Those suddenly beating wings
‘Your clothes are over there, Steve. Would you like me to leave you to get washed and dressed? I’ll go down and see about rustling up some breakfast for you.’
‘No!’ The edge of fear was in his voice. ‘Please stay with me.’
‘Just as you like. But you will have to get ready pretty quickly, because there are lots of things I’ve got to do downstairs.’
He said earnestly: ‘I’ll be very quick.’
While he was dressing, Mandy looked out of the window. The far peaks were clear, sharp and white against blue, but cloud was beginning to form at a lower altitude, thickening up in the valley below them. It would be a dull grey comfortable day down there.
She said: ‘It’s wonderful about Andy, isn’t it?’
‘Yes.’ His voice was indistinct.
‘It does happen sometimes. With animals and birds, as well as people. I remember when I was very small – younger than you are – I went for a walk with my father one cold winter’s day. I found a wren by the side of the path, on its back with its little legs stretched out. I put it in my pocket – I was going to bury it when I got home. And just before I got home, I felt something flutter in my pocket, and there it was, quite alive. I put my hand in, and lifted it out, and it pecked my fingers and flew away.’
She could remember how happy she had been: the feeling of having given warmth and life, as though a part of herself had gone into this small creature, flown away on those suddenly beating wings. She thought about it with rekindled pleasure. She did not mind thinking about those days. They were so long ago. And no one had been hurt by them, no one betrayed.
She turned round. Stephen was dressed, and trying to comb his hair, looking at himself in the mirror over the wash-basin, his face screwed up in concentration and frustration. Her heart moved towards him.
‘Let me help you, Steve.’ He suffered her ministrations patiently. ‘There. You look just fine. Shall we go in and see your mummy and Andy before we go down?’
He shook his head. ‘I’d rather not.’
‘Well, then, we’ll go and find some breakfast.’
As they came to the first floor landing, she heard a noise and looked up. Ruth was gazing down from above. She looked tired, her eyes showing fatigue and a kind of emptiness.
‘We’ll look after this one,’ Mandy said. ‘You go to bed and get some rest.’