A Box of Crows.

“The woman next door rents out to lodgers.” It’s interesting how things crop up on the radar. My neighbour downstairs (he plays piano) mentioned this as I was cutting his hair. It was starting to get in his eyes.

He must have been talking about comings and goings, or Collingwood Road, or lamenting Penn Beacon in general. I couldn’t say. It was something of a something & nothing & I probably just passed my comb once again under his kitchen tap and carried on cutting. His fringe can be tricky if it’s not damp.

But, now, since he mentioned it, I am always aware of a new noise making its way through the walls: A man’s laugh; a dark, complicated, hacksawing laugh, like a jackdaw snagged in a badger trap. Or actually, a box of crows.

Late afternoon, last autumn, a horsehead seal, come on the storm for rest, found itself bellied at the foot of the seawall at Weston. The blubbery, brown thing attracted a crowd, and some of the crowd began throwing titbits of biscuits and corners of pasties and pies. And some of the number grew rowdy and teenagers skimmed pebbles & flew spat over the railing to see who could land one the nearest. I was surprised to see adults, trying to frame, as some people do, a shot – by pulling ever further away from the subject – shooing their children down (“Ga’an, further. Further, like!”) the steep, seaweeded stone steps, with a grin, toward the sad creature. By the time of tide turn the confused beast was the talk of the town and the sound that it made only seemed to draw laughter. I could barely bring myself to look in its eyes as it cried. So I left that box of crows.

 

His is a laugh that even before a face is put to it signifies danger and anger and cruelty and hatred. It rises up from the backyard, by the bins, in the back lane, the bedroom, the ball game, the ballot booth, the bookies, the barbershop, the bus stop, the bar. And it seems at once to be in this room with me – even with the windows closed. It is a laugh that recognises no social or physical boundary. It cuts to the quick and it jars the bone. It comes through the brick and breaks into the home. Why so much laughter? Nothing’s that funny anymore.

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