A baby born out of the poetics of a domestic war
It wasn’t really the crows that caused the argument. In fact there was something lucky about them: the crows were a milestone. He lived in a Nepalese cardigan, bought at an Oxfam shop in London. Sometimes it seemed to her that his entire being was wrapped in wool.
His self-contentment was like a blanket he was swaddled in. Layers of invisible wool were enfolding him. She couldn’t bear his pleasant disposition, his sweet smile of surprise when she walked into the room.
Each year he yarned and spun more thread from the air around him and layered himself with a new insulation. His curly red hair and frizzy beard put her in mind of a cuddly dog.
Then one Christmas he declared that he wanted a dog.
She avoided the obvious: that a pet might be a substitute for a child. That his hankering to see a dog curled up on the rug before the fire on Christmas morning was a declaration of resentment against her isolated womb. But she didn’t protest. His insulated core of contentment and her isolated womb circled each other, like two balls of energy that had no intention of ever finding a way inside each other.
After a few months with the dog outside in a galvanised kennel, a black-and-white Border Collie, the crows arrived. There used to be finches, coal tits, thrushes, blackbirds, and robins in the summertime, but not any more.
It was the dog’s dinner that changed the ecological balance. A yellow plastic bowl of cereal was left out each morning, and the dog would nibble all day but never quite got to the end of it.
“Shouldn’t you feed him in the evening?” she ventured a few times. That was a bad move. The pup had become the love of his life.
“Ahh, the poor baby,” he cooed as he petted him and held him in his arms.
So on one crisp March day she woke to the sound of a crow cawing and cackling on the window sill outside the bedroom. And it alerted her instantly to the balance of nature or more precisely to the fact that nature’s balance had been disturbed. They were building nests.
She came to the conclusion that the battalion of crows now encamped in the fir trees around the house, and dominating the roof, the yard, the sky above them and the fields around them, were a direct result of dog food; his dog food. He had facilitated the growth of a colony. And they in turn had scattered, killed or chased away all the little birds she had come to love.
It was the poetics of a domestic war, a gender thing: dog versus womb, crow versus blackbird.
So she went out to him and they had the famous argument. He said this and she said that; furious, vicious, spiteful things, hurled across the sofa like saucepans. But when they had both cried and were sufficiently exhausted they made up and eventually made love.
In the silence of the afternoon they were entwined in each other’s arms until the postman arrived. They fumbled all around the place looking for skirts and trousers, and then appeared at the window of the front room, with dishevelled hair, and they both thanked the postman for the single envelope from Electric Ireland. They were expecting something important from the postman, but it was only a bill.
They recalled all this with great clarity the following Christmas just after the child was born.
Her maternity bag was packed in late November. The coal fires at night were like something out of a Russian novel. He was helpless and overenthusiastic. The dog sat at the fire, watching the two of them, his long tongue hanging out and his rear end stuck up to the crackling coal.
They walked in the forest park, through the dark trees, for an hour each winter day, half-hoping that exercise might induce labour. And so it did. Within hours of arriving home on Christmas Eve they had to get into the car again, and head for the hospital.
He drove like a lunatic over the bumps. She gave off and pleaded with him to go slow.
But they arrived safely and the child was born, and later, as he walked outside the main entrance, he saw two crows on the wall at the end of the car park cawing and fighting over the remnants of a breakfast roll that had fallen on to the tarmac.
Michael Harding’s column returns to its normal, Tuesday slot on January 8th