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Today's Story by Judy Darley

I glared at him, thinking: This is my house, and if I want to keep a moldy slipper on my window ledge, then I shall.

On The Ledge

I suppose, in a way, the dead pigeon did exactly what I couldn’t do for myself, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Human relationships have always confounded me, more than I’d ever let show. So now when I catch myself wondering how Gary and I fell out of love, I remind myself how much more remarkable it is that we got together in the first place. Before the passing of time did the damage it does to every fragile thing. It fascinated me to observe how the months and years so stealthily eroded Gary’s adoration into acceptance, then finally to annoyance as we let our affection for one another grow cold.

He used to love my unconventional way of viewing the world: the way I can be confused by something as simple as trying to buy a train ticket while I’m able to distil the sense from complex instruction manuals with such ease; the way I relate more readily to objects and animals than to the people who are supposed to be my friends. I could never guess whether he knew how bitter his features had grown, if he was aware I could see the resentment mapped out across his face.

It was my house we lived in, and thinking of it that way was another clue that I no longer loved Gary. I was living there when we met, then, as we marvelled over each other’s eccentricities, it became our house. And as his expression soured, I developed a mask over mine, hiding my desire to have my home back to myself, without him in it.

I thought about doing the rational thing and just asking him to move out, but he’s better at arguing than I ever could be, and there was every chance I’d end up outside the front door with my bags, him still safe and warm inside.

It got so that I was spending most of my waking hours thinking about how desperately I wanted to him to leave, trying to come up with something I could do that would make him walk out of his own accord – no conflict needed.

Only as I began to walk down the narrow road from Bath Spa train station towards the office where I worked did I allow myself to become distracted.

It was a barren strip of road and by no means pleasant, but the challenges it offered marked the transition from my obsessive plotting to my workday. On rainy days, I had to dodge waterfalls that cascaded down the buildings, staining the creamy stone black and flooding the pavement. On dry days, the air filled with dust and exhaust fumes that threatened to choke me.

Occasionally I’d see a rat run down the curb – snout down, naked tail twitching. The only other wildlife here was a motley flock of pigeons, pecking around the back door of the office where some of the other technical analysts liked to sit to eat their sandwiches.

The pigeons distracted me too, but in a happy way. They reminded me of the chickens my grandmother once kept, fat and single-minded, always searching so purposefully for the next scrap of food. In a way, though, they’d also begun to remind me of Gary.


Coming out of the office into the midmorning sunshine, I lifted my face to the sky, and spied the pigeons sitting in a line on the roof, watching something in the car park. Following their collective gaze I saw Old Dave, the building manager, carefully trailing something around the perimeter of the building. At first I thought he was sowing seeds, but that couldn’t be right.

“What are you doing, Dave?” I asked.

Old Dave jumped extravagantly, smacking his head off the windowledge he was hunched beneath. He cursed, rubbing the place on his head where the hair was thinning.

“Marion!” he reprimanded me and I smiled apologetically.

“I’m getting shot of the rats,” he said, showing me a sack of small grey pellets. “They say you’re never six feet from a rat, but now they’re inside the bloody building too, chewing things. This stuff’s like magic. One nibble and the blighters’ll be dead.”

“Will it hurt them?”

He shrugged, unconcerned, “No more than a bad stomach bug, I don’t reckon. What do you care, anyway, Marion? They’re only rats.”

He carried on sprinkling the rat poison with a look of relish on his face that made me uneasy, and I darted back into the safety of the office.


The next morning, I saw something ahead of me on the road that resembled a discarded glove. It was a sunny warm day, so this seemed unlikely, and as I neared the slumped grey shape I realised it was the body of a pigeon. Poor thing seemed asleep, nestled into the narrow shade cast by a lamppost, but its head had fallen back, revealing the vulnerable feathered throat, and I knew it was dead.

The next day it was still there, untouched by the beetles or spiders or flies who skittered along that stretch of road. The whole thing struck me as rather odd and I mentioned it to Old Dave, who nodded wisely.

“That’ll be the poison,” he commented. “Oh, well, they’re vermin and all, just with wings, eh? And plenty more where that came from.”

The following day, as I walked back to the train, the poor creature was still lying there, wings tucked in neatly, chest feathers ruffled fetchingly by the breeze. Glancing around at the empty road, I picked up the corpse with both hands and slipped it into my handbag.


