Winter tale

Ruxandra Busoiu
Samuel A Moore

The quietness of winter breeze left behind echoing ghostly voices to linger over the snowy trees. A spider web of ice was covering the landscape keeping nature still. The tree, on which branch I was resting, was embraced by a blanket of snow and ice. I was looking down at the old bench that had once been a majestic pine, like the one I am sitting in.
“Do you think he’s coming back?” she said, looking with her big dark brown eyes at me.
“He’s definitely coming back. He’s never missed a day yet. After all, her ghost is still lingering around to see him. Every month, on the same day he will be waiting for her to return.”
“I know, poor soul, he never seemed to escape the grief shadowing his heart. Anyway, do you think he’ll bring bread again?”
“Good, we need some spare bread before Christmas. The ground is too frozen to dig anything good. All our usual flying shops are closed at this time of year and we’re not sure for how long that’ll be. You’re lucky with your varied diet you know. There are still plenty of mice around and with the cats out of season the catch is easier than usual.”
“Yes, you’re right, I‘ll see if I can steal some bread for you when he shows up.”
“If he shows up.”
“Oh trust me, he will …”

Without any warning, she left with the first light breeze that moved the branch, flying deeper into the woods where her nest was awaiting her return. This year more than ever she was excited at the prospect of having chicks, although, all her instincts were suggesting that something was wrong. The eggs were laid too late. The first snow had come prematurely. Her current partner wasn’t supportive and there was something else. There was a thing that she couldn’t put her finger on. A premonition, a belief that the future she had expected, will be gloomier than others could see …

That morning Anna woke up. She was feeling just like my dear Sophie. An overwhelming feeling of sadness kept her awake most of the night. Anthony was already at work when she left the comfort of the bed. Now she was looking at her naked body in the mirror, realizing that the dress, that had fitted her six months before, would not stretch as much as was required. Though the nurse had said only the week before that the pregnancy was going well and according to the plan, today she felt different. As she went into the kitchen, her belly was lighter than usual, as if it was full of air, just like the little bird that was flying into the darkness of the woods towards her nest.

Sophie didn’t stop until she had reached the nest. As she expected, her partner hadn’t wait for her to return. He had left her eggs unattended. She was unhappy about it, but there wasn’t much she could do. Her best friend Peter couldn’t help. Male owls never sit on eggs and he would never fit through the little crack in the tree where she had hidden them this year. Still, he was a very good friend, stealing bread for her from the strange man whose sorrows were haunting the woods.

He was dressed in his usual black suit and a long grey overcoat. A green scarf was protecting him from the gentle breeze. It was as though the whole forest was welcoming him with her hands open. His were covered by green woollen gloves that she had knitted for him the year she become one of us. He was carrying a bouquet of wild roses. He laid them at bottom of the tree and went to sit on the bench. As always, he had brought a blanket to put on the frozen wood, shortbread for me and a flask of tea to keep him warm. Anthony could see me clearly and with a peculiar gesture invited me to join him. I wasn’t sure about going so close, although I knew how harmless he was. But that’s what he had thought about her premonition, and how wrong he was.

Anna was sure something wasn’t right. It reached 2pm and nothing had changed. She picked the phone up and called the GP.

“The clinic is busy for the moment, we don’t have any appointments today, you’ll have to call again tomorrow before 8am.”

She put down the phone. She didn’t want to call tomorrow. She needed to see someone today. Somebody who could tell her that everything was alright. It was now nearly 4pm and the force inside her felt like exploding out. No more waiting around! She dialed Anthony’s number:

“Hey, our life is too hectic right now to pick up, leave a message after the tone …”

She hung up. She picked up the car keys. She jumped into their old Ford and decided to drive to hospital. The hospital was only half an hour away. Upon arrival the pointless questions and long waiting time nearly put her off. When she finally got to see a nurse her patience ran out.

“So what did you say is wrong?”
“Well, I feel very light and there was no movement today.”
“Right. Are you losing any blood?”
“Do you have any other symptoms, besides your fears?”
“Well, as far as I can see on your records, you had a check up last week and all looked fine. Why are you here again?”
“I have a feeling something’s wrong.”
“Darling, being worried about your future, is not a symptom.”

As she left the hospital Anthony called.

