The tolling of noonday bells, that hot spring day, signaled the beginning of the end for Percy the wood pigeon. He’d flown to his favourite perch, at the top of the big oak tree, his heart working overtime to pump blood through his thick, age-stiffened veins.
As he’d done so many times before, he’d enjoyed a breakfast of seeds and clover with his partner Penelope, in the fields alongside the River Stour, which marks the border between Suffolk and Essex.
He’d no inkling that this morning’s breakfast would be his last.
Percy and Penny, as Penelope preferred to be called, had been partners for many years, in which time they’d become grandparents many times over. Not long after the last of their squabs had fledged and flown the nest, to make their own ways in the world, they’d decided to re-locate from the cold northeast to spend their dotage in the warmer clime of southeast England.
From the start, they’d noticed that the food they ate, and the surface water they drank, had an unusual taste.
“Perhaps it’s something to do with the stuff the farmers put on their fields?” suggested Percy.
“And with what’s happening to the slugs,” Penny replied.
She continued, “Since we came here, I’ve seen lots of dead ones in the fields and hedgerows. And, in addition to the foul-tasting liquid the farmers spray on the fields, there are also lots of whitish pellets lying around. I’m only guessing, but there could a direct connection,” she continued.
“I think you’re right!” exclaimed Percy. “I hadn’t thought of that. It looks as if the farmers are trying to poison the slugs so they don’t eat their crops. But, as much as I’m sad for the slugs, I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen to you and me. I don’t recall eating any of the pellets myself but, my memory these days not being as good as it was a year ago, I can’t be certain if I have or haven’t. The way I feel this morning, I might well have and could soon end up dead like those poor slugs.”
“I’m sure that won’t happen,” said Penny, attempting to reassure him. “But, from now on, we’ll have to be extra careful what we eat and drink.”
Without warning, Percy suffered a violent convulsion. He toppled from his perch then, dropping like a stone, crashed through the oak tree’s leafy branches, drawn down by gravity, before hitting the threadbare picnic lawn beside The Barley Inn, with a bone-shattering thud.
At that very moment, a group of cyclists arrived at the Inn for lunch.
Gathering all her strength, Penny flew to another tree, thirty metres away, not wanting to draw attention to her-self.
The cyclists had heard the rustle of leaves and the loud thud. On seeing Percy’s still warm corpse lying on the lawn, they hurried inside to tell the Landlord what had happened.
A few minutes later a barmaid appeared, carrying a shovel and brush.
“That’s the third one this week,” she told the cyclists. “That slug poison, that the farmers round here are using, isn’t only killing slugs. And, with all the heavy rain over recent months, it’s now in our tap water too. The supermarkets are making an absolute fortune selling bottled water.”
Without ceremony, with Penny watching from a distance, she swept Percy up and consigned him to the dustbin of history.
Heartbroken and inconsolable, with heavy wings, a tearful Penny flew off to begin the rest of her life alone.
@ rowlandpaulhill 1 August 2019