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by Mark Anthony Smith

Linda peels back the curtain. I can see the tiredness in her eyes now. She gazes out the window. “I wish she wouldn’t feed the birds,” she says. I watch her twist the Solitaire ring between thumb and forefinger. My wife is terminally ill with cancer. She says, “The birds make a mess everywhere.”

I often wonder about our elderly neighbour. She is rarely seen out and about. We can suppose that she is lonely. Feeding the pigeons and the sea gulls probably gives her some purpose in life. Someone once said, “You’ll never know until you ask her.”

Roy lives four houses away. He said he’d seen a rat stealing the bread that was scattered on the grass. “The gulls gather on my roof and wake me up,” he shrugs. “I’ve never really talked with her.” He remembers the street parties during the ’80s. “That was community spirit, was that.”

I wonder if the birds tell our neighbour all our secrets. Maybe the sparrows and blackbirds catch all the souls of people who’ve departed. Maybe she knows more than we think she does. “You’ll never know until you ask her.”

It seems a lot of people feel lonely now. Communities have changed and people move about more. Then there’s shift work. We live in a 24-hour society. Sometimes, I’m on my phone as I pass those that live next door. I rarely recognise people now, I suppose.

On the morning that Linda died, there is the slightest knock on my door. I can barely move with shock and disbelief even though I thought I was prepared. There is that knock again. Then the letterbox clatters: “I’m Fiona from number 84. I’m really sorry about Linda,” she calls. There is silence. Then, “I used to be a nurse.” It goes quiet. It is quiet as I think about the birds.

Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. His poetry has been commended in Writer’s Forum and anthologised in Musicians for Homeless. Hearts of the Matter is available on Amazon.