The Peacock

Ethan Rose

It was a very nice day.  Towards the edge of a forest adjoining the rural farmland of a country a long way away from home, a rustling of leaves and the cracking of bracken underfoot could be heard.  A man dressed head-to-toe in camouflage skulked around the undergrowth, binoculars in hand.

The man lifted the pair of binoculars to his face and spoke to himself in a quiet whisper.

“There, just ahead, stands a majestic creature.”

Through the view of the binoculars a Peacock cautiously strut, its head swivelling around like a wife who just heard her husband muttering something under his breath.

“The Peacock, a proud animal with beautiful plumage. Here, we see it in its natural environment, the forests of a country I can’t remember, but definitely Googled.”

A twig snapped under the weight of the quietly observing Ornithologist.

“You may be aware that a Peacock struts, its tail feathers raised, as both an act of aggression and as a way to attract mates.  But what you may fail to realise is how weak an animal the Peacock actually is. How its tail feathers are more smoke and mirrors than they are a true show of its strength.”

The tail feathers of the Peacock slowly spread out behind its head as it turned toward the strange man standing in the bushes whispering to himself.

“The Peacock likes to nest in high places to avoid predators and, some may speculate, to avoid making eye contact with an ex-girlfriend whilst getting off the tram. But here we see it in all of its splendour, raising its tail feathers in defiance of a man encroaching on its small territory.  I know a man who raises his tail when another encroaches his territory, but that would be a cheap shot, and I’m above it. Instead, I will say that though the Peacock here appears to be threatening me, its chest puffed, its feathers raised ready for battle, I feel no fear. I know that I am much higher in the order of things and therefore have nothing to fear.”

The Peacock began to approach the camouflaged man, its head bobbing back and forth like a jock looking for a fight after the big game and three beers.

“The Peacock and I share one thing in common. We are absolutely beautiful from our heads to our excessively long tails, but that to one side I can honestly say I see nothing of myself in the Peacock. It is a weak animal eaten by fat Kings of years gone by, and now is relegated to an afterthought at the petting zoo.  I’m nobody’s afterthought.” 1

“You, however, share many traits with the multi-coloured fowl. You strut around, chest puffed out, overemphasising features that you only think you have. Style, without substance. You use your feathers as a defence, hoping that we, the predators, will take a step back and leave you be.  But I know that the feathers can be plucked, that your carcass is a delicacy, and that the size of your tail feathers is a simple over-compensation for what is lacking beneath them. There is no fight in you, your war paint is just for show.  There is no reason to fear you, it is all just an elaborate dance. And there is no reason to believe you can hurt me, it’s all an over-exaggeration.”

“The trouble now mate, is that all I can see you as is the Peacock in the zoo. The odd child might be scared of you, but not me. I’ve seen the children carrying your feathers around like free souvenirs, and I know why the Peacock perches up high.”

The Peacock began to shake its feathers, its beak opening to call out, but as its mouth opened the camouflaged man unravelled a rope tied around a branch of the nearest tree. There was a brief whhhfff sound and the Peacock found itself underneath a large Anvil, only its tail feathers poking out.  Peacocks don’t think in English, nor do they think of much aside from food, how high is high enough but not too high as to struggle getting down, and occasionally, sex. But if they did have a more complex thought pattern, and if it did happen to be in English, what the Peacock would have thought looked very much like this:

“Is that a tree? Is that a tree? Is that a tree? It’s a tree. What’s that noise? Oh no.” and then nothing else for a very long time.

The camouflaged man turned and it became apparent only now that it was in fact Ethan Rose, his face covered in green, brown and black war paint.

“The question now becomes not whether I am right, but just how right I am. Can a man strut, misdirect, mislead and misappropriate himself to a sneaky victory? I’m saying no. I’m telling you that what you need is more substance to back up the bravado.  That the stories you tell are fantastic, but that they lack truth. And without truth, who are we really? We are the Peacock. Posturing through life until, inevitably, an anvil falls on our heads.”

The bracken crackled again under Ethan’s feet as he hiked away towards the opening in the forest.

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1 The correct definition of the word afterthought would be “Something that is thought of or added later”, but here, the unnamed man is using it as he has self-defined, “when someone thinks of you afterwards”.  In this instance he finds himself to be entirely correct in the sense that after he has met a woman, they never text him back on account of a) never thinking about him afterwards as a psychological tactic of supressing the anxiety it brings about, and b) having given him the wrong number in the first place.