THE CUCKOO. A short story
If you hear the cuckoo, then find the tree in which it sits and make three wishes. Just don't fall asleep ...
She looked down. The belly blocked the view to her swollen feet, but she felt them all too keenly – burning hot and bloated in the thin cotton shoes. She hadn’t planned on straying this far. She’d only wanted to walk off the worst of her anger after the breakup with Svein. Then she’d heard the cuckoo.
The sound came from somewhere to the left and she adjusted her course.
Svein’s artworks were the kind that came to be by covering a six by six feet large canvas with Skittles in every color and name the rubbish “Do You”. Well, now, Svein could “do him” until he grew a long, grey beard. She herself had “done him” at least one too many times.
In these parts of Hedmark one could hear the cuckoo from the beginning of May until Midsummer. But it’d been a long time since she’d wandered thought the woods like this, in the springtime, listening for the cuckoo. The sound had stirred a longing in her, for simpler and more innocent times. Before the belly.
Svein hadn’t handled the news well when she’d told him that she was expecting their love child. Instead, he’d gone off to New York and secured a rich mistress who financed his so-called art. Now he accused her of ruining his opportunities as an artist.
Artist! She scoffed. Svein’s artworks were the kind that came to be by covering a six by six feet large canvas with Skittles in every color and name the rubbish “Do You”. Well, now, Svein could “do him” until he grew a long, grey beard. She herself had “done him” at least one too many times.
There! The cuckoo called out nearby. In the same instant, the sound of a chainsaw started up and moments later there was a loud ‘crack’ followed by a ‘thud’ as a tree fell. A figure in orange safety chaps entered the clearing with a chainsaw idling in one hand. As he spotted her, he turned off the saw and flipped up the visor of his helmet.
”Hi there,” he said and trudged towards her in giant strides, almost like a moose through the marsh.
Up close, the man seemed even taller, and his eyes shockingly blue in the dark-bearded face.
“Didn’t you see the caution tape, ma’am? We’re thinning this site, so you better continue your walk a bit further off.”
She felt a stab of annoyance. “Fine. You probably scared off the cuckoo anyway, so …”
“The cuckoo?” The logger raised an eyebrow.
”Yes, the cuckoo,” she snapped. “You know, the one that goes ‘cuckoo, cuckoo’!”
Amusement danced in his eyes. “Ah, yes. I’ve heard of those. Met a few of them, too.”
She had a feeling that the guy was having fun on her expense and turned to leave.
”You know what they say about the cuckoo?” the logger asked.
She turned back to face him: “That if you sit down under the tree where it’s at, you get three wishes!”
”Aha. A woman with a plan. And do you know what to wish for?”
Momentarily stumped, her reply came out a bit vague. “Most of all, I wish certain things undone.’
He gave her bulging belly a quick glance. “Some things are rather irreversible, aren’t they? Almost like getting toothpaste back in the tube … or, wait, that’s a bad example …
She narrowed her eyes at him, turned on her heel and headed back the same way as she came. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the logger slip back between the trees. The sound of the chainsaw started up again. Every now and then, the noise stopped long enough to allow her to locate the calls of the cuckoo, coming from the same direction as before.
She circled back and steered her steps towards the sound. The logger was right. She was a woman with a plan. As her life was spinning out of control, finding that bally cuckoo came close to an obsession.
Svein locked her hand to the forest floor with one knee and followed with the knife. She tried to scream as she felt warm blood running from her wrist ...
Suddenly, the tree was there. She could see the grey bird, the size of a wood pigeon, sitting on a branch close to the treetop. The cuckoo preferred a mix of woodland and open stretches, and was obviously happy with all the thinning of the trees in the area.
She moved furtively closer, listening intently. Yes, the cuckoo was somewhere up there, belting out its spring feverish cuckoo. Stealthy as an Indian, she crept to the foot of the tree and sat down. Then she heeled off her shoes and aired her poor feet. She sighed with pleasure and found a more comfortable position to let her belly stretch for a bit. Suddenly, she wished for the pregnancy to be over, so she would be able to sleep well again without the huge belly. And she wished Svein out of her life, once and for all. Instead, she hoped to meet a man who took responsibility and was there for her when she needed him.
One treetop swayed among other treetops and in the next moment, everything came rushing towards them like an ear-shattering, runaway freight train of branches, pine needles and wood chips. Svein rose and took a few steps, but it was too late.
She must have fallen asleep, because she woke up to see Svein standing in front of her, blocking the sunlight. She didn’t hear the cuckoo anymore, only the remote sound of the logger’s chainsaw.
”Svein?” she said, bewildered. She sat up, half convinced that she was dreaming.
“You can’t just show up with a kid on the way and demolish my life,” he said.
Svein looked quickly around before he knelt down. She felt cold steel against her throat.
“You made it easy for me when you strode off into the woods on your own. The loggers will find a pregnant girl who slashed her wrists in despair.”
“What are you doing? If you kill me, you kill your own child!”
“You’re not listening! YOU’RE the one ending things. I had no idea that you carried a child, nor such dark thoughts.”
Svein locked her hand to the forest floor with one knee and followed with the knife. She tried to scream as she felt warm blood running from her wrist, but Svein grabbed her throat with his free hand. Her stomach clenched and tightened like in a cramp, as if the baby sensed the danger, as well. Panicky, she realized what was happening. Time was running out. Life was leaving her body.
Suddenly a loud voice shouted “timber”, and a loud cracking sounded nearby. One treetop swayed among other treetops and in the next moment, everything came rushing towards them like an ear-shattering, runaway freight train of branches, pine needles and wood chips.
Svein rose and took a few steps, but it was too late. The enormous tree thumped down right in front of her feet and Svein was knocked over. She was still screaming as the logger arrived. He dropped the chainsaw and ran towards her.
“Are you hurt?” He studied her bleeding arm.
“N-no, but I think the baby is coming!”
“What? … Okay, just hang in there!”
He pulled out a small first aid pouch and quickly dressed her arm before he knelt down to check on Svein who was lying halfway under the tree. The logger was pale under his tan as he straightened up again.
“It looks like he fell on his own knife … Is … Was he a … friend of yours?
She shook her head. The horizon lurched.
”No. He tried to kill me.”
The logger didn’t say anything, only lifted her up.
“I have an ATV nearby. Let’s go to the hospital and bring a kid into this world.”
Her head slumped toward his chest.
“Don’t pass out on me now,” he said firmly, panting a little as he carried her through the woods. “Stay awake. Tell me about the cuckoo. Did you find it?”
“Yes … but it left again.”
“The cuckoo is nothing to hanker after,” the man said. “You know, it doesn’t build a nest, it just leaves its eggs with other birds and takes off.”
“I’ve heard of those,” she said with a small smile. “Met a few of them, too.”
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