RE: Eclectic: Ten Very Different Tales
Here's the first story from the forthcoming sequel, More Eclectic Tales
The man sat at the table peering at that day's newspaper. As his eyes skimmed over the articles, he slowly chewed his way through a sandwich. The bread was from a packet bearing an expiry date that had now passed but the contents of the sandwich were as fresh as they came. Just two hours earlier, the crunchy lettuce and refreshingly crisp cucumber had been in the man's garden and the tomatoes had been attached to the vine in his small conservatory. As the man bit into a tomato, it exploded in his mouth sending juicy red flesh and yellow seeds gushing out. He licked the juice from his lip and wiped away the drops from the bristle of his unshaven chin.
Once he had finished the sandwich, he sat back and sighed and his eyes fell upon the small framed photograph on the television. He stood in the picture tall and proud next to his wife. He remembered being almost blinded by the impossibly white dress she wore on their wedding day and now he gazed at her nervously smiling face, her veil blown aside by a gentle breeze. Before he allowed his eyes to mist over, he got to his feet, carried his plate to the sink and ran the tap briefly to wash away the remaining tomato seeds.
The man, his stomach now satisfied, leant on the fork protruding from the soil, and picked out the stones that seemed to appear from nowhere overnight. Plop. Thud. Plop. Thud. The stones hit the bottom of the bucket, one after the other. In between the plop and thud of the stones, the man smiled as he heard the unmistakeable chirp of the robin that had visited his garden daily for several weeks now. He turned his head, and there on a nearby fencepost stood the bird, its chocolatey brown wings still and its bright red breast gently rising and falling. The robin cocked its head to one side as if in greeting and its reflective black eyes surveyed the man with a warmth that suggested friendship. The man knew it was the same robin because one of its legs was bent at an unusual angle, not enough to prevent flight or movement but enough to make the bird recognisable. He continued to clear and turn the soil until a fine drizzle fell and, only after the man went indoors several minutes later, did the robin twitch its wings and take flight.
The autumn was unexpectedly cold and, just before the winter took over, the leafless garden looked bare. The man, wrapped in his thick grey coat, his head buried under the woollen hat which had been knitted for him by his wife, slowly walked up and down the garden carrying branches to a pile at the far end. As he did so, the robin's beady eye observed with increasing incredulity as if to say, "Leave me some branches to sit on."
When the man had finished, he went indoors to fetch the half-empty sack of bird feed and topped up the feeder. He had barely taken a step back when the robin came to rest on the stand. Its head jerked furiously into the hole and pecked at the seeds. Most seeds ended up on the ground for a wandering pigeon to prod at but the robin continued for several minutes until it was satisfied. The man watched and shook his head in amusement at the robin's impatience. The bird looked round and twitched its head at the man in thanks. "A pleasure" said the man, before turning back to his house.
The man surveyed the bright white garden. A heavy snow had fallen overnight and the boughs groaned under the extra weight. All around was white, apart from the brown strips of fence that had somehow escaped a coating, and the brown and black seeds, safely encased in the plastic bird feeder. A flash of red and brown suddenly appeared before the man's eyes and, there on the window ledge before him, stood the robin peering in and plainly unaffected by the freezing temperatures. "Not today" said the man through the glass. "It's a bit too nippy out there for me!" The robin tilted its head and looked round at the garden, then looked back at the man. Its black eyes shone and stared at the man. The man moved away from the window and sat back down in his armchair by the fire. The robin flew off.
The worst of winter had passed, the snow had melted and the man shivered as he opened his back door onto his garden. He pulled his coat around him and walked out to survey the borders and plan what he would do in the coming spring. He stared at the barren soil which in several months time would be a riot of colour. He continued down the garden, noting that the rocks had developed even more cracks during the freezing winter.
Without realising, the man was looking high and low for his garden visitor. It was only a silly bird, the man thought, but he had grown fond of it and was keen to ensure it had survived the cold spell. As he neared the remains of last year's garden fire, his eye picked out a small object on the ground. He carefully approached and stopped when he saw what it was. A black eye stared vacantly to the sky. A brown wing lay permanently open and torn against the soft grass. And fragile twig-like legs poked up into the air, one at its familiar odd angle. A nearby fence panel shuddered and the man caught sight of a slender black tail dropping down into the neighbouring garden. The man's eyes returned to the still bird and, for the first time since his wife had died, tears began to roll down the cheeks of his lined face.