George Cunningham

By:

George Cunningham left the faintest of marks on existence during his forty-two years and twenty-eight days of life. When he died — in about eight minutes’ time — he would be neither mourned nor missed.

He walked down the lane between Friarton and Edgeway, as he had done three-hundred-and-ninety-nine times before. He celebrated his four-hundredth by playing the counting game aloud. It was the most daring thing he had done for eight months and sixteen days.

“One-blackird-four-swallows-three-rabbits-one-fox.”

He spotted a pair of rabbits.

“One-blackird-four-swallows-five-rabbits-one-fox.”

Rabbits always won: it was a flaw in the game. Sometimes, George would play “everything-against-the-rabbits”, which made for closer contests, but was too easy to count: George liked having to remember at least seven figures at a time. His best game, number two-hundred-and-fourteen, had involved thirteen species, and one-hundred-and-forty-three different sightings.

On that occasion, George’s brain had been singing by the time he got home. He had a glass of port in celebration and replayed the game in his head. Irritated to discover he couldn’t remember where he had spotted the third hare — such an easy thing to remember, such a silly thing to forget — he poured the rest of the port away in disgust.

Nineteen-percent proof. Eight too many. George would remember that.

“Two-blackirds-four-swallows-nine-rabbits-one-fox-one-hedgehog.”

“Two-blackirds-five-swallows-ten-rabbits-one-fox-one-hedgehog-fourteen-cows.”

George was never sure whether to count the cows at Broughton Farm. It seemed unfair, because they weren’t random sightings. But it gave the rabbits a target to chase, so sometimes he included them.

As he rounded the sharp bend near Friarton, George wandered into the middle of the road. He didn’t notice the Citroen Xsara coming behind him. George didn’t count cars. He hated people. He tried never to look at them: if he couldn’t see them, they didn’t exist.

He didn’t hear the car horn. He barely felt the impact as he was knocked into the ditch he would occupy for the next three months; where his remains would be gnawed by four foxes and forty-seven crows.

The last thing George Cunningham saw was an owl, staring at him. It had been fifty-three days since he last spotted one. George smiled.

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