The anxiety of peacocks

I am feeling delicate.
I sat at my computer yesterday morning, my hair coarse and untamed, pressing my fingers against my temples. I had not slept. I tried to explain this to my mother, who was looking at me disapprovingly and with a hint of concern from her side of the Skype call.

“It’s the peacock,” I said.

My feet were raw, bloated and blistered from stumbling home from Soho after too many small, sparkling glasses of Prosecco. I rubbed my toes gently against each other. It had tasted of summer.

When I first moved to this leafy South London suburb, I was excited about the peacock. “Peakie,” my flatmate calls him. He doesn’t seem to belong to anyone. I knew he was there, somewhere in the collection of neat, English gardens my flat looks down on; I could hear him cawing out from his hiding place whenever the rain eased for long enough. I first saw him on the roof of the little house next door, silhouetted against the creeping dusk, looking into our living room. He was improbable, with his shrunken head and strong, elegant claws. When he flew, briefly, over to the roof of our building I saw the soft blue green of his belly, and the heavy drag of his tail feathers fanned out in the air.

That evening I’d removed my shoes as I reached my street. It seemed like such a long walk from the night bus stop. I tread carefully, avoiding sharp twigs and anything that sparkled in the dark. The night smelled sweet: the rich, heavy scent of trees in bloom and warm air on bare skin.

That’s when I heard him – a long, strident scream bouncing off the empty roads. I rolled my eyes. Peakie is a bastard. He is like the neighbour who listens to loud dustep on quiet Sunday mornings, or bangs his door at 3 am. Working from home, I spend too much time in his loud, obnoxious company. He is needy, always cawing for this thing and that, always keen to make his presence known. “I am here,” he shouts. “I exist. I am a peacock.”

At home I dumped my shoes in the hall and filled a glass of water in the dark. I heard him again. It was shorter, more insistent this time. I lay in bed and closed my eyes against the nauseated feeling in my stomach, grateful to be home, waiting for the oblivion of sleep. Then he cawed again. It was pained, agonised. There was something wrong. I peered out the window in the gloom but there was nothing to see, just the lazy flap of tarpaulin at the construction site next door. By 5 am my nerves were frayed, electric, my eyes wide open in anguish. The cawing had gone on all night, in five minute intervals, tearing the night apart. I got dressed and stumbled down the stairs, still dizzy, blinking at the dawn. Was Peakie hurt? Trapped or locked somewhere, crying out in despair? I walked impotently round the back garden, trying to see where he was, shaken by each new piercing screech. I imagined him struck to the ground, a broken wing flapping senselessly, easy prey for a rogue fox or cruel child.There was nothing I could do.

Later that morning the cawing stopped. Sleep was elusive. I was listless. I dragged myself to the computer again, and googled.

Peacocks can be noisy; they have a very loud high-pitched meow like call. They call a lot during the mating season (early spring to early autumn). Dawn and late evening is a favourite time for this.

Peakie was just randy. Is he wild, domesticated? I doubt there are peahens in his life, or even other peacocks, should he be that way inclined.

So every now and then when I catch his cry, harsh and heartbreaking, I can’t help thinking of the anxiety of peacocks: to die alone, on a warm summer night, with only the sound of your own voice for company.

5 Responses to “The anxiety of peacocks”
  1. DES says:

    Ha! As a child I lived across the street from eccentric retirees who had a dozen or more, and the din was not to be believed, especially in the spring. I assure you that the presence of peahens does not prevent, but perhaps encourages, auditory muscle-flexing. Happily, it does not persist at this level for long.

  2. Oh, have you read the amazing essay by Flannery O’Connor about the peacocks she raised?

  3. Ammo says:

    I hear they’re very tasty, if he keeps up at it…

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