Exclusive Extract: Listeners


The sun bounced off the rooftops, dazzled the drivers of cars, jubilantly sank its rays into the fresh of young girls swinging their shopping bags and their hips along Kensington High Street.

As Jennifer Hamilton marched along the street she made an effort to keep her head up. Her red curls shone in the sunlight, her white cotton dress showed shadows of her body beneath, and her face was thoughtful. Men turned to look at her, not because she was more beautiful than the other sexy, well-turned-out creatures with long legs and lilting walks, but because of her air of vulnerability – an air which disturbed them as they glanced quickly at the slight girl with green eyes.

One man, whose wife had just divorced him, wondered where the purposeful girl in the white dress was off to – probably to have lunch with some boyfriend or meet a merry group of friends, he decided mournfully, as he turned down a side street and out of her life for ever.

A young woman who had met Jennifer a few times at the parties of a mutual friend waved at her from across the road, but Jennifer did not see her and the young woman felt cross. That Jennifer Hamilton is getting too big for her boots, she thought, as she struggled on to the Tube with her shopping bags suddenly heavy. She too wondered where Jennifer was going – probably to some library to carry out interesting research, or to a lunch, or perhaps she has a lover, curse her. Jennifer Hamilton was one of those awful, competent, successful people who managed their lives perfectly and didn’t lose their Tube tickets as she had just done. The young woman grappled in her handbag.

Jennifer turned up Kensington Church Street, passing shops crowded with bright sales clothes and busy with people.

Painful thoughts kept bursting into her brain like cowboys into a saloon with guns ablaze. A three-minute blast and she’d be left shaken but, unfortunately, still alive.

Six weeks ago Jennifer’s husband, Martin, had left her. He had left her alone in the big house they had bought together, with spare bedrooms for guests and a study for her and a study for him. Now it was just space and memories, memories corrupted by regret and guilt and how things might have been.

It was a family house in a terrace of family houses. Now that Martin had moved out it was the loneliest place she had ever known. She had loved its high ceilings and huge rooms but now they just provided more space for sadness. Shabby, laughing Martin had seeped into the texture of every carpet, every painting, every wall. He belonged in the house. He was part of the house, part of Jennifer, and without him the house was incomplete and Jenny was incomplete. They had bought it intending to live there for the rest of their lives. They had managed only six years. She wished she could get rid of the feeling that it was all her fault.

It’s not your fault, they all said, all her friends, you mustn’t feel guilty. It was he who left you. But in her heart Jennifer knew she was to blame. The responsibility for a marriage is always with the woman. It is up to her to keep her husband. If the marriage fails, she fails. And she knew she had sinned against the old law that a woman must look after her man. She had pursued her career – teaching history at a girls’ school and writing biographies for children – too single-mindedly. She had behaved as any talented, dedicated man would have behaved, and was now being punished for it. At school, at university, at home, she had always been taught to strive for excellence. She had done so. Even on sunny days the house was cold.

She had worked hard at her writing and her teaching and now they didn’t matter to her one bit; only Martin mattered. Most nights she had worked until three in the morning, often thinking how proud her adolescent self would have been of her dedication. She had fallen asleep in the spare room with her brain still clattering with the noises of the past she sought to recreate in her lives of great and infamous women. Martin, who was a classics don at London University, had never complained. He was always very understanding about her work, about her unwillingness to go out with him in the evenings, about her weekends spent researching Emily Brontë in Haworth, Emma Hamilton in Merton Park, Madame Blavatsky in the odd little occult bookshops of London. Far too understanding, her worldly-wise mother had said suspiciously.

And now she lay awake until three a.m. afraid: afraid of the future, afraid she was going mad, afraid of the wind rattling the windows, footsteps on the stairs, even the ring of the milkman on a Saturday morning. The bogeymen of her childhood were all over the house whenever it was dark, creeping into the crevices of her brain, making her panic, pressing their faces against the black windows.

Jennifer told herself once again how foolish she’d been to neglect a man she loved so much, a man who had always treated her with respect and kindness. No wonder he had strayed. She pictured him, his shoulders shaking with laughter, a boyish expression of merriment in his dear eyes. ‘Cuddles’ he used to call me before I grew distant, she thought, looking down at her feet marching along the pavement. And I called him my darling, she remembered, and I put my arms around him when he was sad and once he sulked because I made a fuss over a puppy. But during the last year I drifted away from him, as if down a dark river.

