A far-off tractor hums as we set out through the field. Since her last flying visit I’ve thought only of her. Now she’s back, I don’t know what to say.
“Skylarks!” She smiles, gazing up. I’ve never noticed them, though I often walk this way. She tells me they nest on the ground. “If the grass is cut in Spring, the eggs are destroyed.”
The warm air shivers with the larks’ wild song. Swifts dart among them like scythes that reap the sky. She’s restless too; always on the wing. Each year a new country, a new world to save. I can’t hope to hold her, earthbound as I am.
Don’t speak because she might say no.
She stops by a thicket of trees.
The call is unmistakable, like woodwind, rich and clear. I fumble for my phone to capture the sound. But the cuckoo’s voice is drowned by the roar of a plane. We’re under the Luton flight-path.
“How’s Ben?” I ask, when the noise subsides, though I don’t really want to know.
She tells me the story. He left his wife and children, but it didn’t work out. She does this, I remind myself. So gentle, and yet she leaves a trail of broken things.
She says, “I might stick around here for a while.”
I think of a fragment of half-forgotten rhyme. May, she will stay. June, she’ll change her tune. July, she will fly.
Don’t speak because she might say yes.
We lie in long grass by a brook and drink metallic tea. She talks about chalk streams — how rare they are, the fragile lives they hold. She always did make treasures of ordinary things.
At her gasp, I turn, but the bird has gone. She plucks something from the kingcups: a feather of copper and sky-bright blue. The trace of a beauty too quick for me to grasp. She lays it soft in my palm. Her touch hurts as if she cut my skin with a knife.
We climb a sheep-grazed hill.
“It’s a watershed,” she says, “though it doesn’t look much. If rain falls here it joins the Flitwell, and ends up in the Thames. But if the wind blows it over that rise, it flows north to the Ivel and Ouse.”
On the ridge, I pause. For a moment I’m poised, weightless, between silence and sound. I think of clouds drifting, of raindrops running to rivers far away. Parted by a breath or a stillness of the air.
Speak. Don’t speak.
We come full circle, back to the field. The larks still fly with reckless joy, soaring beyond sight. How would it feel to skim the clouds, to rise in fearless song?
The tractor drives into the meadow, towing a gleaming machine. I raise my voice above the insistent thrum of its blades.
“I have to tell you something.”
Behind the mower, the cut grass falls and lies in even rows.
Biography: Sarah Royston’s writing draws inspiration from nature, folklore and the landscapes of southern England. Her short fictions and poetry are published in Full House Lit, The Hyacinth Review, Noctivagant Press and Soor Ploom Press, among others. She lives in Hertfordshire, UK, and works as a researcher on sustainability.