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Jackdaw

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 33

Mother was forever a sickly woman, trapped in a cycle of perpetual mourning for a long-dead father I never knew. She rambled around our family’s crumbling pile, another lost thing of past to add to the mouldering collection.

We were close, in our way. With nothing more to do but raise me, she spent long hours with me reading and talking, mostly about my father. In these hours, she always had the glazed, far-off gaze of someone trapped in a memory she did not want to escape. I would sniffle and cry, beg Nurse not to make me go sit with Mother, her musty room and hazy eyes frightening to a child who otherwise only knew bright and shining things.

No one was surprised when Mother became ill, again. It was a part of her cycle of despair: long periods of being bedridden, followed by marathon talks about my father. But this time a special nurse came to care for her. I was ten at the time, and gripped my new-found freedom with both hands, packing my satchel with books to wander across the fields to read without the constant interruption of my mother’s memories.

Caught by the ear before I could get out the door, I was trapped in the house, rambling through the cavernous rooms on my tod. Bored with confinement, I marched back to my room in a strop, threw myself onto the bed and fell asleep.

The throaty scream of a jackdaw startled me awake at twilight.

The windows and doors were closed, there was no fireplace in my room. The bird sat on the metal rail at the foot of the bed, one blue-white eye appraising me as I stared back. It cocked its head and screamed. Terrified I ran across the room and threw open the window, the jackdaw crying out a final time before it flew away.

I dashed out of the room to tell Nurse what had happened. She met me in the hallway.

My mother was dead.

I was rescued from a life trapped amongst the relics by my mother’s sister, Aunt Vivian. A vivacious, lovely, and healthy women who had escaped the family home at seventeen for Oxford and then the world. A great believer in music, museums, and education she set me upon a program to correct the deficiencies of a life lived in isolation. The next five years were an endless adventure across the Capital.

Until the morning I woke to find a jackdaw eyeing me from the top of closet door. It screamed out its warning as I opened the window and begged it to leave.

Aunt Vivian was dead on the landing, lying in a pool of blood still in her party dress from the night before.

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