What the Sparrow Remembers
As it stands on the path leading to their house, the sparrow remembers feeling weak like this before when he was in the nest, before he had learned to fly, back when he was just a shivering scrap. In the nest so warm and him so hungry. Hungry, hungry, hungry. He remembers his beak lifted, open to the sky, the empty gape of it. Then mother bird coming and cramming it full. It was almost a shock to find that where there had only been want and air there was now worm and insect and mother’s beak stuffing him full. Did he know that he was happy then?
Now he stands on the concrete flagstones, one wing bent slightly awkwardly, opening and shutting his eyelids as the spring breeze ruffles his feathers. Long ago, how long he doesn’t know, perhaps a hundred years, he was lying in the middle of a tarmac road, and that road was on the other side of the world. Or perhaps the road was on the moon, or on the furthest planet, Pluto or Uranus. Then a creature approached, a creature as tall as a tree, but pinker, warmer and then, the strangest sensation, he was lifted up.
Is this how it feels to be eaten, the little bird wondered. He had no concept of death, only of flying, of eating and in moments of madness of a strange flurry of activity which he could not resist and had to do with female birds; their colour and smell, which he wanted to… not consume, but inhabit somehow. And he did, but then the madness passed away and it was back to eating and flying and sitting in trees as the rain came and he ruffled his feathers to throw off the clinging droplets.
A human called Amber held him gently in the palm of her hand where he fit perfectly. He lay there blinking, his body prone, his little legs straight and stiff.
A long time passed, distant planets died, the moon shrank away, and warmth began to spread through his body. The pink hand was the sun; the sun was a mouth, a nest, a downy feather. He remembered he had legs, remembered that lying prone was not a thing to do, not unless it is the only thing in the world to do, the last thing. I will stand and my heart will go pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, which is so fast it is almost not a beat but a rapid trill. I will stand and consider my feet and my little legs that are as sturdy as the smallest twigs, the tallest oak. I will keep very, very still so that nothing and no one will notice me.
When I am flying I am air. It is best to be air.
Perhaps this is all a terrible dream.
If I just stand here and keep very still, except for the blinking of my eyes, the beating of my heart, they will not notice me.
But they will, they will! Fly, fly, fly!
Up, up, my wings are as heavy as apples, as slow as clouds on a still summer’s day when there is no wind from anywhere.
‘Oh! Oh!’ the pink giant says as I make my escape. It is a tremendous effort but here I am, miles and miles away, on the flagstones of their path. I can see them still. They are distant mountains and their voices come to me from afar like the rumbling echo of thunder in a rocky valley.
So I stand here on the concrete flagstones waiting to feel bold again or for the world to end. A sleekie creature might come prowling with its claws. Or a barking ruffian with its snuffling nose. Or a bright meteor that burns like magnesium, blinding and white.
The giants go inside to the other side of the universe. I wait and wait. My black eyes, though small, could swallow this world.
When later they open their door again I am gone. I am like a dream they wake from at first light.
But when the girl looks at the place where I stood, she blinks as rapidly as I blinked and her eyes shine as brightly as mine. A lake fills up and overflows, a river spills from its banks, courses down the cliff of her pink cheek, slips from the bluff of her chin. Swoops without wings through the air, falls on a blade of grass that has pushed its way up from the centre of the earth, and slides along its length, slower and slower until it is perfectly still and no one even knows it is there.
Jo Mazelis is a novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. Her collection of stories Diving Girls (Parthian, 2002) was short-listed for The Commonwealth Best First Book and Welsh Book of the Year. Her second book, Circle Games (Parthian, 2005) was long-listed for Welsh Book of the Year. She was born in Swansea where she currently lives. Originally trained at Art School, she worked for many years in London in magazine publishing. In 2014 her novel Significance was published by Seren.