And now I am too far away from anyone, a long way away without moorings. I really am quite lost, she thought, as the sun sparkled on the pavement in front of her, quite lost. Without him I am only half myself and there is darkness all around.

She crossed over Peel Street, rows of dainty cottages, where two friends of Martin lived. She remembered how clever Martin had been at dinners at their house, arguing, discussing, chuckling, drawing out the other guests to talk about their jobs and their fears and their hopes. And what would she say if she met one of those friends now, if sturdy Mary were walking towards her pushing her baby buggy, or if vague, bewildered Stephen walked by with the shopping? Perhaps he would look away, pretend he hadn’t seen her, but if he asked her how she was, where she was going, what she was up to, would she tell him? Would she embarrass him and herself by telling the truth?

The leaves of the trees above her rustled in the slight breeze, and she was afraid.

As she continued her journey, passing close by where a friend used to live, she took comfort from familiar things, from the cars driving by, from the dry cleaners and newsagents. Her inner landscape had shifted so much that she needed some outward stability. The red buses trundled past, the traffic lights worked, everything was as it had been at the time when Martin had told her he was having an affair.

Of course, she should have guessed. During the last few weeks leading up to his revelation she had been unusually tense. She lay in bed beside him feeling as though there were a steel rod threaded through her limbs, twisted a little at the neck. At night he moaned and whimpered but when she woke him he said no, he hadn’t been having nightmares, no, not at all. He went back to sleep and began to whimper again and her heart went out to his unconscious body, pale and frightened in the night under their thick duvet. The streets were noisy those long nights: a taxi drew up outside, an ambulance soared by in the distance, her body tossed and turned and it didn’t know why it couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t get to sleep, couldn’t soften into the mattress and the pillows. Knees up in foetal position. Head facing the street. Turn round. Stretch out. Body like a steel statue, but the mind uncomfortably still alive, thinking and thinking back to other sleepless nights, to shapes in the corners of childhood rooms, to why she was anxious when she had no apparent reason to be so. If only there were a switch to turn o the brain, she had thought then – and, oh God, she thought it now.

On the day he finally told her, they had been for a drink with Jane and Robert Neville, who had just discovered that Jane was pregnant. In contrast to Martin and Jennifer, Jane and Robert could not stop touching. They smooched with their eyes and their voices. They said ‘love’ and ‘darling’ and ‘honey’ and stared at the door when the other went out for a second.

Jennifer envied nice, well-balanced, loving Jane and Robert. They were ambitious in sensible ways. They wanted to do well in their jobs in advertising rms. They wanted to have a happy marriage. They wanted to have children. They wanted to live good, healthy lives, while she... she didn’t know what she wanted. All this longing and yearning for something out of reach, for some- thing to make her life worthwhile, really was a darned nuisance. Robert and Jane were lucky enough to find content doing up their big dilapidated house, scraping off wallpaper, sticking on tiles, painting ceilings. It had a big garden full of tall old trees which cast their branches wide and seemed to be climbing with the laughter of yet unborn children. Robert and Jane looked into each other’s eyes and were happy but Jennifer had not considered Martin’s love essential to her happiness. She thought she could do without people because she had always been solitary, needing time alone to come back into focus, relying on her work to justify her existence.

Afterwards, at dinner with Martin at his favourite Turkish restaurant, Jennifer had tucked into pitta bread and taramasalata. Martin was so subdued that she assumed the news of Jane’s pregnancy had distressed him. He disliked the idea of having children in part, she thought, because children would take attention away from him. Sometimes he seemed a child himself, a vast cuckoo of an infant. She had always thought that this was the secret of their happiness together: that he didn’t think of himself as a husband, a male, and she didn’t think of herself as a wife, a female; neither wanted to grow up, neither wanted to take on adult roles which would limit them. People admired their sensible, equal friendship.

‘Don’t worry, silly, I’m not suddenly going to become pregnant,’ she said. ‘I’m in no rush. Twenty-eight is young to have children these days.’

‘Jenny,’ Martin had said in a begging tone, pulling at his beard. Martin really was a terrible mess. He had a hectic intelligence, a big brown hedge of a beard, unruly hair and hands with dirty fingernails. Although he was of medium build, he took up a great deal of room because he was always restless. He moved around in his seat and waved his hands to illustrate what he was saying. That day, however, he had seemed very much more compact than usual.

