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An Attempt at Flight

If you close your eyes on the ward the machines no longer sound like machines, but like birds in a wood. Wood pigeons, say, insistent – irritating after a while. However, eventually even the bird sounds fade into the background as the foreground resurfaces. Just what is the foreground, though?

For James it is the nurses, but once safely ensconced behind their counter it becomes his books and, when he is too tired to read, his mind. Today, though, he is too tired to think or even daydream. He gives in to the birds. The two most insistent ones are the one next to him, the one keeping him alive, and the one at the far end of the ward.

They are obviously talking to one another. But what are they saying? Well, it is late November – snow has already fallen – so they cannot be involved in some mating ritual. No, it isn’t the mating season that is all over and finished with. Nothing to do with sex; spirituality, that must be it. An ascent if he could wing it.

He could always ask Cousin Mike - James hadn’t seen him in what, ten, fifteen, no twenty years - a bird spotter.

“He always plumed himself on being intelligent,” James says aloud.

“Did you want something, Mr. Turnell?

James opens his eyes. A nurse in a blaze of white stands before him. The focussed sharpness of illuminating intelligence.

“Get you an egg sandwich, Mr. Turnell?”

“No, no thank-you. The machines,” he says. “if they were birds, clucking away, what kind of birds do you think they’d be?”

“Blinking big birds,” she says, smiling easily.

“And it’s November, so they wouldn’t be mating, right?”

“I’m afraid I know nothing about the sex life of birds, Mr. Turnell, Now, please lie down and try to get some rest.”

There is nothing else for it. He’ll have to get hold of Cousin Mike. Yes, when – if – they unhook him from the machine, he’d contact him at once. Where was he now? Australia, New Zealand? Sydney, that was it, the opera house. James closes his eyes and settles back into the fluff of the pillows, visualizing Utzon’s masterpiece. On top of the building, on top of those sails, the birds, the bloody great birds, those machines. What are they doing up there, perched like guardians? Not mating at all. Guardians of the sacred wood, a paradise of truth, where choir answers choir and everything is beautiful.

By Anthony Kane Evans


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