map A Tale of Two Birds

by Max Johansson-Pugh

Published in Issue No. 267 ~ August, 2019

There was a Tulip tree, older than anyone’s eyes could remember, that stole the valley. The old Tulip tree stood next to a river, who’s fervour had somewhat diminished in the current, torrid, summer months. Sounds of water lazily treading over the stones and the pebbles of the riverbed filled the air, only being cut by the irregular squawks and squeals of various animals.
Occupying the sprawling, uppermost, branches of the old Tulip tree were perched two birds. Though sharing a similar exterior, the birds’ size seemed to directly correspond with their hubris; the larger of which had no regard for the tranquil sounds that filled the bucolic valley; the smaller enjoying the simple gifts the day provided. At its furthest point from the birds in its daily journey, the sun hung at the top of the sky, lavishing every alcove with unbridled sunshine and an amiable warmth.

Heated words were being shared between the tree’s two inhabitants. The smaller bird, suddenly dropping from a branch of the Tulip tree, flew towards another limb, which was seemingly interchangeable. Clearly bothered by this change of affairs, the proud bird’s tumult only increased, as it fell into a pursuit of its smaller counterpart. This dance was shared for a while.
A sojourn to one of the Tulip tree’s many branches saw the smaller bird’s interests occupied by a bright, extravagant group of flowers. Crimson in colour, this flora (and anything for that matter) stole its attention away from its incessant pursuer. Curiosity got the best of the small bird, however, as an inquisitive prod too many crippled the flower; the flower now permanently ostracised from the surrounding crimson community. But no matter, the bird’s attention quickly fixated on another quirk of the old Tulip tree, and it took flight. Much the same as ripples follow ripples down the river, the larger bird surely did follow.

The light dimmed and took on a golden hew as mid-day turned to afternoon. Leaves fell from the old Tulip tree like a seasonal change into autumn, as the two birds tussled amongst the tree’s foliage. The larger bird clawed and pecked at the smaller; though it is uncertain if this was evinced by unrequited passions or, simply, anger. Terrifying squawks left both birds and filled the ostensibly peaceful landscape. Cunning moves from the smaller bird proved useful in saving itself from the onslaught, though not unscathed. A successful slash from the larger bird saw blood drip from underneath the victim’s left wing, colouring the surrounding branches, looking like some sadistically abstract artwork; granted, an installation no curate would find interest in. As if just realising the vileness of its actions, the larger bird abruptly took flight without looking back, leaving the valley and all its spoils. A restful silence fell over the valley; the rambling river no longer interrupted.
Now alone, the small solitary bird found itself jumping from branch to branch with no obvious objective, though clearly with less finesse as the wound hindered its movement. As the sun continued to drop, lightly colouring the sky red, the old Tulip tree cast a shadow over the river. Red flowers and green leaves spotted the water’s surface as they slowly travelled downstream.
For a moment, the bird stopped. Close by, a blood-stained branch acted as a reminder of the day’s trials, and as a distraction from the scene’s beauty. This did not seem to weigh on the bird’s mind. The bird resumed hopping from branch to branch as afternoon slowly turned to night.

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Max was born in London and raised in New Zealand. He gained an English scholarship out of school, attended the University of Auckland, and has since worked many jobs, from construction and bar tending to tennis coaching and running a landscaping business. He now travels in a bohemian fashion, writing, reading, gathering experience and stretching each dollar until he must find work to fill up the coffers. Published in Pif Magazine, The Courtship of the Winds, Hypophora Magazine, Canyon Voices Literary Magazine, Brasilia Review and the Contemporary Literary Review India. Contact: