Christmas had been a miserable time for Ella – searching frantically for her engagement ring yet trying to be discreet so Jim wouldn’t catch on that it was lost. Well, it wasn’t lost – of course it wasn’t… it had to be somewhere…
The living room being so cold had done nothing to improve her mood but she couldn’t turn on the gas fire because a bird had come down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Since then, its intermittent futile fluttering had become a fixation.
“At least we’re saving on the gas,” said Jim. “Hey, turn it on if you’re cold. The fumes will either kill the bugger or make it fly away.”
Ella had turned on him. “Don’t you think the poor thing would fly away if it could? Anyway, the gas man’s coming some time today to take the fire out-”
“On New Year’s Eve! How much is that going to cost?”
“I don’t know! It’s not like it’s a bank holiday. I just hope he manages to get here today.”
Hearing the tears in her voice, Jim left it. Pre-wedding nerves, no doubt. His own nerves were frayed only by worrying about how they were going to pay for the event.
Ella could remember taking off the ring to make mince pies…
“Lost something?” Jim startled her as she knelt on the kitchen floor, yet again sweeping a runner-bean cane beneath the gas cooker.
“No… I just thought I dropped a sprout down here on Christmas Day – it will stink if I don’t shift it.”
Jim stooped to kiss her briefly. “I’ll see you this evening. I guess you’ll have to wait in for this gas man.”
The door clunked shut behind him and she slumped back against a kitchen unit and gave way to tears of frustration. She had succeeded in losing a little weight to look good on the wedding photos and the ring had become too loose. It could be anywhere. The bird fluttered again from behind the gas fire…
A van pulled up outside and she hurried to the door. “I’d almost given up on you!”
“Oh? Sorry, it’s been a busy few days…”
“Look, I know I should have asked when I phoned you – but what do you charge, you know, for birds?”
“I do birds for free.” Noticing her fleeting anxiety – a glance at her ringless finger, he hurried on, “I mean… we all have to do our bit in whatever way we can. But I suggest you get a cowling, you know, over the top of the chimney.”
“Oh! Yes, okay. We’ll do that next year.”
He pulled out the gas fire and caught the bird easily; gently cupping his hands around its body to prevent it from flapping.
“A Magpie. Poor thing. Shall we put it out in the garden – give it some water maybe?”
Ella sorted out the water and some fat off the ham in the fridge.
“Erm, if you don’t mind seeing to him it’ll give me a chance to clear out all that muck from behind the fire … before you put it back in place… thanks.”
From the kitchen window she watched as he placed the Magpie on the shed roof and then slowly retreated whilst it took a moment to gain its bearings then flew away. Gas man clocked Ella’s smile, grinned back at her and returned to reinstall the gas fire. Finally, she saw him out, handing him a litre bottle of Magpie. “We had expected to pay you, but … well … we happened to have this. Happy New Year!”
When Jim finally returned, she was kneeling by the fireplace smiling happily. He stooped to kiss her but over-balanced and rolled over on the hearthrug, pulling her on top of him, laughing merrily as she told him about the Magpie and all the dirt she had cleared out from behind the fireplace.
Jim was about to kiss the engagement ring on her finger then hesitated with mock-disgust.
“I do hope you took this ring off before clearing out fifty year’s worth of bird shit!”