“Sorry I missed your call, I was in a meeting. I’m finishing work now. Are you home?”
“No, just got out of hospital.”
“What’s wrong!?”
“Nothing in particular, I just got the feeling that something’s not right.”
“Are you being silly again, worrying for no reason?”
“Anyway, I’ll be home in about half and hour and we can talk then.”
“I don’t want to go home, I’m tired of sitting around and feeling hopeless. Let’s meet in the forest, on our usual bench. I need a breath of fresh air.”
“Great, see you there, I’ll park at the bottom by the gate as always. Shall I wait for you there?”
“No, go and have a seat, I’ll be close behind you.”

The care with which he placed the blanket on the frozen wood made me curious about him. It was as though he was afraid of hurting nature with his presence. As always, I was sitting right beside him, but not so close that he could touch me. I was close enough to observe his hair turning greyer and greyer with every encounter.

“You want my shortbread again, don’t you?” he said, pushing a piece towards me. I had promised the bread to Sophie, but something kept me still, just like a statue.
“You better take it old boy. It’s the last time I’m coming here. It’s been two years you know and she never returned.”

He pushed the bread even closer as if he were saying, this is the last chance you have to make Sophie happy. I advanced closer, took it in my beak and with one powerful movement of feathers I flew straight to the branch upon which I had previously rested upon. I was sitting there thinking about her, wondering if anything had gone wrong. She always used to sit by my side when the strange man appeared, but this time, she was nowhere to be seen.

Anna was nearly at the woods now. She could see in the distance, on the narrow straight road, a dot of colour that could only be Anthony’s car. She parked carefully behind it and got out. A sudden pain struck her body and her legs froze. She could feel herself falling, but she couldn’t make any noise or sound of help. As her head reached the snowy surface she put her hands on her belly knowing that this was a confirmation of what she had long expected. Her heart was burning as if it wanted to escape her body. The sky was becoming lighter and lighter with every moment passing by. She was remembering the bench they had sat on when they were first dating. How that little corner of the woods had become their sanctuary of peace and quietness and how she had sat in the same place when she made the announcement. How many beautiful memories they had in that little bubble, opposite the big pine tree.

The sound of the ambulance in the distance distressed him. He should have waited at the parking space. He rushed through the woods like a madmen arriving just in time to hold her hand on the way to hospital.

“You’ll be alright darling, there’s nothing to worry about.” He kept on whispering in her ear. She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
“I was going to come to the bench. You should have waited for me there.”
“I will my love, I promise to always wait for you as long as you promise to come and see me.”
“I will. I promise.”

She closed her eyes smiling at him, the happiness that filled her heart was one that no human could experience. Anna was finally free to fly away into the clouds towards the welcoming light.

I was flying deep into the darkness of the woods looking for my little friend to give her my Christmas present. The strange man had left again with the promise that he would never come back. Sophie won’t be particularly happy about it, but I’ll be able to find another place to get some grain for her in the future. I reached the front of the tree crack where her nest was, and peeked inside.

“Are you home? I have something for you?”

Nobody answered.

Initially the doctor didn’t want to answer any questions about Anna’s death.
“What about the baby? Can we save her?”
“I’m afraid, sir, that the child was already dead inside her. We don’t know the cause of that, or the cause of her sudden heart failure. I’m sorry to say it, but we failed to pick that up when she came to the hospital earlier today. She had no symptoms you see, and ….”

The rest of the doctor’s speech became a blur in Anthony’s mind. Yes, she did have a symptom, one that had more power than anything. She knew that something was wrong and nobody had believed her. Not even him.

Peter hadn’t really taken any notice of Sophie’s morning agitation. After all, she was like that every year before the chicks hatched. However, peeking inside her nest made him realize he had been very wrong. He opened his beak in anger and cried with despair. All the eggs had been opened by a bird of prey and there was worse. Only scattered feathers were left of his dear friend.

He was flying higher and higher above the forest, looking with angry eyes for the one responsible for his grief. No other big bird could be seen in the distance. Later, he sat on his usual branch remembering Anthony’s forgiving eyes. He needed to forgive himself for not being more protective. After all, he had done everything he could and the time had come to move on and find new ones to love and look after.

Spring was coming onto the woods, changing the woolly white coat that winter left behind into one of light green. From the stump that had once been a wooden bench sprouted two saplings holding each other in an embrace. The ghosts were taking part in their final affair, permitting nature once again to give birth to little yellow chicks hidden in the tree crack and the little baby girl that Anthony was now holding with happiness and surprise.