Win­ning story: Spar­row’s Eggs

Alexan­dra man Alan Whi­taker was the de­served win­ner of the Lakes and Cen­tral Otago short story com­pe­ti­tion with this en­try, The will pub­lish the sto­ries that were placed first, se­cond and third in the se­nior and ju­nior com­pe­ti­tions over the next six weeks


The tree was gnarly, bark like vari­cose veins, the branch he gripped bled with sticky sap. He placed his other hand and swung up one leg, se­cured it on the low­est branch and heaved him­self up, bal­anced for a mo­ment, and then reached up.

Three con­tacts his big brother said; two legs, one hand, or two hands, one leg. Slowly, breath­ing evenly, he spi­ralled up the tree, stop­ping ev­ery branch to rest for a mo­ment be­fore push­ing up­wards.

Eight was a good age for climb­ing. He was a climb­ing ma­chine, the top of the tree the only thing that pre­vented him from reach­ing the clouds.

He pic­tured the eggs in his mind; river-stone speck­led, five or six, some­times more. All nes­tled to­gether as if the con­tact ce­mented the bond. He’d col­lected a mil­lion such eggs, a won­der there were still spar­rows fly­ing.

A few times he’d found young­sters, with their semi-naked pink forms like lit­tle fat-bod­ied winged di­nosaurs. Skin said if you han­dled them the mother bird wouldn’t re­turn but he couldn’t re­sist pick­ing up one or two. Their scrawny lit­tle bod­ies had been warm in his hand and their lit­tle beaks had opened in mute in­sis­tence as he’d looked and mar­velled be­fore gen­tly plac­ing them back.

When was he up this tree last? Weeks? Months? He’d for­got­ten. His breath­ing was not as even as he ex­pected. His legs also felt rub­bery.

He thought of Frank. He missed him. He’d gone away over­seas. Where? Why could he not re­mem­ber where he’d gone? Some­thing bad had hap­pened but what was it?

He’d stopped. He looked out through the branches, over the roofs. Funny, he’d not no­ticed be­fore that the farm had been planted in houses. The creek was still there though, although its bor­der of wil­lows was thin­ner now. There were even mown slopes where there used to be flax. He sighed. Things change.

He re­fo­cused and got mov­ing again. The sun was low in the sky and ev­ery so of­ten caught him full blast and made his eyes wa­ter.

He’d wear his cap next time. His favourite black one with the sil­ver fern on it. To­mor­row, if it were still sunny, he’d bike down to

Pott’s Creek for a swim. The big log across was just per­fect for shal­low dives and great bum busters. He loved the slow, brown wa­ter with its stony bot­tom and fast trout that darted away like flit­ting shad­ows. Skin reck­oned he’d seen a big fat eel on the bot­tom last sum­mer. You could be­lieve only half of his sto­ries. He told some whop­pers. You couldn’t tell him though; he got the pip, big time.

He was here now. He jock­eyed into a bal­anced po­si­tion and ten­ta­tively placed his right hand through the open­ing in the side of the haystack nest. Eggs. Heaps. Care­fully he eased his hand out with eggs. Nowhere else to put them. So he rolled them into his gob. The warm, metal­lic taste was fa­mil­iar. Maybe it was bird shit. He felt the eggs rat­tle against his teeth. All done.

Down. Go­ing down was the hard­est bit. You had to look down and the eggs rat­tled in your mouth. Saliva gath­ered and you just had to swal­low, care­fully with a skull’s grin to keep your tongue from flick­ing the eggs back.

Slowly. Foot, hand, foot, hand, al­ways three in con­tact.. The sweat trick­led down his arm-pit in an

ami­able, tick­ling rivulet. Foot, hand, foot. Nearly down. As he reached the last branch and placed one foot on the ground he felt a sad­ness . There, was just him, the eggs and the tree. Now, the world rushed in and he was lost again.

‘‘What the hell are you do­ing, you silly old bug­ger?’’

‘‘Ge’ing eggs.’’ He cupped his hand un­der his jaw and drib­bled the spar­row eggs out. Six. He spat with sat­is­fac­tion, handed over the eggs.

‘‘You have them. I can get more.’’

He couldn’t re­mem­ber now why he’d got them. It felt good. His legs were tired now and he wanted to lie down and rest.

The man looked up, in­cred­u­lous.

‘‘Did you go up to that nest, there? Good God.’’ He shook his head, and then laughed out loud. ‘‘Good God.’’

‘‘Come on Pop, we’ll take you back home be­fore you do your­self some dam­age.’’

He led the old man back through the gate to his home. It would have been good if the poor old bug­ger had slipped from the top, he thought.

❚ Next week we will pub­lish the win­ning en­try in the ju­nior com­pe­ti­tion, ‘What is Hap­pi­ness?’, by 12-year-old So­phie May, of Ar­row­town.


Win­ner of the Mir­ror Lakes and Cen­tral Otago Se­nior Short Story com­pe­ti­tion Alan Whi­taker, of Alexan­dra.

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