She was all I could hold onto, in that moment. Her black button eye, always turned towards me; her grey feathers laid in neat scallops against her slender form. At the base of her throat a sudden flash of white: intricate, honeycombed, like an old-fashioned collar framing a pretty girl’s face. Back and forth she paraded across the terrace, her steps precise on well-formed toes, pausing only to search for crumbs between the cracks of the travertine slabs. Over and over, the same three steps, the same sharp stab of the delicate head. Behind her serried ranks of treetops melted into one another, their dying leaves gorging on the unaccustomed moisture in the chill air. Mist and wood smoke in tendrils fine as silk threaded their way through the fracturing branches. The sun, struggling with misshapen clouds, burned the back of my neck, failed to reach my bare shivering legs. At a table nearby, a man on his cell phone quietly threatened his girlfriend with a beating, his Northern Irish accent hideous, surreal.

Words drifted onto the blank page before me: sluggishly, then not at all.

This is how it starts, I thought. One minute you’re admiring the ruff on a bird’s neck, and the next she’s singing to you in Greek. The realisation, the relief at the ease with which it could be accomplished, left me almost giddy.

Rarely have I strayed so close to it, that fork in the road through the obscure wood.

I left that place, pausing only to toss towards the dove the crusts of my sandwich. Whether as a gesture to ward off evil, or in simple gratitude, I cannot say.

Trees near the Pré des Arts, Valbonne, Autumn 2012

amrh / Valbonne, October 2012

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