Wednesday 14 December 2022

Four Calling Birds by Morna Sullivan, spiced apple cider


Earlier I was gazing at goldfinches swinging on the birdfeeder, thinking of this day forty years ago.

There was a knock at the front door. A man was standing there holding a large cardboard box. I thought it must be a delivery for Sheila next door. She’s always ordering stuff online. When she’s out the delivery people leave her parcels here.

“Mrs Caul?” the man asked.

“That’s me.” I hadn’t ordered anything lately. I signed for the package anyway. He set it down just inside the front door, took a photograph on his phone and left.

All the Christmas presents from my wee brood had already arrived. Robin, the hairdresser in Wigan, sent a huge bouquet. It had gorgeous birds of paradise flowers in it. Jay’s a psychiatric nurse in Dublin. He sent cosy slippers and a nightie - pink with white owls. Martin, the hotel manager in Ipswich sent me a hamper. Merlin’s a stage manager in Glasgow. He sent a voucher for M and S and a RSPB calendar.

Most years my brood all come home for Christmas. Last year we had the four bird roast from Lidl – chicken, duck, goose and turkey. I’d never heard of such a thing before, but it was delicious.

How different this Christmas is. Losing dear Paddy’s been tough. The boys did their best with phone calls, Facetime calls, WhatsApp calls and Zoom calls so for my first Christmas day on my own, I wouldn’t feel lonely.

It only seems like yesterday, but forty years ago, on the fourth day of Christmas, the ‘Night of Innocents’, my quadruplet sons were born. We should have been having a big party to celebrate tonight.

They were keen to spread their wings and fly the nest. They all left, seeking greener pastures, brighter lights and bigger cities than where they’d been reared. Our house was always full of shouts and laughter. All their pals came here to play. They nicknamed my boys ‘the four calling birds’. It’s stuck with them. But I suppose that’s partly my fault!

Gran always had a couple of budgies. I was smitten from a young age and loved talking to them. I got them to mimic me. When I left school I worked in the zoo, helping in the aviary feeding parrots, peacocks, cockatoos and flamingos. I’d have stayed working there longer, but a couple of years after I married Paddy, when our own little brood arrived, chirping and clamouring to be fed, we were kept busy. When they were born they were tiny and frail, just like wee birds. Now they’re big strapping men and I’m the wee bird, but they’ll always be my wee chicks. If they were born now I’d name them Hawk, Phoenix, Raven and Drake, but dear Paddy would turn in his grave at the thought of it.

As wee boys they loved feeding the ducks at the mill pond and quacking back at them and coo cooing at pigeons. But they never forgave me for stopping them splashing in puddles so blackbirds and bluetits could bathe in peace. I told them I’d get a bird bath, but there was never any spare money for luxuries.

 Now my days are filled watching sparrows eating toast crusts and starlings fighting over fatballs on Paddy’s bird table. I’m sure Sheila next door thinks I’ve lost the plot when she hears me talking to magpies and wood pigeons but now my own four wee birds have left, and Paddy’s gone, they’re all I have to look after. 

 So I dragged the parcel into the kitchen. It was a ton weight. I grabbed the scissors, knelt down on the floor and attacked the brown sticky tape. I lifted the flaps and delved into the box. Below polystyrene packing pellets was a mass of bubble wrap with a card that said “To the best Mother hen in the world, from your ‘Four Calling Birds’ XXXX.  

The tears were tripping me as I unwrapped layer after layer of plastic. Four small stone birds in different poses perched on the rim of this beautiful stone bird bath.

Just like them to mark this special day for me. I’ve reared them well.

I’ll be calling Robin, Jay, Martin and Merlin shortly to wish them a happy birthday and thank them for my lovely gift.

Now, every day when I watch my garden birds bathing I’ll be thinking of my own four calling birds, far away and my dear, true love, Paddy.

About the author

 Morna Sullivan has always had a love of stories. She is a member of the Coney Island Writers Group, Co. Down and the SCBWI Belfast group. She’s won several writing competitions, has had short stories and poems published but is still chasing that elusive publishing deal. 
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