ALCEDO ATTHIS

I have finally managed to stop sobbing. For an hour I sat with the still warm body of a kingfisher in my hand, its blood slowly sticking my fingers together.
A special bird, its splash as it dived after a fish from its perch on the toppled velvet tree which overhangs the water, announced its presence more often than the treasured sight of its blue flash as I sat drinking early morning coffee under the larch.
But now it’s dead. kingfisher

I was drinking coffee indoors this time, for the morning was a bluster of showers, when there was a loud thud against the glass doors, very close, making me jump. I didn’t expect a corpse, I imagined the bird – I hoped a stupid bloody wood pigeon – to have flown off a little dazed perhaps, but not seriously harmed, so I finished the page I was on and then, as the sun appeared, stepped out to open up. There, lying on the ground was a bright turquoise bird. Why why why? Why must it be the kingfisher? I spend the next 10minutes clutching its warm limp, body to my breast, rocking it back and forth, stoking its tiny head.

I am aware that my distress is out of proportion, that somehow the death of this tiny, precious bird has triggered something else. Perhaps somehow connecting to a sense of the death of small and precious things on a larger scale.
That the kingfisher’s blue flash in the mornings encompassed a kind of hope.
The hope in the very fact that there were still kingfishers. That they still flew. That they fished, as they had always done. That they were not only confined to the myths of archaic children’s stories which until recently was the only place I had ever encountered them.
Maybe this is the cause of my seemingly exaggerated grief. (Would I have cried so uncontrollably if it had been, say, a wren, or even the cheeky blue tit who is accustomed to fluttering around my room and eating the easy pickings from the spiders webs in the corners of the ceiling even when I am near, and whom it occurred to me it might be when I heard the thud.)

I feel how such an occurrence can be a trigger to madness, its death so random, so senseless, that the search for meaning leads one to delusions – Why was it flying toward me? Why at that particular moment? when it could have been at any other of the multitude of moments when I was not sitting there, then I would simply have come across the body and not known the cause of its death. (As it is I am left cursing myself for not having gone out and bought stick-on hawk silhouettes after the other day when there was a lesser thud as some unknown thing flew up against the door and away again.) And what was it doing flying away from its usual trajectory above the water? Why did it not shy away from me, after all I was anything but fish-like in a red T-shirt? Flying straight at me – why? What did it want from me? What message was it attempting to bring?
Is, in my exaggerated grieving, this random death somehow standing in for all the senseless death in world? Its scarcity through senseless destruction of habitat and poisons, standing in for other senseless destruction?

I dither about for a long time before burying the kingfisher. Partly distracted by grief and not wanting to abandon it, I am unable to put the creature down in order to clear a bit of flower bed and pick up a fork, and partly because its small death has taken on something momentous, so to bury it so soon seems irreverent and somehow too final too soon.

At last I wrap it in a piece of cloth to keep the flies off and dig a hole in the flower bed facing its favoured tree near the water. I want to make it special, to give some meaning to its death, as if the reason for its dying so randomly was in order to be granted a beautiful funeral – (I am clearly slowly disintegrating into madness…) –

I line the hole with leaves from the velvet tree, and cover the body in marigolds, yellow and orange, as if the healing power of calendula could do it some good in the afterlife. I replant the bulbs that came up with the earth, and cover the surface with velvet leaves and marigolds again.

Distraught, with the slowly dripping body in one hand and the phone in the other I had called a friend, and he reminded me to sing for it – now I feel this is a commitment, that I cannot leave it without a song. The only thing that comes to me is Sweet Chariot, and I hesitate, put off by a sense of kitsch before succumbing – I clearly need to believe that this beautiful bird is off somewhere and not just the cold ground.

There should be a special flower to plant on the grave, something kingfisher blue. I search the encyclopaedia of plants, but in perennials nothing is blue enough. Then at the bottom of a page of annuals a bright blue daisy with an orange centre – Fecilia Bergeriana – in brackets its other name – Kingfisher daisy.
Maybe there is no reason, simply random, simply its time – and maybe being lain out on a bed of marigolds with a bright blue flower for remembrance is not the very worst of circumstances.

Later, once I have calmed sufficiently to open a bird book, I realise from the description of claw and beak colour, that the bird was most likely a fledgling. My neighbour had informed me that the resident pair had four young which will have flown out of the nest only a few days earlier. Apparently the parents aggressively chase their young away to seek their own territories, and this may account for its desperate kamikaze swoop through my foxgloves.

Somehow the death of this bird reminds me of the smile on the dark face of the young woman, only 19years old, freshly escaped from the forced sex trade having fled from the car of the man who’d paid for her. I took her out to see an open air dance performance in the park last night, and her answer to my query if life was okay in the hostel was – yes, now it’s good, now, yes. And with those few words enunciated the unspoken misery of the life that had brought her to this place. She too had been fleeing her parents, running from the threat of genital mutilation – betrayed by a mother who would see her risk death by blunt knifed infection and childbirth complications rather than succumb to the humiliation of a supposedly immodest daughter. Chased into the welcoming arms of those, well prepared by a deeply misogynist culture, who would abuse her further. Praise her courage for having the strength to have kept running.

The next day I’m clinging to G. on the back of the motorbike swerving through a Dutch-painting-picturesque riverside landscape, the rush of wind, the lush greenness, I cannot rid myself of the image of the kingfisher’s swift flight and final thud – the idea of omen imposes itself. Attempting to shake off the encroaching madness as stock sentences about good days to die, death coming unexpectedly, impinge, I counter magic with like and transform G.’s leather jacket, clutching it into a talisman. How can it ever be a good day to die…

When (fighting back tears) I break the news to my neighbour at the school gardens across the wide ditch that separates our pieces of land, he comforts me that it was almost certainly a young bird. He has been observing the resident parents and they appear to be busy preparing for a third brood undaunted. There is hope yet. Somehow total devastation of the world has been postponed for another day.