‘In the Act of Falling’ by Danielle McLaughlin


It was a little after 7 A.M., and outside in the garden her nine-year-old son, Finn, was stringing a tennis net between two trees, stringing it not in the normal fashion, the way one might to play tennis, but horizontally, like a hammock. He was wearing a pair of too short trousers, perhaps the trousers from last year’s school uniform, and no shoes. The grounds on this side of the property were ragged but pretty, bounded by a low stone wall that allowed views across the fields to the gray slate roofs of Portlaoise. “I think it might’ve been a mistake to tell him about the ducks,” Bill said.

“It’s not about the ducks,” she said. “If it wasn’t the ducks, it would be something else.”
They were having coffee in a room at the front of the house, a high-ceilinged, corniced room that she continued to think of as the dining room, though two years on it remained unfurnished, apart from a small mahogany table they’d brought from their old house and two faux Queen Anne chairs. The room was long and narrow, with a south-facing bay window and another, smaller window overlooking the side garden, where their son was going back and forth between the trees, checking and double-checking his knots. He’d found the net in the shed. It wasn’t their net, though she supposed it was now; it had come with the house, and had belonged to one or other of the people who had owned this place before them. Finn had commandeered it for the purpose of catching dead, or soon to be dead, birds. Birds, it seemed, were the next great heralders of the apocalypse, and Finn had decided that it was important to catch them in the act of falling. Before the birds, there had been two long weeks of insects: a meticulous recording of spiders, flies, and beetles, tallies of the dead entered each night in a blue-lined copybook.

Read the whole story from the New Yorker magazine here.

Read the New Yorker Q & A with the author here.