‘Look, I know you’re not keen,’ said Jennifer. ‘And I quite understand. There isn’t the time, anyway. We’re both so busy.’ She stared into the candle, and felt sad. Something tugged at her, something which whispered to her in the early hours of the morning, or late at night as she worked, something she hadn’t felt until recently, a kind of emptiness which demanded to be filled. She knew in her heart it was a desire to have a child but the emptiness made her work harder, in an attempt to subdue these strange, silly, female urges.

‘Jenny, I’ve got something to say, sort of,’ said Martin. ‘Yes, darling. Can I have some more wine?’
‘Jenny, I don’t know how to put this, you see.’

‘Go on,’ she said, with her mouth full and eyes wide. It was not like him to be inarticulate.

The waiter with the buccaneer’s black moustache loomed over them, taking away the smeared plates of taramasalata and replacing them with salad and kebabs.

‘There you are, my friends,’ he boomed. ‘And how are you today?’

‘Fine,’ snapped Martin and the waiter backed away, brushing down his splendid red uniform unhappily. This couple here, they’re usually so nice, what have I done? he thought as he returned to the kitchen. The man with the beard is usually so merry, so talkative. He waves his arms around and she listens to him with such devotion and is so pretty. Tonight she looks tired and tense, poor little thing. He resolved to give them extra helpings of Turkish delight.

It was shadowy in the candlelit restaurant. On the walls were murals of Istanbul.

Martin stared down at the red tablecloth and then looked up.

She stretched out her hand to take his. His eyes were bright and black like a frightened bird’s.

‘The thing is, Jenny, I’m having an affair.’

She put down her glass and all the smile went out of her eyes. She didn’t take in his words but she saw the panic. Underneath his flurry of words he was usually so very calm and strong.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said.

He picked up a red paper napkin and began tearing it to shreds with his pale hands.

‘You see, I felt that I had to tell you. I couldn’t go on lying to you,’ he told her formally.

‘That’s very good of you,’ she said. ‘Could you pour me another glass of wine, please?’ She was staring at him, expecting his physical form to change before her eyes, altered for ever by this information.

‘Who is she?’

‘Her name is Annabel. She’s an administrator... at, well... at my college. She’s a very nice person, honestly.’ He looked so nervous that she longed to put her arms round him and comfort him.

‘I still don’t understand,’ she said gently.

‘Look, Jenny, let’s face it. We’re not really married. You don’t cook for me, you don’t iron, you don’t socialize, you don’t behave like other wives. You do nothing but work. Things have gone too far. Of course I know it’s my fault too. I let it happen. I indulged you.’

Until the last few weeks he had never complained about her lack of interest in cooking, sewing, etc. She stared at him in astonishment. He suddenly looked rather pleased with himself, as though he had just won an argument.

‘We love each other,’ she said.

‘Do we, Jenny?’ he asked. ‘Are you quite certain it’s not just habit, and the house?’ He smiled to himself, a self-congratulatory smile. For a moment she hated him and his smugness. He could convince himself of anything which suited him.

‘But the house is part of it. It’s part of the love.’ She leaned towards him, frowning. ‘It’s because we love each other that we don’t need to go out all the time. We’re secure. The house represents the love. Could you pour me that glass of wine?’

He took no notice. A far-off expression entered his eyes. He hardly seemed to be aware of her. He seemed already to have moved on.

‘I’m sorry, Jennifer. But it is just not true, really. Last night you wouldn’t even come to that party of Robert Judge’s. I wanted you to come. It was important to me.’

She restrained herself from accusing him of already having asked his new girlfriend to the party when he had casually invited her as if he wanted her to refuse. He had been deliberately putting her in the wrong, she saw now. Keep calm, she told herself. Don’t cause a scene. Stay placid. Don’t let this anger out. It won’t do any good. You know what your temper is like. Keep it in. Her hand gripped her glass tightly as though it were Martin’s neck.

‘Martin, let’s keep things simple,’ she said in what was meant to be a cool voice but emerged as a throttled murmur, the first sound of a volcano erupting. ‘You’ve been having an affair with someone for some time, correct?’

He nodded.

‘How long, exactly?’

