“Flight” is a short story by Doris Lessing about an old man trying to hang on to his last granddaughter. Here’s a summary of “Flight”.
“Flight” by Doris Lessing Summary
An old man takes his favorite bird, a homing pigeon, out of the dovecote. Leaning against a tree with the bird resting on his chest, he looks at the beautiful landscape. He sees his granddaughter swinging on the gate. She’s looking past where they live, along the road leading to the village.
The old man’s mood changes. He holds out his wrist for the bird to take off but closes his hand around it before it can take off. He feels the bird strain. He shuts it back in its little box.
He walks along the hedge toward his granddaughter who’s singing. He startles her with a shout, then questions her about courting Steven, whom she walks with hand in hand every evening. The old man threatens to tell her mother, which she doesn’t mind.
He turns back to the dovecote, his refuge from the house where he lives with his daughter and her family. The kids have almost all gone now, taking their warmth and energy with them. He walks toward the house now, feeling apologetic. He mutters but his granddaughter doesn’t look at him.
Steven approaches and the young people embrace. The old man calls out but they don’t acknowledge him. He steps into the verandah and sees his daughter sewing in the front room. Looking back, he sees his granddaughter run into the flowers with Steven in pursuit, laughing and enjoying themselves. The old man mutters about how things will be different from what they expect.
The old man talks to his daughter about the situation. He warns she’s going to marry Steven and she’s only eighteen. His daughter tries to distract him with the birds and gets him tea.
“Flight” by Doris Lessing Summary, Cont’d
His daughter married at seventeen and doesn’t regret it. Her other three daughters have good husbands, so why shouldn’t Alice marry? Because she’s the last one; he wants her to stay a bit longer. She’ll still be near but things change when they get married. His other granddaughters lost their childish ways and became young adults.
His daughter points out he was against all the girls’ marriages, including hers, and made them miserable with the way he acted. She says Alice and Steven will marry next month. The old man is shocked. He walks into the empty garden, crying.
The couple comes around the corner looking pleasantly at the old man. Steven has a young pigeon on his wrist. They give it to him and take his arms as they walk toward the dovecote. He thinks they’re trying to prove that their bond won’t be broken, but he doesn’t believe them. He responds unpleasantly and they walk off to the gate where they talk with their backs to him.
He feels forgotten again. He puts the new bird in the dovecote and takes out his favorite. Feeling pain and loss, he releases it and it flies away. It’s quickly followed by a series of birds emerging from the dovecote. Everyone watches the flock soar—the old man, the young couple, and his daughter on the verandah.
They fly high then into the valley. The garden flutters with activity and then is silent. The old man is calm now.
He looks at his granddaughter and smiles. She stares at him wide-eyed but doesn’t smile. Tears run off her face.
(End of “Flight” by Doris Lessing summary)
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