Read by Lin Sagovsky
Two statues gaze at each other across the London skyline. One, perches high above a Victorian telephone exchange, now converted into Artists' studios, and is in the image of Mercury, the winged messenger. The other stands proud but unregarded atop the cupola of a Church, and represents either one of the nine Muses, or more probably Ariadne - the detailing is rather uncertain.
They gaze at each other with longing.
This astounding feat is achieved by means of pigeon. It is a slow, laborious form of communication; but lacking pens or paper, they encode their messages the only way they can – by the careful plucking of the wing and tail feathers of captured birds.
We cannot say how it is that they learnt Morse code, or how they came to agree upon this particular medium. We do know that they have been talking for a very long time. Perhaps, though the records do not exist to either confirm or deny this, they shared the same stonemason's yard, before being lifted into their exalted positions. Perhaps, the lightning conductors and metal pins securing them to their posts, somehow picked up the early telegraph signals and radio messages of a once busy shipping city, and they learnt by sheer repetition. But then, to explain the elaborate error correction necessary in what is a very unreliable messaging system ... well. Maybe she is a muse after all.
Nor will we bore you with a detailed description of an average day in their glacially slow lives. The waiting for a pigeon to land, the stealthy capture, its careful plucking and then release, only to see the frightened bird vanish into the distance, or worse, plummet to the streets below, the victim of too much information. All in all, they manage to exchange at most a couple of words, on a particularly good day.
And we will not waste your time, asking you to unravel the messages, which, due to the slowness of their communication, inevitably overlap - two sentences flying between them a few letters at a time, such that an answer might arrive before the question is fully posed.
Instead, let us hasten the passage of time, so that whole seasons last but a minute, and unravel the dots and dashes, to relate their tale, in their own words.
“Dear Heart,” proclaimed Mercury. “My love is as constant as the elements, the rain, the snow, the wind ...”
“Really?” replied Ariadne.
“Without doubt, without hesitation!” he insisted.
There was a pause – a fortnight or two – and then - “Prove it.”
“I would swim rivers for you.” Mercury boasted, amid a flurry of feathers. “I would climb mountains, scale ravines, battle demons!”
“I don't see you getting any closer,” she retorted.
It was his turn for a silent pause. “What would you have me do?” He asked, as spring gave way to summer.
“Come to me,” she replied.
“Nothing would please me more!” he exclaimed. “To move an inch in your direction, to be closer to your divine form, your exquisite beauty, would be sweeter than heaven to me!”
“Then do it.”
“I” – this dot-dot was encoded upon a single bird, for dramatic emphasis, and for that single bird, constituted a lucky escape - “cannot.”
“Have you tried?” she asked.
“My feet are firmly bound by metal rods, my legs, in any case, are poorly defined and permanently joined,” he replied with sorrow.
“Where there is a will, there is a way.”
“The climb in itself would be impossible ...”
“There's a kiss in it for you.”
“Come here,” she cajoled, “and I promise you a kiss.”
We can only imagine the thoughts passing through Mercury's solid stone head at this point. We know – from the messages through the years – that he was a romantic. What else could he be? Proclaiming his passion from the rooftops, separated by such a distance from the one he loved? What did he dream of? Did he imagine a day, when they might by some miracle be together, as (perhaps) they were once upon a time in that stonemason's yard?
It was lucky that the first stone fell into an area already cordoned off for road-works, and was followed by a cloud of feathers, drawing the eye of the Works’ Foreman to the ramparts above, before the second, even larger chunk of masonry crashed to the hastily cleared pavement which moments before had thronged with early morning commuters. The taped off area was quickly expanded, and grumbling passers-by directed to the opposite side of the street, while the engineers worried that the excavations at street level might somehow have triggered the collapse above, and who would get it in the neck as a consequence.
Mercury's last message - “I love ...” - never made it across the divide, the over-plucked bird falling easy prey to one London's few hawks. In what to Ariadne appeared the mere blink of an eye, Mercury was surrounded by scaffolding and flapping white sheeting as Health and Safety sprung into action. She gave a wry smile, and shifted her attention to the muscle-bound form that was Atlas.
But Atlas didn't know Morse code, and even if he had, he could not have replied, his bronze arms weighed down by the mighty globe suspended above him. Despite a number of increasingly desperate attempts to attract his attention, his focus remained stubbornly angled down, peering into a busy side street where office workers gathered for a crafty cigarette and a scaldingly hot Styrofoam coffee.
So when the scaffolding was dismantled, and Mercury stood once again in restored splendour, Ariadne tried to rekindle their love, sending messages of entreaty, reminding him of the promises he had once made. Mercury ignored them, and her. His resculpted eyes saw her as she really was - a crumbling, lonely figure blighted by pollution and droppings and the passage of time, with a heart as cold as stone. He caught a pigeon for old times’ sake, and then, with a smile, let it go.
Liam Hogan was abandoned in a library at the tender age of 3, emerging blinking into the sunlight many years later, with a head full of words and an aversion to loud noises. He dreams in Dewey Decimals.