Seagulls cover the island now. Their lifeless bodies spiral to the earth and break apart on rooftops, street-signs. The roads are white and grey, the hillsides are a sliding carpet of wing and bone. Somewhere, buried beneath the growing stacks of fallen birds, are the people who hesitated when it first began.
From her balcony window, the old woman watches as the seagulls continue to fall. Out over the sea, sparkling as the moonlight kisses their feathers, further over the horizon, everywhere. Tearing at the clouds. Lapping at the shore. Spread out across the sand. By the lighthouse, see them? They flicker, strike the water and then rise to the surface. They clatter against the rooftops, her rooftop. They whisper to the pine trees. They move together like liquid as they float.
The day before the world ended, the old woman and her husband had driven along the coast toward the meeting place. The gnarled stretch of road, framed as it were by the ocean and sky, that carried tourists and freight back and forth forever. And with its dead things cast aside and abandoned, those pockets of fur left to bake in the summer, shrinking. Those yardsticks of branches and bones.
It had been raining the day he proposed. There were ants caught in miniature floods, clinging onto pebbles. Now, the park had a lake and the ants had lost their way in the neon blades.
She spread the red blanket on the soil and lay with her eyes to the clouds. He sat in the shade of an old tree. A wine bottle buried its face in the grass beside them. Dead leaves became butterflies when the wind changed. Somewhere, a child smashed at the lake with a stick. The sun slid away, smudging the blue ink of the afternoon.
His kisses were brittle and cold. Pecking at her face, clawing her hair. He had found things of hers, buried in the backyard. He had stumbled across the bones in the work-shed. Now he made a fist against her cheek. He was leaving forever. He wouldn’t let her stop him.
She thought of her breasts, sunken with age. She thought of her vagina, an unfamiliar concrete pit filled with rusted coins. The points plotted beside her eyes. She thought of the real reasons why he had decided to run.
They had made it back to town an hour before the birds began to fall. He had dragged her into the garden, thrown her aside, and pointed out toward the fence, and then beyond, and then to nothing. The forest was dense and complete. It pushed up against the fence posts, away from the street, hidden. A blue mist had risen between the branches. And on the forest floor, she knew, were the needles that cover her tracks. The kindling that snaps birds from the branches. The insects, shifting. The path, leading not to the sea but to the arch of escape where the pine trees end and her work begins.
He lowered his arm, turned to her, and he was scared.
‘I know what you’ve been doing. I know what you’ve become.’
The old woman turned away from him. Her husband hesitated, and then made his way toward the house. She heard the nervous, splintered door shudder behind him and then, slowly, she followed.
She found him in their bedroom, his tattered suitcase leaning against the bed, its leather creased from the clothes inside. She spoke to him softly, earnestly.
‘Em, E, E7, Am, G#.’
And yet, when the words fell around the room they re-arranged themselves and the minors and majors never dropped or lifted but turned hard, and cracked, and filled the room with frozen song. And she wondered if he would melt it all and drown in the chords around them.
He brushed past her then and headed out toward the front door. Then he turned. Then he disappeared forever.
The seagulls continue to fall, but slowly now. The old woman closes her eyes and follows her husband’s car as it speeds away, along the narrow roads, shrinking as it approaches the town. She had watched the car until only the red trails and the ghosts of ignition remained. And then the skies had opened up. And the birds had swallowed everything and everyone.
And now the old woman looks to the sky, searching for a sign. But there are only clouds and nothing for ever and ever.
‘I don’t ever want to see what lives out there beyond those pine trees’, he had said as the door cracked shut behind him.