Two years ago I was walking up a mountain path
having been told of excellent views from the summit.
The day was clear and hot, the sky wide and cloudless.
There was only the sound of my breath, my boots treading,
and the faint clonking of cowbells back down the track.
What little wind there was on the climb soon dropped
as I reached the summit, as if it had been distracted
or called upon to cover events elsewhere. I drank eagerly,
catching my breath, and then took in the view, which was
as spectacular as I had been told. I could make out a tree,
a shrub, really (it being so distant in the valley below
I couldn’t say how high), silently on fire, the smoke
trailing a vertical black line before dissipating. I watched
the flames consume the whole shrub. No one came to stop it.
No one seemed to be around to see it, and I felt very alone.
From nowhere a great tearing came: a fighter-jet, low
and aggressive, ripped above me and, surprised, I dropped
on one knee and watched it zoom, bellowing overhead.
As it passed I saw a shred of something fall, a rag, spinning.
I shielded my eyes to see, bewildered and pinned watching
the object, the rag, gather its falling weight, its speed, until
it flumped down without a bounce, only ten footsteps
to my right. It was part of a white bird, a gull. No head,
just a wing and a hunk of body. No leg, or tail, just
the wing and the torso: purple and bloodied. A violent
puddle surrounded it, already mixing with the grit.
Ferrous blood wafted and I recoiled feeling suddenly
cold and very high up and the view swam madly: I saw
for a second the flaming tree as I staggered backwards
and became aware that I was sitting, I had fallen, but I felt
as if I was falling and falling still, my mind unable to
connect the events which were real and terrifying because
they were real, only now I think it was not, perhaps,
a mountain, it was not, perhaps, a shrub on fire, and not
a fighter-jet boring its noise through the sky, and I am
certain now, it was not me, or a wing or body of a broken
bird, but the fearful and forgotten things I’ve lied to myself
about, and to my friends, and to my family.
From The White Review.