All the way home, I thought about the dead animal I carried along with my glasses’ case and mobile phone, and imagined how horrified my fellow commuters would be if they only knew. The thought made me smile to myself and as we passed briefly through the small tunnel that opens out into south Bristol, I saw myself reflected in the window, grinning like crazy person.

“What’s that, Marion?”

I hadn’t heard Gary come in, so I jumped when he spoke. He glanced from me to the dead pigeon lying on the kitchen window ledge, eyebrows raised querulously.

I looked up at him and tried to figure out the safest answer I could give. Sometimes I felt I was role-playing with Gary, acting the part of the loyal wife, the normal human being.

“It’s modern art,” I said, “A sculpture. Got it from an exhibition in the engine shed at Temple Meads. Realistic, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” He bent down and scrutinised it. “What’s it meant to be?”

This made me have to swallow a laugh. “I think you’re supposed to see it as whatever you like. To me it looks like a pigeon.”

“Really.” He frowned. “Not a very lively one, though. Are those actual feathers?”

“I think so, possibly from an actual pigeon.”

“Hope the artist disinfected it first. Those things are crawling with nasty bugs.”

“I’m sure it’s perfectly clean,” I told him, thinking: Well, as clean as a dead bird that’s been lying by the side of the road for two days can be.


Poor Pidge. I left him on the windowsill where I could admire his unconventional beauty as I cooked dinner.

The next morning, he looked just a little more dead, with some of the feathers quietly detaching from around his throat. They floated out of the open window like dandelion seeds, wafting past the bees that like to visit the comfrey that grows there.

A few gleaming ants from the nest in the flowerbed came in through the window to scout for crumbs. They picked their way daintily over Pidge’s torso, treating him as being of no more interest than the mound of my handbag lying on the table beyond. It was as though they could sense the poison that stilled his fluttering heart – they didn’t even pause to taste his pink, pockmarked flesh.

Gary scowled at the pigeon. “Marion, do you have to leave it there? It looks more like a moldy slipper than a bird.”

I glared at him, thinking: This is my house, and if I want to keep a moldy slipper on my window ledge, then I shall.

I doubt he noticed the glare. It was a long time since he’d even looked at me, and this morning he was too busy watching the trail of ants. As I looked on, he reached out one hand and plucked a single ant from the parade. Glancing at me momentarily in a way that chilled me right through, he ground his forefinger and thumb together, and I swear I heard the crunch.


When I got home from work that evening, Pidge was lying in a duvet of his own feathers, his flesh unappealingly exposed and the unmistakeable scent of decay rising from his body. Poor Pidge. I stood there motionless for a few seconds, sort of trying to offer up a moment of respect.


The squealing that escaped me shocked me almost more than the realisation that Gary was there, sitting in the shadows at the far end of the kitchen.

“Marion,” he repeated. “Are you aware that’s a dead pigeon on our windowledge?”

The fact he so blithely used the word our made me shudder as much as the revulsion I could hear in his voice. I had the sense he couldn’t quite make up his mind what he detested most: the rotting bird, or me.

He looked at me with an intensity I hadn’t been the recipient of since our early encounters, only then his gaze crackled with passion, not disgust.

I let my mask slip and glared right back at him, wishing him gone, extinguished, expelled, leaving me alone with the peace of the house.

We locked eyes until he flinched fractionally, a faint gasp rising from his throat. He backed out of the room and I beamed to myself. Myhouse, I thought smugly, my house, not ours!

Satisfaction rippled through me, as though I’d already succeeded in evicting Gary from my life, and I saw my grin glittering in the windowpane beyond the pigeon’s corpse.

By the time Gary came downstairs, my mask was back in place and the windowledge had been swept clean of feathers. A casserole bubbled in the oven, filling the air with the rich scent of tomato, garlic and meat.

I offered Gary a smile as I served him his dinner, but he didn’t return it. He just looked from me to the windowledge to his plate, a faint grey pallor tainting his skin.

“Eat up, Gary,” I urged him sweetly. “Don’t let it grow cold.”

He didn’t seem that hungry, though, and in his eyes I could already see him making plans, packing bags, heading out. He even looked towards the door a few times, as though considering making a run for it. I tried to position myself just right – reassure him he could get past easily enough, while still preventing him from seeing the fresh mound of earth in the corner of the flowerbed, on the edge of the teeming ants’ nest.


Judy Darley is a fiction writer and journalist. Previously her short stories have been published by literary magazines and anthologies including Fiction365, Riptide Litro Magazine, ‘The Love of Looking’, and The View From Here. She blogs at http://www.skylightrain.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/EssentialWriter


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