Eyes, beady all-seeing eyes, watched from above as I stood at my father’s graveside. I turned my binoculars to watch the bird circling high above an adjacent field. It was russet with white patches at the end of each elegant, outstretched wing, a span of at least five feet, I adjudged. Although too distant, I knew there to be bold pupils within pale eyes and flared nostrils in a hooked yellow bill. A majestic red kite. Now he (I imagined a male) was gliding effortlessly in a circle – looking for prey, whilst doubtless keeping a wary eye on me.
I looked back down at the green grass, dotted with yellow and orange crocuses, feeling the first warm sun of the year on my cheeks. Seven years ago, in this exact spot, I’d taken a handful of earth from a proffered container and dropped it into the deep, deep hole, hearing it rain onto my father’s coffin. I imagined the scene. To my left and right had been a row of relatives, very few of whom I recognised. Now strangers, I knew some of their names from distant childhood. White flakes of snow had swirled as we’d stood, listening to Cheryl, the vicar, intoning the service. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Did she say that? I couldn’t remember.
I gazed up at the red kite again, still circling. He rode on the air, became part of the air, his feathers discerning its currents with unimaginable sensitivity. Now, cruising with ease, he enjoyed the unaccustomed warmth of the sun.
From a tiny helpless fledgling he’d grown, his mother’s life dominated by her offspring’s constant cacophonous demand. Finally, her work over, he’d flown the nest and managed to forage on his own, firstly on carrion and worms, then as he’d grown, able to catch mice and voles, to taste warm blood and to feel the pleasure of the kill.
It was early February, quiet and peaceful in the graveyard, a haven at one corner of our village. Nearby stood two adjacent graves of lightning victims, struck in different years. Further afield lay ancient gravestones, haphazardly situated, now toppled at strange angles.
I regarded my father’s gravestone and silently cursed my sister. She’d taken control in selecting the stone, as was her wont, eschewing marble and gilding in favour of ‘tasteful’ local stone. As a consequence, a dull grey-brown stone stood, stained and with lettering now barely readable, though considerably newer than its smart, legible neighbours.
I tried to imagine my father as a young man, happy and ambitious, before he became pessimistic, bad-tempered and eventually deaf, finally dying after years of dementia.
Yesterday, my mother, with whom I’d been staying for two years had put her house on the market under my sister’s instruction. I wondered how much longer I’d be able to visit this tranquil churchyard.
I looked up through my binoculars once more. The kite had moved across the field but there it still was, circling, circling.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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