An owl lives in the sweet gum, and tonight it has flown to our rooftop. Its calls float down to me—low and hollow—like curls of carrot peels around a bowl. I’m standing on the back porch facing the moon, sloughing the eczema from my palm. Thinking, listening. My husband isn’t here to tell me to stop picking, to swat my hand away.
The owl’s calls go on—four quick and lonely who’s. No one calls back.
I was here first, I say. The sound of my voice only pauses the calls, which are almost as haunting as the coyote howls from the woods.
Last night my husband packed a small suitcase, not enough to stay anywhere for long, and left in his car.
This is the second time. The first time he went to his mother’s for the weekend and came back in the middle of a rainstorm knocking on our door like a visitor.
I come across birds of prey often. There’s the peregrine falcon perched atop the financial aid building on the campus where I work. I see it every day from my office window. On the stretch of road that leads from our house and into town, I sometimes see turkey vultures waiting in the trees. I hear the whistles of hawks when I work in the garden.
Once when my husband was driving to the Cumberland Gap on our wedding day a hawk flew into his windshield. It left a smear of blood and feathers, which he wiped away with an old T-shirt while he stood in his tuxedo on the side of the road.
The heat of the day sinks low to my feet, where it is darkest, where it is usually cool above the concrete of our porch.
I unhook my bra and slide it through my shirt sleeve, and the cups keep their form. I love garments that hold a shape. Phantom fingers in a glove, ghost toes in a pair of hose.
My breasts feel heavy. Heavy as kettles of water, the kind of weight that lets me know my period will start soon.
I breathe three deep breaths. Loosening and settling inside. Trying to get back to my normal state.
The porch is full of half-finished projects. Boards planed and smoothed, an open box of nails. The unstained trim for our bathroom balanced on a chair bottom in long, wobbly sections.
The hawk—which had been a juvenile red-tail, put a small chip in the windshield when my husband hit him, the way a pebble from a gravel truck might leave its mark. We never did have it repaired. And the next year when my father called me with the news that a tree had fallen across both cars belonging to his preacher’s family, we gave the car to them, chipped glass and all.
The owl flies from the roof. It’s a great horned owl with an enormous wingspan, as long as a third-grade child. Its shadow through the moonlight.
Lydia Gwyn‘s stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in X-R-A-Y, JMWW, Gone Lawn, Elm Leaves Journal, The Florida Review, and others. Her book of flash fiction, Tiny Doors, is available from Another New Calligraphy. She lives in East Tennessee with her family.