Words ©2017 Barbara Renel                              Images ©2017 Paul Taylor

On her way to the river she finds a dead blackbird. The fragility and gentle weight of its body in her palm is comforting, proof it had existed, proof it had been alive. She leaves it on the bank. Yesterday she had been collecting stones. She tucks her skirt into her knickers and squats in the shallows. A weak sun glints on the water. Birds sing. She arranges her stones in circles, like ripples. Time disappears.

            She stands to admire her work. Satisfied, she sloshes through the water further upstream to her dam and standing stones. Still there. The river will need to be in full spate to shift them. How deep is it now?  She wades in a little further, too deep, her boots fill with water and are left behind as she lifts first one and then the other foot out. She empties the boots and throws them onto the bank.

 

Last summer she had fashioned a den by the river, its entrance protected by a portcullis arrangement of branches and string. Inside she keeps a cup with a broken handle salvaged from the bin and a plate taken from the draining board in the kitchen. Hidden is a six pound tin of Cadburys Roses Chocolates, now fading, rusting. A Christmas feast her mother had bought that had lasted till spring, last spring, now a reliquary for her special things: goblets fashioned from the shiny chocolate wrappers – oranges, reds, purples, turquoises, yellows, greens – her dad had shown her how; three marbles – two green and a blue; a threepenny bit, two farthings and a penny; six acorns,  a pine cone, feathers; her mother’s thimble  and a button from her dad’s shirt; a pencil and sharpener and her letters, folded into tiny squares, messages to her mother, hidden, safe.

 

Carrying her boots, she walks back along the river bank, her bare feet scarcely noticing the rough ground. She sees birds busy with their nest building, hears them calling to their mates. Did her blackbird have a mate? Were they nesting?

            She finds the dead bird and sits with it, stroking its wing. She searches for a suitable stick and burial site. She scratches at the dry earth creating a small indentation, wraps the dead bird in a nest of twigs and leaves, covers it with a blanket of moss and lays it in the shallow grave. She piles stones into a dome over the bird and covers the structure with soft mud scraped from the water’s edge. Around the cairn she arranges more stones in a rectangle. From her tin she chooses an acorn and a feather and places them in the burial ground.

            She lies down pressing her ear to the ground. Listen to the earth and hear the sound of the past. She hears her mother.

            ‘Found you!’ Her father and his voice fill the space. She rolls over and looks up, her hand shielding the sun from her eyes.

            ‘But I’m not lost!’

The Shrine