‘Just over a year.’

She took a deep breath. ‘So my not going to Robert Judge’s party is hardly relevant?’

‘Jenny, you and I have grown apart. The passion has gone out of our relationship. We’re just friends now. I’d like to remain friends.’ He said this in a prim, self-important tone.

‘We’ve been together for eight years. Of course the passion has gone. Robert and Jane have only been married six months. That’s why they’re all over each other. We were too at first, if you remember.’

The far-off expression remained in his eyes and Jennifer began interpreting her feelings over the last months in the light of his a air. For some time he had been distant but she had assumed that he was busy thinking about his work. When he had played music alone in his study she had never dreamt he was thinking besottedly of another woman. In eight years of life together, six of them in marriage, their happiness had been interrupted by many strange moods. She had not considered this latest mood anything to worry about. It was just a stage, she had thought, and no doubt his work was partly responsible, and partly hers. She had been a fool. She had let this happen, just as her father had allowed her mother’s affair to happen.

‘She’s married, unfortunately. But I have decided that we are going to be together.’

Jennifer looked into his lovestruck eyes and her heart went numb. ‘You’re going to leave me, aren’t you?’ she said. He nodded. At least there were tears in his eyes. She was grateful for that. How simple things were for Martin: she, Jennifer, was unsatisfactory as a wife and therefore he was changing her. He always saw problems and their solutions with astounding clarity while she, more emotional, less cerebral, saw nothing, knew nothing. Now it seemed to her that she was returning to the blackness and confusion of the time before she met cheerful, sensible Martin.

Apart from his sudden compactness, Martin looked the same as ever. And here they were in the restaurant they had visited so many times. Everything looked normal – and yet it wasn’t. Everything had suddenly become very odd and scary indeed. If only he’d chosen somewhere unfamiliar to tell her this news it wouldn’t have been quite so terrible. If only he had told her in the spring, when they were on holiday in Portugal. The strangeness of what he was saying wouldn’t have crashed so violently against her image of normality. It wouldn’t have endangered her sanity so much.

She had never suspected Martin of infidelity. She had always assumed that Martin and she would be together and faithful until the end of their lives. And yet... the first few times they had met, she had been wary of him. The cool intellect which eventually she had loved was the very thing which had unnerved her. She had been right to be wary of that, as so often she was right on first meeting someone. She had seen in him then what she saw now, a chill which took the edge off all his emotions and made them the playthings of his mind. Jennifer had read somewhere that the easiest person to deceive is the person closest to you, because he or she trusts you. And there was something that made Martin seem very trustworthy. She wondered how many other less serious affairs he’d had, how many times she’d been fooled. He had frequently looked pained and disdainful when she’d asked him why he’d been so late from a party. It had made her feel guilty for questioning him.

She began to eat her kebab because at least it was real. It tasted just as it looked, and it looked how it usually looked, and it tasted how it usually tasted.

‘Jenny, I’m in love,’ he said, as if expecting her to be pleased for him.

She continued to eat.

Had they walked hand in hand, giggled over drinks, stolen morsels from each other’s plates? Was their relationship as hers had been with Martin in the beginning, all sex and love and teasing? It was impossibly painful to think about. He had deceived her. She had lost him. He didn’t love her any more.

‘Jenny, I want to marry her. She loves me. We want to have children.’

She took another mouthful.

She finished her glass of wine.

‘Jenny, I’m serious. I do mean it.’

‘Martin, you’re married to me.’

‘We can’t go on as we are.’

‘Shall we have another bottle?’

‘Over the last year you have made no effort. Well, neither of us has. We haven’t been a partnership. You’ve become more and more reclusive.’

‘You make it sound as though it’s all my fault. It’s a great talent of yours,’ she said.

Martin’s face was drawn but he now had blobs of red on his cheeks, from the heat and the drink, which made him faintly ridiculous, like a clown. Jennifer loved him very much, even then, when he was axing at the very roots of her life. She had watched him grow from a boy into a man, watched his shoulders broaden, his confidence grow, and now he wanted to leave her. For much of their youth they had been close friends; they had admired and loved one another. They had laughed at each other’s jokes, formed a united front, grown up together, grown into each other. His practicality and sense of reality had balanced her impracticality and dreaminess. He had liked her wildness and her foolish fancies and dreams of glory. He had seemed to need her – her imagination, her sensitivity, her body – as much as she needed him.

