KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Flash Fiction: 639 words
Climate Crisis


by Deborah Tomkins

Magnus and Ruth have been snapped by paparazzi at London events and at their home, a small cottage on the outskirts of Meriden. It’s private enough, most of the time.

The house sits among cracked fields, transparent hedges, and scattered shrubs not large enough to be called trees: a few tired field maples, a blackthorn, a bullace which should have yielded small yellow plums last autumn but had none when they went with a basket to pick them. Not enough insects, Ruth had said, and they stared sombrely into the dusty scrub, seeking invertebrates.

Magnus can’t remember when he last saw a bird, despite the seed he puts out and the water bath he fills every morning; but today—a dark, cloudy, hot day that threatens rain and thunder—today a wood pigeon alights on the small apple tree he planted last December.

Magnus puts down his newspaper, with its casual tiny article buried at the bottom of page eight (“Next Few Summers May Be Exceptionally Warm”), and creeps outside to observe the bird more closely. As he approaches, it plummets to the ground.

A vehicle draws up beyond the gate. A car door slams. Magnus doesn’t look up. He stoops, laces his fingers under the bird, and lifts it off the gravel. The pigeon is warm and floppy, its neck drooping, its eyes half-closed and dull. There’s no heartbeat.

As if the pigeon’s departing soul has sent a final message to the nearest living creature, Magnus instantly experiences a gut-churning desire for the wildwood, long-gone, unobtainable, the living forest which once extended for miles in all directions from where he stands right here, right now; and perhaps it still does, in another world, another universe: the breathing of the cool earth beneath the wide outstretched arms of oak trees, that temperate rainforest canopy which holds animals, birds and insects, fungi and lichens, life; and an even more desperate longing for his childhood, when it was nothing—nothing!—to see flocks of thousands wheeling and swirling across the sky at almost any time of year, to be woken by birdsong so deafening that he stuffed cotton wool in his ears in summer so he could sleep through the chorus; when it was normal to plant far more than the village could possibly consume because of what the birds would pick off.

Tears well in his eyes and he sobs, once, twice, sobs that contort his body and wrench his throat, sobs that twist his face and squeeze his heart. He drops to his knees, clasping the pigeon to his chest.

“Dead as a dodo,” says a man’s voice. “Shame.”

Magnus looks up into the face of a stranger, a middle-aged man peering down at him over the wide five-bar gate.

“My wife’s a big fan of yours,” says the man. “Astronaut. Environment, campaigning, all that.” He pauses. “We saw you on TV last week.”

Magnus nods, lets out his breath very slowly, breathes in equally slowly, blinks back the tears.

“Don’t often see birds around here,” adds the man. He looks vaguely around at the sky, at the spindly trees. “I was going to ask for a selfie, mate. But you’re busy right now, I can see that.” He glances at the bird crushed against Magnus’s shirt. “I’ll come back.”

He raises a camera, stares at the screen, touches a button. There are several quick flashes. “Thanks,” he says.

Magnus looks down at the pigeon. It’s splayed against him, one wing dangling, stiffening, the other folded beneath its body. The feathers are dove-grey, pewter, charcoal, white, the palest pink, iridescent green and vibrant purple. He lowers the pigeon gently to the ground. By the time he has brushed the down and grit from his hands, the lane is empty, the man has gone; the air rings with silence.

Deborah Tomkins
Issue 12, Summer 2019

writes both long and short fiction, often about climate and nature. She lives in Bristol, UK, with her family, where she runs Bristol Climate Writers. She was a finalist in the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature 2017 for her novel about climate change and grief, Crusoe, Can You Hear Me. Recently, she has been experimenting with the new and exciting literary form of novella-in-flash.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Profile of Deborah Tomkins at ClimateCultures (creative conversations for the Anthropocene)

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