Edmund’s wife, Wendy, had been unconscious in hospital for weeks, but no doctor could diagnose her illness so they discharged her to recover at home, with Edmund as her sole carer.
As Wendy lay still as a mannequin in her queen-sized bed, drawing in short imperceptible breaths, summer flooded in from the streets outside. Sun splashed through their bedroom window, as leaves on trees glowed a robust green, and birds danced on the tips of trembling boughs.
There was a wicker chair in the corner of the master bedroom that the couple had bought from a car boot sale in their younger days, the days when they would drive out of the city to find secluded beaches, swim at night, and gaze at the shifting night sky from sleeping bags stretched across the sand.
Now Edmund would sit in the chair with his head in his hands, waiting for his wife to move — a flinch would do, anything to suggest her melodic voice would drift through their darkened halls once again. But Wendy remained motionless and Edmund could only dig his nails into his scalp and suffer.
One afternoon as heat from the smog-veiled sun filtered into their bedroom, a small bird flew through the open window, perched itself on the bedpost, and scrutinised the room, jerking its head from side to side.
Edmund jumped to his feet, rolled up a glossy magazine and took a few swipes at the bird. It sprung into the air and circled around the room, finding refuge on the ceiling lampshade. Edmund quickly tired himself out, collapsed into his chair, and clutched his belly, suffering a side stitch. He suddenly felt his age of sixty-eight.
The bird with its sepia-tinted wings and yellow beak, vanished under the bed temporarily, but when it reappeared it landed on Wendy’s chest and pivoted around playfully. Edmund made one final lunge to get rid of the bird but it effortlessly glided out of reach. For the moment, Edmund accepted defeat.
Edmund didn’t dare sleep alongside his wife at night — it seemed too morbid, like cosying up to a corpse — so he wrapped himself up in a throw, scrunched a pillow behind his head and slept in fits and starts in his chair.
Days passed and Edmund spent hours simply staring at his wife. Overwhelmed by despair, he gave the bird free reign, even if it meant allowing the creature the liberty to pick at Wendy’s hair with its beak, or patter around beside her on the mattress.
Edmund continued to wait and all that disturbed the sullen silence in the room was the beep of car alarms, and the sound of trees lightly dabbing at the bedroom window.
After a while, the bird became more reckless — thrashing its wings with wild abandon as it swept around the room, landing on Wendy’s exposed skin, stomping on her pale flesh with its sharp talons.
Finally, Edmund raged, “Enough, enough!”
He rushed to Wendy’s side and swatted the creature away, sending it towards the mirror on the stand where Wendy’s cocktail dresses hung limp and useless. Edmund then grabbed hold of Wendy by the shoulders and wrenched her torso upright.
“Wake up!” he cried. “I will not accept this anymore. Wake up!”
Without thinking, Edmund smothered his wife’s mouth with his lips, kissing her like a clumsy teenager. Wendy’s eyes opened for an instant and then she fell back into her pillow, motionless, eyelids sealed once again. Edmund rested his head on Wendy’s chest and sobbed. He held her hand and pressed her soft veins.
More weeks passed and Wendy persisted in her captive state. On the first day of September the bird flew at speed into the unopened window, smashing itself against the pane of glass time and time again.
Edmund opened the window wide and shouted at the creature, “Go on, get out, there’s nothing stopping you.”
The bird was stunned, tottering in a daze on the landing by the bedroom door.
“Well, come on, then,” Edmund said, “no need for all of us to die in here.”
Edmund returned to his chair on unsteady legs and gave a wretched sigh.
He wanted it all to end — to be washed away like a pillar of sand or maybe even spontaneously combust — anything to cease the pain. But no matter what the method of escape, something decisive had shifted within him, and as he slid the window closed, trapping the bird, Edmund faced a new beginning, regardless of how destructive.
8 thoughts on “Open Window by Tim Frank”
Well you closed last week with something good involving a dope fiend Feline and open the new account with a Bird who is also up to something. The great thing here is you can take what’s happening literally, or that it is going on in Edmund’s mind only. Or that she died a long time ago and is still there but Edmund refuses to acknowledge it. Also could be the Bird’s reality. Perceptions vary from mind to mind, but the thing we call reality is merely the ongoing situation that gets the most votes. Excellent, thought provoking work as always.
And we have you confusing me again and leaving me perplexed!
Again, I reckon I should be able to spot what this is about and yet again I can’t. Like all of your work that I’ve read, it does intrigue me even if I haven’t a Scooby on what is going on.
I did consider the bird being the soul of his wife’s carrier. It stayed with him for so long but was finally willing to kill itself to get away.
I look at this as a dark fable and that gives it so much poetic licence.
I’m delighted this got through just to post these comments and to be told how wrong I am!!
In a weird way, that is what I absolutely love about your work!!
All the very best my fine friend.
Well paced and written. Sounded like some kind of test for Edmund – a cruel one for sure. Seemed like some kind of devil bird…. this would be a very bad nightmare to wake up from. If it was reality, that would be even more horrifying. Everything and everyone leaves us, sooner or later. But the bird kept coming back.
Always happy to perplex you, Hugh!
Thanks for your comments everyone
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Another vote for confusion. Nothing about her eating. Wouldn’t she have starved if this were real?
I think I know what comes next, and it’s tragic. Well done.
A beautifully balanced, perhaps seemingly metaphoric and esoteric, story of loss / confusion. Reminded me of one of my all time favourite books – The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Disturbing and odd but in a way that is thought provoking – two thumbs up!