‘I think it would be best if we separated,’ he said, with that same air of injured innocence.

‘Whatever you like,’ she said, feeling sick and pushing away her food. ‘By the way – what’s she like, this woman?’

‘Her name is Annabel,’ he said sharply.

Jennifer nodded and looked interested. If she showed jealousy or anger, she knew he wouldn’t tell her about the girl, and she wanted to know.

‘Is she thin or fat?’

‘Slim, with shoulder-length light brown hair and a fringe. Are you absolutely sure you want to know this?’

‘Yes, I don’t mind. I want to know.’

Warming to the theme of his beloved, Martin continued to talk while Jennifer wore a fixed smile. The absolute horror of what was going on hadn’t reached her yet. To her, they were still having an ordinary meal together which for some reason had the wrong soundtrack. Part of her was distanced, watching what was happening, feeling that someone else was sitting there smiling, playing her role. And she found it hard to believe that he was talking so enthusiastically about a girl who would replace her.

Annabel was a thirty-year-old administrator, very efficient and good at her job. She came from a wealthy family and was very chic ( Jennifer was very unchic – a real ragamuffin, as Martin used to call her affectionately – or had it been critically?). Annabel always had two changes of clothes in the back of her car wrapped in polythene bags (silly woman, thought Jennifer, with the same agreeable smile). She was married to an architect who never did any architecture because he lived off her and drank too much (she’d probably driven him to it with her endless changes of clothes, thought Jennifer). Annabel was very interested in university politics (unlike me, thought Jennifer miserably). Annabel was also a gourmet who’d always rather have a half-bottle of really good wine than two bottles of plonk. But at the same time she was very gentle, very... kind.

‘She wants to look after me,’ he said.

Maintaining the same polite, interested expression, Jennifer said, ‘She sounds a real pain in the ass.’

Martin pursed his lips. ‘I think we should go.’

‘You have some coleslaw hanging from your beard,’ commented Jennifer.

He stood up, and the waiter scurried forward to give him the bill, looking anxiously at the white-faced girl with the dead eyes. When they got home it wasn’t home any more. It was as though a burglar had been in while they were away and had tampered with everything and then returned it to its proper place. It looked the same but it wasn’t the same. Nothing could be the same any more.

They slept apart that night and the next day he moved out, to Annabel’s rented flat in Bayswater. Annabel, who had more taste, more time, more domestic skills, than she had. Annabel, whom Jennifer hated. Annabel, who had knocked down all the coloured bricks Jennifer had so neatly built up during the course of her life.

Jennifer said that she loved him and asked him not to go, but he hardly seemed able to hear her while he filled his car – their car – with his possessions before driving away.

After he had gone she wandered down the garden and at the bottom, under the willow, she discovered that his pet tortoise had gone too. Oh well, she thought, at least that’s a consolation; Annabel will have to put up with pungent old Thomas the tortoise on the balcony of her chic little flat. The thought of Martin turning up at his smart new love’s with a tortoise under his arm made Jennifer smile.

The house was lonely, but she phoned up her friends – mostly publishers and fellow teachers – and everyone was sympathetic, and some asked her round. But they were guarded. She knew she talked too much, too wildly, and that they resented the fact that in the past she had been too busy with her work to come to their parties or have lunch with them.

One friend said Martin would be back, another that she was better off without him: ‘Jenny, you were never quite a couple.’ A third reported at length all the ups and downs of her own marriage. They all told her that her sense of impermanence was perfectly normal in the circumstances. They informed her that she was a resilient person and would be herself again in a matter of weeks.

‘But how?’ she pleaded. ‘How do I do it?’

Everybody had answers, the most common one being the word ‘time’. Pleading ill-health, Jennifer took off the last week of term. She did not want to break down in front of her pupils.

Those days spent hating Annabel and Martin were comparatively easy. She imagined Annabel’s face on a rifle range at a funfair. She shot at it over and over again and once when she’d had enough of that she rang Annabel but as soon as Jennifer gave her name Annabel put down the phone, and Jennifer felt ashamed, a failure, a defeated, abandoned woman. She hadn’t even recognized the signs: his nagging, his lack of sexual interest, his late nights.

She composed long letters to Martin and concise ones to problem pages, none of which she sent.

