Jo Kirk: Short Story ‘Keeping Cool’

A green corner in the shade. She felt the cold stone bring relief to her feet. What a summer! The sun had shone relentlessly now for a whole month and she half expected the newts, in hiding from the drought, to re-emerge as colourful lizards and go scurrying up the walls. She knew that evolution didn’t work this quickly and she wasn’t at all sure that lizards, being part of the dinosaur family and a reptile, had really morphed from newts, but she had a theory that they might have. And anyway, anything seemed possible in this unusual climate. Earlier in the day she had watched as a frog, as wrinkled as an old man, had made its way slowly across the road, making for the moisture in the undergrowth of a garden.

She cut a melon into slices and then cubes, opened and poured a tin of pineapple pieces into a large bowl, peeled and sliced several bananas longitudinally, then stirred the whole thing. She ladled some into a small dish and, taking the yoghurt from the cool stone step, spooned a large dollop onto her plate. She sat back and sighed. This was the life.

It was a good summer for roses. The sky, as the day began to cool into evening, seemed to be gathering into blizzards of snow-like clouds with icy steps and a frozen waterfall floating in a blue, blue sea. She remembered as a child imagining distant islands in the evening skies.

The bees were gorging themselves on flower nectar, yellow pools of sweetness. A cricket suddenly rasped alarmingly; a small green thing, its sound improbably loud. A light breeze tousled the dried grasses. A butterfly tried to mate with some dried guano on a gate, the bees hummed and she began to doze.

A loud flapping of wings, a big fan of feathers, a mottled herringbone, huge yellow claws and a pair of eyes suddenly upon her, their look a fierce and sharp study, a hunter’s stare. She kept very still, feigned disinterest, then watched discreetly as the bird slowly turned its attention to the twittering coming from a nearby hedge. She had an old bird book from the 1950s. In it the birds of prey looked endearing and even coy, some perhaps a little supercilious or quizzical with a kind of “what do you think” look and she imagined the artist who drew them, his own gaze returned to him in a feathered mirror. This creature was not like them, She held her breath. It was up and off again at such a speed that she couldn’t tell if it had caught a small bird on its way or not. Food. She went into the tiled hall, suddenly hungry and hunted in the kitchen for the bag of raisins and jar of shelled nuts. She noticed the stripes on her feet, her clothes flapping around her as she scrabbled in the cupboard, emerging with a whoop of pleasure. Why had the Russian revolutionaries so disliked vegetarians, she wondered. She’d add it to her list of things to find out about sometime.

Jo Kirk

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