I had never seen such verdant green. Colours fascinated me now I could see them. But I couldn’t understand the sense of it. Inside this cage, a bright green feathered bird stood out, stark against the beige furniture that surrounded it. What was the point of such blatant declaration: here I am for all the world to see! There was much I did not understand. However one thing I knew to my core: between the bars of this cage was lodged my last remaining body part, my miracle of engineering, my neutral buoyancy.
So this is what it comes to after all: a beak sharpener for a budgie. Indeed, I had dallied with many an existential thought, but time was drawing to a close, these were the end game days of this limbo juncture, a small piece of matter left, that I, whatever that I was, could see, as if watching a play unfold. I had long surrendered to this theatre. Although sometimes I had a sense there was some foundation being laid: inert between a consciousness of what was and what will be.
‘Pretty Polly’, the lady said as she did each morning, the budgie squawking in reply, her face for that moment enlightened. She turned and slopped her way out, her tattered tartan slippers scuffing on the Lino floor. She does not hide her stoop.
I felt but did not know, you see, that I was once a master of camouflage, of deceit. Living as a bottom dweller, I could only see out and it was dark mostly in the deep of the ocean.
Although I was born in shallow waters, where the sun filtered down warming the salt sea and sand, later I came to understand that we molluscs once had an external shell, but it was lost over time and so we developed other protection methods, and our hard shell evolved inside into what became our backbone, our buoyancy. Like a submarine we were, hovering at the sea bottom and through a balancing of gas and liquid, we could lift or drop, following the sea bed’s layers. Our stealth was in that bone. Now in perfect transection for a budgie’s beak: thousands of narrow long chambers, now empty. A master piece of engineering, used to sharpen a budgie’s beak.
Ambush was my skill. I’d hide behind a rock, surprise my prey, a nice herring or tasty oily mackerel did me fine. Dumb animals, compared to us, ignorant and living in shoals. Yes, food was plentiful: the key was staying alive, and here was my greatest asset. In the blink of an eye (and my eye, I’ll have you know, was as sophisticated as that of a human), I could change colour, mimicking my surroundings. A brilliant sensor from my brain signalled to pigment sacs in my skin to open them like ink jet printers, to produce the colour of my surround. Sand or seaweed was my speciality, variations, striations, pointillist, oh I was a master. I felt my predators pass by, mere molluscs away, as they in their ignorance only saw a bed of sand.
Such a fortuitous and lucky life you may say, but it lasted a singular year, before my fate determined my young death: not in a human Spanish trawler, but a natural process. We lived and operated alone but come the time, we congregated together and made our way from the warm waters of the Bay of Biscay back to the north to find cooler, shallower waters, in my case off an East Anglian beach. Thousands of us gathered, and here we danced our erotic dance of ecstasy, here I let flow my colours, vibrant, undisguised, safe, and ecstatic; here I found my mate, joined and spawned my eggs. And here I died. Such was our life. We all died. A painless death after that climatic display and propagation. My fleshy body soon disintegrated. In the winter storms our cuttle bones are washed up on to the beaches. People strolling wonder at our sudden appearance, clean white shafts of bone. Early one morning I was gathered up by a Chinaman, and along with whelks was boxed and sold at a market to a shop, until the old lady came in one day and bought me for her budgie.
I somehow see all this, although the seeing is not a blind cuttlefish seeing or even a human seeing. I cannot explain how it is I see, but I feel the insight is gradually growing dimmer.
The man walked straight passed the target, the blond woman, confident that he would not be noticed for he was the master blender. He’d studied clothes that blended in, his face was every-mans face. Later, when they were questioned, no one would be able to say they had noticed him. He wanted to be ahead to observe her, but it was a movement in the window of a bungalow that distracted him. A flash of verdant green. Music from a radio came through the open front door, the net curtain billowed, a kettle boiling from a back room, all this he observed in in seconds which affirmed he was safe, at least for a while, and when he was ready his movements would be swift. He knew what he was going to do. He quickly located the cage, opened it’s spindly door, and stepped back. The budgie flapped nervously and clung to the bars inside. Just ignorance, the man considered. He walked around to the back of the cage to spur the bird. It flew to the the gap, perching on the edge, unbalancing the cage. The small remains of a cuttlefish bone fell as the bird flew out, through the parting of the net curtains, to the great outside world. Later he wondered what had made him do it. He reasoned it was symbolic of his own search for freedom he so earnestly sought, but could not find.
The woman was not difficult to catch up. He’d been watching her for days and knew her habits, her daily rituals. He’d followed her into the trendy coffee bar, the studious library, the school where she worked part time. She never saw him. So when he asked her the way to the library, she saw a friendly stranger, an innocent tourist (a hint of an accent), and said she was going that way and why not join her. Next time, with her confidence won, he would take her all the way, and he’d dance that ecstatic dance, before he killed her.
April 2013 Rachel Kellett