(A short story; fiction.)
The grey days are the hardest; you know the ones, when the clouds, so full of tears, are working themselves up to a full-blown cry. My projection, I know, but I prefer to think that the weather mirrors my own inner gloom. I am less alone that way.
This winter has been a particularly hard one – stripped me of all resolution – I am hanging on by a thread. I stopped answering all phone calls weeks ago, too weak-spirited to listen to the false cheeriness on the other end.
I linger a little longer in my bed, eyes focused on the cold, slate sky, old bones resisting movement. The kettle is not going to boil itself, I tell myself. Slipping on the battered mules that guard the side of the bed, I shuffle to the kitchen, muscles moaning.
As miserable as I sound, I love my home, nestled amongst tall cedars, tucked away. I moved here in a happier time, dreamed of children frolicking in the woods behind, discovering creepy crawlers, carrying home mason jars full of their treasures. I had not thought I’d be alone; had not envisioned the recluse that I would become. Or maybe I had. Maybe that’s why I’d chosen this isolation in the first place – a calling from the soul, some unwritten purpose fated from the beginning.
The rain has started, splashing up against my kitchen sash, taunting me. The phone rings just as the kettle whistles and I jump involuntarily. Ignoring it, I pour hot liquid into my oversize earthen mug and add a slice of lemon. I carry the morning detox to the perch I’ve set up for myself on the covered porch out front. Set far enough back from the road passersby cannot see me, but from this vantage point, I can see it all: the flat straight stretch of road beyond my house, and the non-stop traffic of the highway beyond.
I feel a twinge of guilt about the unanswered call. It will be my daughter, wondering why I’m in avoidance, worrying herself from her high-powered job in the big city. I wonder if it’s raining there. I wonder if the grey skyline is even visible from the high-rise metropolis she calls home. Does she care?
The rain drips from the branches of green canopy that surrounds the porch: a soothing sound, an invitation to curl up and forget the bustle. A cozy day.
I should go out and get some groceries. I have prolonged the journey as much as possible, but now the pickings are slim. Can’t blame the weather. This rain has washed away most of the snow, leaving only black topped crusts lingering where the fields dip – stubborn vestiges of the passing season, not unlike me.
My eye falls upon the gate post at the end of the lane. The figure perched there is so still that I almost didn’t see him, and I rise from my stoop bending closer, verifying that it is indeed a red-tailed hawk. Hello, I think. Have you decided to grace me with your presence? The hawk does not budge.
There is something about the sight of this bird that delights me. It is what made me purchase this house, all those years ago, standing in the back yard, doubting the property would be a suitable location to raise a family; it was the hawk that circled down, its mottled white belly flashing that spoke to me. This is home, I thought. I’ve been welcomed home.
The phone rings again, and this time, I rise to answer it.
“Mom, where have you been?”
“Oh you know…”
“No, I don’t Mom. I’ve been worried about you. You have to answer your phone. Have you been out of the house?”
“Just enjoying the rain. Is it raining there?” I deflect, a trick I learned years ago.
“Not yet, but looks like it. “
We fall to silence, this daughter and I. What is there left to say; I have grown old early, and she cannot abide it.
“Why don’t you come to Toronto this weekend, Mom? You could take the train. I’ll pick you up? We could see a show, or go shopping for spring clothes.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say and beg off. Too much talking already. So much energy, my daughter has, always going somewhere. Why not just visit? Why not just enjoy a cup of tea together and watch the birds? Toronto has water; we could sit by the lake and watch the ripples. What would be so wrong with that?
Throwing on some warm clothes, I make the decision to go into town. If I don’t at least attempt to look after myself, she’ll come and take me away from here; she’s threatened it before, when her father left, took up with that young Russian lady and moved into the suburbs.
“If I find you here one more weekend, sitting alone and drinking, I’ll move you out Mom – bring you to Toronto with me.”
“We can’t have that now, can we?” I tried to smile back. Truth is we both knew it wouldn’t work. She is her father’s daughter after all. I have always been an enigma.
My gate post sitter does not move as my old engine rattles past, and is still stationed when I return with two bags of groceries and the art supplies I bought on impulse. Painting would give me an excuse to prolong the visit east.
Food away, I drag the easel from the back of the house and set it on the front porch. The rain has eased, although the sun still shies behind the clouds. I position it before my stool, with the hawk in my line of vision.
I decide to sketch him first – sit back with the blank page before me – and stop.
Does he know I’m here, I wonder. All these years that I’ve welcomed his mate and family, has he ever really thought about me? I shake my head – silly thought from a silly old woman.
I rough in the outline of his head – so majestic, keen-eyed, alert, watchful. A guardian, I think. My guardian. Such fancy.
No mood for drawing, I set the objects aside, and toddle inside for some lunch. The skies look like they might open up again soon, and if they do, I’ll nap, listen for the sound of raindrops on the skylight in the hall. Pretend that these walls no longer exist and I am of the land, indigenous.
* * *
For two weeks the hawk has come, sat on my fence post and watched. He has become my gatekeeper. I find myself intrigued, rising each morning to see if I can catch him before he arrives, but I never do – he must be an early bird, this one.
He sits throughout the day too, not that I watch all day, but whenever I look out, he is there. It is comforting somehow.
The weather has broken now. The dismal downpour of the past few weeks has given over to bright sunshine, and though there is still a bit of chill in the wind, I have opened the windows and let the breezes in: cleansing, clearing.
I am going to venture out today, take my sketchbook and fold-up stool and try to capture the first shoots of spring.
He shifts his head at the sound of the door, I have exited quietly but it closes with a click. I stop, barely breathing, not wanting to distress him.
“Just me”, I try to keep my voice low. “It’s a fine day. Thought I might enjoy it.”
I set up on the drive at the edge of a field. Wildflowers had grown there in the past and in the muddy ground I can see the tiny points of new life. I brush away some of the brittle litter from last year and reveal even more sprouts. Lovely.
“It’s been a hard winter,” I say aloud, as if talking to a friend. “ Time for new beginnings”. I turn to him. “ Will you stay long?”
Almost in response he rises up and shuffles his feet. Don’t go, my heart lunges.
He settles again, back to me. Stupid human, his gesture says, or I prefer: I am watching out for you.
I came to sketch but don’t. Closing my eyes and raising my face to the warmth of the sun, I breathe in the fresh spring air, and imagine myself in harmony with all the beauty of nature that surrounds me. And sometime, in the midst of reverie, the hawk takes flight. I hear the sound of his wings as they stretch and muscle into motion, but do not open my eyes, envisioning instead that his wings are my wings, and that I soar with him and circle and from this new vantage point, feel empowered again.
Life is seasons and passages, spirals and dance, and I like to think that in the last two weeks – the final grey of winter – the hawk held my hand in spirit, and now that the new light of spring reigns, we have set each other free to soar.
I pick up my things and head back inside.
I need to call my daughter and see about a train.