With the woman from your office that you left her for
away at a weekend conference, you found yourself
at a party staring at your ex-girlfriend and her
new boyfriend, and deciding that the new boyfriend’s
jumper was the kind favoured by train spotters or
watchers of birds (the sort that fly without any help
from you) repaired to the bedroom set aside for coats,
got as close as you could to the dressing-table mirror,
and practised saying For old times’ sake with your eyes.

But you didn’t know that on the evenings you were
working late, she had put off going home to an empty flat
by browsing in a bookshop near the station, and read
in the poetry section that hope is the thing with feathers
and in the natural world section that ninety per cent
of bird species are monogamous compared with
three per cent of mammals, and bought herself a pocket
guide by Bill Oddie and binoculars one lunchtime from a
sports shop, and waited for the day when you would leave.

So when you approached her at the buffet table
your “come to bed” look didn’t register and you found
yourself demanding Who’s the fucking jumper?

Refilling their glasses in the kitchen her new boyfriend
picked up that stunned silence in which he could have
told you about the day on Hackney Marsh
when from his hide he saw her walking towards him,
a new variety that he couldn’t name, who wanted to learn
everything he could teach her and had him describe swans
mating for life again and again and again, and how much
she loves his jumpers, particularly this one,
bought by her and worn by him to repel birds of prey.

– Lorraine Mariner


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