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A Shout From The Attic: He Sees The Meanest Sparrow Fall

...I broke the rifle, which cocked the mechanism, and placed a pellet in the breech, then took careless aim at a sparrow on a branch high in an elm tree. A short, sharp ‘phut!’ and the sparrow fell dead onto the flags that paved the yard. I was staggered and deeply ashamed...

Ronnie Bray recalls his greatest day of shame.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Holy Trinity churchyard was a couple of hundred yards from the house in which I was born and that was my home for the first seventeen years of my life apart from a brief interlude as a toddler spent with my father and mother at Abbey Road, Fartown.

I was taken at a few weeks old to be christened in the ancient stone church in the overgrown churchyard where many of the town’s worthies were buried beneath huge slab-sided tombs delicately carved with fading memorials and words often too good to be true that told of those whose bones were crumbled beneath the weight of stone, earth, and years.

The numen lurks in the olden day charm of graveyards at whose tombs no visitors come to lay flowers to show remembrance, because all those who remembered the long deceased have followed them and are themselves interred in less crowded places, and wait in vain themselves to be remembered.

Dark and dank even on summer days, the gloom is lifted only by what might felt from the unseen swirling spirits of the dwelling place of those who laughed as we now laugh and cried as we are made to cry and hoped as we hoped and loved as we love but who have yield to the worms of corruption, save that their unquiet spirits move almost palpably through the dark greens and greys of the sombre place to plague us with fear and give constant reminder of the end of all human life, even as we sport and play in the endless days of the summers of childhood.

And on one such day, carrying a newly acquired air rifle, I went with my best friend, Peter West to Holy Trinity Churchyard, entering it by the long road paved for carriage wheels from Trinity Street through the wrought iron gates to the little courtyard before it’s forbidding oak doors.

I broke the rifle, which cocked the mechanism, and placed a pellet in the breech, then took careless aim at a sparrow on a branch high in an elm tree. A short, sharp ‘phut!’ and the sparrow fell dead onto the flags that paved the yard. I was staggered and deeply ashamed.

“Pete … “ I began.

“I know,” interrupted my friend, “don’t tell anybody.”

“Right,” I agreed, grateful for his insight and understanding.

Shooting was done for the day. We went straight out of the graveyard. Pete to his home in Bath Street, and me to my home where I hid myself in my attic bedroom in a welter shame.

It might be that my decision not to kill any more flies as they bounced up the basement living room windows dated from that day. Where I had delighted to kill the dirty buzzing things by squashing them onto the glass, I pondered that death and life were too grand to be in my gift, and I left those endowments to God, at least for the time being.

I have tried to think what I have ever done that brought to me such a sense of shame, but I can think of nothing that has filled me with such a sense of my own ignominy in taking the life of a beautiful little bird one high summer day when all my world seemed at peace for want of war, resting from hate, taking time to heal and forgive in the aftermath of years of killing, yet it seemed that I started the whole process again by a senseless, thoughtless, and cruel act of barbarism when I took no thought except my own pleasure in trying out my deadly plaything.

I began to care more for living things, even house flies, and to love sparrows the more because I had robbed one of life and would never forget that dead bird and always mark the spot where it fell, see it still in my memory as vivid as on that fatal day, nor feel the shame blush less in my heart than on my cheek for the greatest wickedness in my young life and ever since.

Pete was true to his word: he never spoke of my day of shame again and, until writing this, neither have I..

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