Irwin watched his pigeons circling overhead. And knew one would be hit.
A white female flipped twice. Spun down with the flock. A hawk. Roving the sky for days. Now seemed motionless. Suspended like a wayward speck. A dot. In white clouds.
The hawk. Vision like binoculars in the air. Waited. To signal its brain. And release its body--a finely tuned machine--into a downward plunge of light bones and feathers.
Irwin knew the time would come soon. He'd seen hawks circling for weeks. Training their young. Spring did that. It brought young birds and insects almost simultaneously. The hawks had left Irwin’s pigeons alone, and fed on field mice, sometimes visible from above, scurrying along their miniature highways in winter-brown, wispy field grass. Until now. The south wind began to blow harder. For the hawk, it was time for bigger game. And a winged target.
Irwin tapped a metal feed can with an old saw blade. His signal. Calling the pigeons down. Twenty-seven birds seemed to spiral around an invisible air-staircase, winding their way to the coop. A cream-coloured bird tumbled three times. Bounced back up. A feathered ball. On a sky’s invisible yo-yo string.
Irwin waited for a sound he relished.Especially, with a hawk in the sky. The whine of air passing through flight feathers as his pigeons swooped in to land on the flight pen’s roof.
Fine poultry fencing protected his birds.
Irwin studied the half-inch holes made by the grey wire. No sections broken. The fencing solid. Securely attached.
Irwin followed the frame’s line extending from the hutch. His tumbler and roller pigeons would be safe. Once inside. Out of the hawk’s kill zone.
Irwin searched the sky. Locked on the hawk. Lower than before. A distinct dark outline. Wings curving. Like silhouette elbows. When tucked, transforming the hawk into a killing machine. A bird of prey. Capable of torpedoing the air. And any small mammal, or bird, in its sight. The hawk, built for speed, power, could rip and tear the life force out of any prey. Talons doing the ripping. Beak, the tearing.
Irwin counted his pigeons. Three were missing. He scanned the sky. Two rapidly approached from the east. The hawk, dropping like a stone in a bag, slammed into Lady. Black and white feathers scattered the air. The hawk’s talons penetrated. Crushing the pigeon. Her head swung like a school book at the end of a kid’s arm.
Irwin watched the hawk rise over the skyline. And disappear. Where the field met the valley’s upper lip. And treetops scratched the air.
Lady’s struggle had been short. Irwin was glad. He squeezed his eyes shut. But he could not release the image of Lady’s head bobbing in the hawk’s talons. He winced. The re-seeing more than he wanted. Neck broken, Lady was at peace. Her head swinging like a quick pendulum on a too-fast grandfather clock. A clock ticking to her fading heartbeat. Then abruptly still.
A heavy bristling blue bar flew wide over the treetops. It flattened in the air and slip-streamed onto the flight pen. The pigeon began to strut. Cooing. He was agitated. Pecking the air like a sunfish tearing at the sides of a dead trout.
Irwin thought he could see into the trees near the edge of the valley. He knew he couldn't. Yet, Irwin saw the hawk rising through these trees and into their shadows. Higher and higher. Until the hawk broke out, again, above the treetops. Above the clouds. And over the Sagawaka River.
Everything seemed clear to Irwin. Visible. Lady hanging. Limp and still. In the hawk’s talons. Her spirit gone. And Lady out of herself.
Irwin kicked at a dry earth clump.
Irwin stared into the space above his pigeon coop. No bird dared walk or strut in this air now. No bird filled this air with random cooing. The air felt like the air of death. And it was.
Irwin did not want to give that voice. It seemed his pigeons did not either.
"Lady, you were a good bird. So sleek. And shiny. And black. And white. You left us one egg. Why only one…” Then knowledge came. From a source outside Irwin. It called to him. Deep within. Outside and inside at the same time.
It only takes one,” he whispered, “to carry you on.” And Irwin knew a truth. Suddenly.
Without adornment. Aloud. And inside where he knew it fully. And he heard Lady’s spirit.
A silence invaded Irwin. His body became quiet. A solitude he had known before, found him. Irwin entered a moment of spirit. A moment when catastrophe and loss touched him from the unseen. A heavy familiar thickness enveloped him. Nothing in the circle surrounding him, the coop or the pigeons, seemed to own itself. Everything seemed part of an unseen, ungovernable force. Irwin knew Lady's time had come. She had been called. The hawk was just an intermediary delivering her to the beyond.
Irwin sensed the power of the universe. Master of all things. Pieces of his soul reconnecting.Twenty-seven years after D-Day. White-hot words churning. Uncontrollably. In the moment. Finished set pieces. Whole unto themselves. Like in the war. As a correspondent. Words coming. White-hot. Accurate. Cemented thoughts. Words manifesting. Typed symbols on a page. Holding the current fixed. Damming the flow. At the end. The true gen. Ready to file to The Star. Only fixing typos. Rub crumbs. Clear pieces readers extolled. Calling his editor. Sam sending their comments. Asking, always, for a colour piece. Weekend Magazine needed colour.
“War is hell. No colour, ” Irwin wired back. Always.
Irwin saw Lady standing still as a stone. On top of the coop. He looked again, focusing hard on the spot. But there was only clear air and the passing shadow of an evergreen’s branch.
“Illusion,” he said, wishing Matthew was there. It was time to finish the mentally challenged man-boy’s training. Irwin wanted Matthew to know how to look after the birds.
“Just in case,” Irwin whispered.
With a hand feeling the thin air, Irwin reached out and closed the flight pen’s door. He set the lock. No raccoon or cat could wiggle it loose. Irwin remembered Matthew’s words when he saw the latch.
"Bobcat, ‘Win? Bobcat. No Pete-Cat? No Sally-Cat? No udder cats in duh bush ‘cept duh Bobcats an’ duh house cats gone wild. Makes no sense, ‘Win. Duh house cats, dey should be in da house. No matter what dere called. Dey dumb."
Irwin slowed himself. Eased away from the coop. And the sky brought dusk and a chill to the air. The field-flat horizon line held down the sun.
Irwin walked away, down to the front of the cabin where he could see across the fields.
"I'll miss you, Lady," he said to the grey light. “Ol’ Red’ll miss you, too,” he said. The grey light held Irwin’s thoughts, and puffs of grey soil choked the air around his boots. Inside the coop, Ol’ Red pecked at grit stones. Outside, Irwin splashed water onto his face. The flow stopped. The pump gasped for air. A chill ran through Irwin. He poured life back into the pump from the priming bucket. The pump’s handle slowed like it was working through grease. And water flowed.