She even missed the wretched tortoise.

It took a few days before the full horror of what had happened flooded in. This next stage was worse. Life began to seem short and foolish. She saw black borders everywhere. Nothing had any point because nothing lasted. She’d built up a house, chosen curtains and carpets, had dreams, made a life with her husband – and a very good one, really. And now the structure was being bulldozed and she was falling down and down, freefalling, screaming out sometimes, sometimes laughing, sometimes making polite conversation. But essentially there was suddenly nothing. In time, she supposed, she’d erect another structure and she’d stop falling into this terrible emptiness. The problem was she was so tired. And there was nothing beneath her. Nothing she valued. Nothing she had. Even her books seemed as though they’d been written by someone else.

She received a brief note from Martin informing her he was going away for a few weeks with Annabel to Greece. ‘All this has been so draining for her and for me.’

A few days later, for the first time in her life, she considered committing suicide. She so much wanted to stop being tired and afraid. However much sleep she got she still needed more. She was always tired. And all the time she was stalked by grief which crept up and attacked her when she least expected it. It was so exhausting, knowing it was always there, waiting to spring.

She had to remind herself that she was not that kind of person, not the kind who committed suicide. But it was hard for her to know what kind of a person she was now. And at least suicide was a positive, courageous action, she brooded.

She had lost touch with herself, lost Martin, even lost her past. She wished she could remember more of the good times – the sweet moments – of their years together. She looked at old photo- graphs to try to recapture that which could not be recaptured. She tried to find love there, marked with an X. But love had existed in a tone of voice, a look in the eyes – all things so familiar, so ordinary to her, so much what she expected to have for ever, that often she couldn’t picture them at all. The love which had pervaded every room, every touch, every laugh, didn’t exist any more and because it didn’t exist now it seemed as if it had never existed. How ruthlessly the present changes the past, she thought.

They had met during their last year at university. She remembered the day when she returned to her room and saw Martin standing at her desk, in his grey velvet jacket and faded blue jeans, with his back to her. He swung round. ‘Jenny... I was just... writing you a note... I wanted to explain... why I keep coming round... I wanted to say...’ Jennifer flung herself into his adoring arms, and that was that. They had fallen in love.

Before meeting Martin she had been restless and unhappy. As in childhood and adolescence, she had felt herself always to be the onlooker – at her mother’s dramas, at her friends’ parties, even within her own relationships. She had seldom been the initiator of events. She was always observing herself and others from a distance. But, with Martin beside her, she appeared to belong in the world. He was so very well balanced, not prey to emotions as she was. His presence helped her to get on with her work and soothe her fears of death and time. It also stopped her from having intimations which turned out to be right. In adolescence, a medium had told her she had psychic powers. She had done her best to squash them. She wanted the world to be as it seemed, as Martin saw it.

To everyone’s astonishment, and her mother’s chagrin, after university she had settled down with Martin to become a contented machine producing historical data to feed to the girls at school, and clear, well-written biographies. Her angst, her black terrors, her tempers, her desire for other men, her wild elations had more or less gone, although, when she became angry with her pupils, she was transformed into a demon. Once she had nearly slapped two girls who had been tormenting a dimmer one. She had not apologized, and they had dared tell no one, although they dreamt at night of those tiger eyes glaring at them from that delicate white oval face, beneath that red curly hair. But her mother claimed that she was so quiet nowadays she was dull, and Jennifer did not argue with her but just smiled pleasantly. She did not mind annoying her infuriating mother in the least.

But now she longed really to be so quiet that she was dull. She hated the noise of grief in her head and the noises of fear outside it. She hated confiding in strangers. She longed to walk through the world without seeing blackness waiting for her at the end of the corridor.

Imagination was a bloody nuisance. She could imagine her own death. She could envisage taking out all those sleeping pills the doctor had given her and eating them one by one until she was slipping into oblivion. She could see herself placing an electric fire in her bath and electrocuting herself. She could even conceive of putting a plastic bag over her head, although, in that case, she knew she wouldn’t have the determination to keep it on. She could just about imagine slitting her wrists. She could also imagine what Martin’s response would be. She could imagine his guilt. She had to admit that the thought gave her pleasure.

When she sat up in her top-floor study she saw birds black in the blue sky wheeling over the rooftops like vultures.