The Swallow (For Matty) by Todd Levin


Matty wasn’t a very good friend. We’d sit up late and watch these old movies in black and white and sometimes all-new colour and even though I sat right in front of him, he’d throw popcorn and pillows at my head and the feathers would fly everywhere. My mother couldn’t deal with the mess and I always took the blame for him.

Matty was probably the only friend I had though I tried. He walked with this limp, something about the way he’d been born not quite straight or the doctor had dropped him when he came out or something, but everything else worked as it should.

Matty got it hard. I stood with him when he got stood against and even though I was this frail, breakable thing I knew I stood more a chance than he ever did. Looking back on it a few blocks from where I got to know him back then some thirty years later, though I tried, Matty was all I had and me to him too. This one time I tried to get on with Matty’s other friends, they took me in and it just ended up in this mud fight up on top of the hill and the dirt went everywhere and stayed there for years but it mostly went on top of Matty. I guess some things never change.

But though Matty was the only friend I had, he wasn’t my best friend. He used to hit me hard with his fists behind the sheds at school when he’d been rattled by his mother on the night prior or the morning just gone and along with the unrealistic dream that was getting to us from over the hill where the lights were shining long after nine, it made me want to get out all the more the first chance I could. After a while I started to wonder if him being dropped on his head had given him more than that limp after all. I kept it from him because I was his friend and he needed me.

That was thirty-odd years ago and I don’t remember how me and Matty parted ways but it was something about his dad moving out and his mother not being able to cope with the pressure of suddenly being on her own after such a long marriage but either way Matty ended up on the other side of town and I stayed. I don’t think we’d lost our way from each other but Matty had discovered a part of him that none too many of us were comfortable with and to this day the resentment and the discomfort lingered long.

Matty never did anything wrong but to be himself, the greatest crime of all I’d think when I finally got out of the shadow of the little town and moved to a somewhat bigger one to find a little more of me. It was hard to be around him after that but not because I believed everybody else when they’d mutter that Matty was a sinner but because Matty believed it more. The boy I remembered who threw rocks at the goldfish downstream in the brook further down town in some effort to free them because he thought they’d gone and got stuck there, would’ve flown away a long time ago if he’d have had any choice but after his mother broke down all those years ago he wanted to stay close, keeping her under his wing like she’d stopped his from breaking all those years before, a sacrifice which would bring us to this. After all that time, like those fish, he was still just swimming against the current.

There weren’t too many others round town who did the same as Matty did and those that did eventually exiled themselves to bigger places where there was more of him and there was all the more sin for it. I got out of here a long, long time ago and though Matty did too, he never really managed to escape even after his mother passed. He was like this swallow that was caged, unnatural-like and the same people who moulded our town had paved the surface with rats that had been starved for weeks and wouldn’t eat the abundant bird seed but would eat the bird. But those people knew what they were doing when they put the seed right at the bottom where the rats would trample around carnivorously waiting for that swallow to dare to come down to the surface. They knew what he was. Though Matty could never really tell me, he knew I knew and I was still around somewhere in the background, just a little closer than everybody else and for that I was shamed. Down amongst the rats the shit was thicker, the smell denser and the dirt never ended and one day that layer of shit was gonna get so thick that Matty would never have another place to go but to the semi-circle in the ceiling and flutter trying to break out the bars where he’d suffocate.

But I did leave here a long, long time ago, some thirty-three years. I never heard from Matty again but someone in town escaped from the rat hive and decided it best I know that he’d got caught one day when he came down to eat and the rats bit right through his wing and cut the artery that connected his flight to his heart.

I didn’t quite get back in time to see him but he wasn’t a pretty sight or so I’d been told by a rat that had turned mouse overnight at the sight of the blood. I did see the snap-shot atop his grave and Matty sat there smiling on top of the dirt below. If I’d ever have come back and seen him on the street, I’d have still smiled and shouted his name and he’d of hobbled over, that same smile anew. It’s safe to assume now or maybe just purely hope that somewhere out there in this town there was this other swallow, one with a chest orange like his, one that loved Matty as much as he hopefully loved him, the kinda love Matty expected of me but I could never give him back.

Matty’s mother got rich from the divorce and kept all the money for as long as she could survive and that made Matty’s last song his most elegant, how he’d have wanted it. From the little I heard from those willing to talk to me after all this time there had not been any trouble at the way in to the church. But through the surprising serenity that was over me that day, if I’d have been there, if I’d have seen any rats scratching at the door, transformed in their remorse or not, I’d have poisoned them, put them in a thick sack and thrown them into the sea.

Matty wasn’t a very good friend. He wasn’t my best friend but he was the best of friends I ever had and he escaped the only way he could. I look at that photo and out to sea and, for his escape, up to the sky and across the world where my friend Matty was. Out at sea the gulls scavenged the junk jetty and all the beauty was gone with nothing left to stand for, the rats scattered but for the cage door open at last.


Todd Levin

5 thoughts on “The Swallow (For Matty) by Todd Levin

  1. Hi Todd, I loved the observations and stories about Matty. I think we have all had someone in our lives like him. We don’t always know why we are friends and we are not sure if they could ever be truly relied on, but they are always there.
    A cracking piece of observational writing.
    All the very best my friend.


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