.

Just before the storm arrives, I decide to go. I test my little wings and rummage through my red feathers with my short
yellow beak. One comes loose and flaps wildly, so I quickly pull it free and hold it tight like a seed in my strong mouth.
With a short run and a little flap I make it to that window sill I think I sanded and painted all those years ago. And I poke
the feather under the lip of the window, tapping at the wood until the feather sticks, a bright red flag fluttering on our
house. And with that, I sigh and flap off into the grey skies just as the first drop of autumn rain touched on my lawn.