A sparrow grazes the grille of my car. I imagine I can hear an intake of breath whistling between the points of its tiny beak. Birds dart low out of the hedgerows oblivious to rushing cars, collateral damage in exchange for modern life.
Three hares who didn’t make the leap are stretched out on the muddy verge. Untouched by crows, they could be sleeping for just a moment, creamy fur licked clean over stopped hearts.
Look out for bunnies I say to my daughter. Watch for the flicker of a tail, the quiver of a whisker. Find me evidence of life.
No radio as I drive because it’s all cluster bombs and bodies in the streets. The dead hares, with their hind legs stretched precariously close to passing tyres, remind me that everything beautiful can be broken on a whim. Nowhere to look that doesn’t remind me of death. Trails splitting the sky open as a spring sun glares hard is smoke curling into the air from burning buildings.
Slide the car into a muddy lay-by, where a faded signpost points towards the burn. I thought I spotted an eagle by the bridge once, watched with breath held as giant wings flew away from me down a tunnel of trees. Since then we always look for an eagle but I only ever see it as a shadow behind my eyes.
The air is wind-whipped and raw as we skirt the edge of a dreary field, scrubby and loveless. There are angry signs telling us to KEEP OFF because the land is PRIVATE. The path is overgrown and neglected, last year’s crops trodden into the ground. At the corner of the field the hedge becomes a fence. I think there is a stile but when I look closer I see that what looked like a step is in fact a trap for rabbits. There is an opening in the wood, a little ramp inviting creatures in. But beyond the opening is a square metal platform the colour of dried blood, sharp hinges designed to snap necks and hold corpses tight. My daughter looks confused because we are looking for bunnies that are alive, hares that startle and bound.
I glance over to the farmhouse, its yard dotted with farm paraphernalia. A beautiful old building crowded by metal, everything caressed with a violent kiss. We are standing next to a hedgerow that has been ripped open, branches are snapped bones, jagged and splintered. The rabbit trap forces us back along the field, past the glaring KEEP OFF sign and along the edge of another field, scattered with stick skeletons.
A rustle in the crops and two hares chase each other under a changing sky. Over to the west a storm is rolling in, perhaps the hares feel it in their fur. My daughter stands still, oversized hood hiding her face. She stares through a hole in the murdered hedge for a very long time. And I watch her, watching the hares, as the ground is swallowed by clouds.