Halcyon Days

As soon as Dad has gone, the kingfishers arrive. They seem to come when I most need them. I mention this to someone, adding that I realise I am being sentimental, that I am attaching significance to a happy coincidence. ‘If it helps you, does it matter?’ she says.


There are so many happy coincidences, it is hard not to attach a significance. There is the time when I am alone in the house, crying, feeling overwhelmed by responsibility and grief: I turn over a pile of papers on the window sill next to Dad’s desk, and a kingfisher looks up at me from a ceramic coaster. There is the day when I am wading through emails from well-meaning friends of my parents, asking for updates on Mum. One is from a friend who is missing Dad sorely and is often close to tears when I see him. It contains a photo of him and Dad on holiday in South America, sitting next to a sign which reads, ‘Martín, el pescador’, with a picture of the bird.

Later, much later, there is the van which turns off a roundabout in front of me on a day when I am exhausted and thinking ‘I can’t cope with today. I want to go to bed.’ I have to steady myself when I see that the sign on its back doors reads simply, ‘Kingfisher’.

And there are the birds themselves which skim the silky surface of the water alongside me when I am rowing. A fellow oarswoman says one day, ‘You always know it will be a good outing when you see the kingfisher.’ And it always is.

In between Dad’s death and the funeral, I go home for a couple of days for a break. One sunny morning I get up early and ask my son if he wants to come to our favourite swimming spot in the river near Bath. We arrive to find no one there. My son goes to look for birds and other wildlife, declaring the water too cold. I cross the weir, change behind a bush and lower myself into the glass-green river. It is satin-smooth, clear enough to see the stones and small fish beneath me. I swim past the lily pads, past the laughing mallards. I hear a familiar high-pitched insistent whistle and turn to look at the right bank. Not one but two jewel-bright birds are hovering above a branch, not more than a couple of metres from where I am swimming. My breath catches in my throat as I watch them working together, hunting for fish. I think of Martin and Martine from the picture book I found in the bookcase at Dad’s:

‘… away they fly together… There will very soon be a family, and what could be softer for a baby kingfisher to sleep in than a cradle lined with tiny fishbones!’

The text from this beautiful old book has been running through my mind ever since my sister and I talked about writing the eulogy. This sighting seems to confirm that the book needs to have a place in that final goodbye. It also sends me, clenched with grief, swimming much further upstream so that I can howl into the early morning air without disturbing the birds. Or allowing my son to hear me.

Once home and dry, I discuss the importance of the kingfishers with my sister. She agrees that we should mention them in the service. We end our eulogy with these words from Père Castor’s lovely picture book:

‘The following spring I come back to the little white bridge. From afar I see a large expanse of water gleaming. […] One could almost imagine that the clouds of spring had come down from the sky to walk the earth […] In the midst of all this new life I think sadly of my two kingfishers. And then, suddenly – frr, frrr! Two pairs of wings flash under the bridge like lightning, skimming over the surface of the water: a pair of kingfishers, brilliantly blue, perch on a branch. Could they be the children of Martin and Martine returning to their native stream? I do not know. I know nothing about them. But I am happy: I realise that life goes on, goes on for ever.’




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