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I Never Said You Could

by Ian Nettleton

The bird hopped broken-legged into the concrete yard and tried to escape and could not and ended up against old feather and bones and leafy things and mulch where the drainpipe meets the grate and I said, come on, little fella come here and he sees this big face and big hands and who can blame him for shitting a squirt into the dirt poor fella and when I carry him his heart vibrates in my palm. Louisa, put him in that there box my dad says so I do and he says he won’t last he’s afraid. In the morning is he dead? No, he’s living and I feed him worms he doesn’t want and feed him bread the same and I feed him seed and a pot of old tap water and he might drink I don’t know I leave him to his dignity. Long days pass as only they do when you’re young like big pieces of ice or granite moving along in the endless spines of sunlight and the dry of the road and the dust and the small wee flowers look in the cracks on the way to our schoolyard letting us in one by one like animals we are and we bloody well know it (I am not supposed to swear). When I run home each day his heart still beats. I breathe a sigh and eat my dinner. 


He must be put outside my mother says she is afraid of germs always germs and maggots and such but I see that maggoty world up close every day of my life she is just forgetting she has grown so tall and slender I see her still, standing in the hall with a heel raised and twisting the telephone cable around her hand like I do when I’m happy and shy all at the same moment and I think that is not my da for my da is out the back and then one day she is ill and has to stay at her mother’s which is grandma’s and da says, she’s too ill to travel she’ll be back one day soon and I’m not sure if it is for him or me he says it but I lose faith every day she is away and I talk to the bird and say, she isn’t coming is she? And the bird won’t say but it knows the truth beneath everything and that is why, as I wait and glaciers go slowly by and more waste bears down and collapses into the sea that he pecks at my hand then does not peck at my hand then rests when I stroke him then one fine day in spring he comes to me and watches me up close and I can’t remember just when but there is a photo of me with the bird upon my head.  I have my arms crossed I don’t know why perhaps to prove a point that me and the bird and the dirt and the maggoty earth are fine while I squint into the spiny sunlight. I see da cry one time and only the once and I see my mother with her new man and they did not invite me to the wedding they said it would upset me but how did they know they never asked and maybe that is why my arms are crossed and the only one allowed near to me is my bird who stays with me and sometimes shits on my arm and sometimes shits in my hair and only he is allowed to shit on me. The rest of you can shit on me but I never said you could and I never would.

Ian Nettleton is from Sheffield but lives in Norwich. I did a PhD in creative and critical writing at the UEA almost twenty years ago and studied Eng Lit before that. I've worked in industrial advertising, in a book shop, as a cleaner, an illustrator in Naples, an English teacher in Prague and a care worker and now teach creative writing for the OU and the National Centre for Writing. 

Falling Star, was published in the science fiction anthology, Angles (2006) and I’ve been published in Not About Love (2008), The Petrified World and other tales (2018), the Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award anthology, Life on the Margins (2020) and Paragraph Planet (2021). All the Times He Tried and Failed was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Flash Fiction competition 2019 and longlisted for the ReflexFlash Prize 2019 and shortlisted for the Edinburgh International Flash FictionAward 2020 and a flash fiction collection, 8.15 on a Monday Morning, was longlisted for the Ellipsis Flash Collection Competition 2020. I Never Said You Could was longlisted for the Letter Review Flash Fiction Jan-Feb 2023.

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