NOTE: Third draft of Doleful Creatures, and I found another character. Who knew she was missing?
Chapter Fifteen: Leaps from the Twigs
Don’t think we take our duty lightly, by the frivolity of our conversation.
We love Jarrod, no matter what the marmots say. Love him like a brother. Love him like a son. Love him like the weak fledgling who shouldn’t be leaving the nest but leaps from the twigs with his siblings to show them he’s no weakling.
But Jarrod is weak. Weak in body. It’s a rarity to see him eat. I know birds are renowned for their skimpy appetites, for their lithe bodies, for their skin and feather and bone. But Jarrod is thin, even for a bird. Thin as if he’d seen nothing but winter, naught of summer.
They pick at him so. Aloysius, to be sure. But it seems anyone crawling or flying to or through this part of the world knows he is weak. Not a week ago, a small flock of starlings chased him from his home in the barn, acting as if it had been their home for centuries.
He picks at himself as well. No idea that comes to his head isn’t bright enough that he can immediately see its flaws and half-convince himself not to go ahead with it. “I muck things up,” he says. “It’s these black feathers. They bring me bad luck.”
That, of course, is a laugh. May as well ask the sun to bring you luck, or the moon to bring you bad, if you believe such things. My Chylus points out all the time that we have black feathers too, and we have as much good luck as bad.
“But you don’t have a past,” he says. And usually flies off when he says it.
He lets what happened with the beavers hang over him like a dead branch creaking in the wind. I’m certain we don’t know even an eighth of the truth of what happened back then in that canyon, and maybe we never will, with Aloysius telling the story to every new bird or vole who wanders into the wood and with Jarrod not telling much of anything beyond the gloomy statements we’ve all heard a thousand times.
I don’t believe either of them, and I’ve told them so. Jarrod, told gently, while watching for bits of dandelion or cottonwood fluff of truth or lie that injure him if they hit too powerfully. Aloysius, with more venom than I probably should.
It’s painful to watch anyone in such torment. Chylus says it’s worse for the intelligent, but I don’t care if you’re wise or simple, tearing yourself up over something in your past that you may or may not have had control over is not the way to go through life and remain sane.
We hear him, nights, when he chooses to nest close by. He talks and gibbers in his sleep. He talks of the blood, “The blood on my wingtips,” he wails. And on the nights when she visits him with nightmares, he flees to the radio tower, there to perch and watch the stars or whatever else he can conjure to help him forget, or at least survive until sunrise. On those nights, Chylus and I fly with him. Giving him fair distance, of course, because the poor thing hates to think he’s putting anyone at an inconvenience. He’ll perch on his tatty nest in the tower and stare off into the black. We give him a few minutes, then we land nearby. Can’t land next to him, or he startles and falls out of the nest like a fledgling. A few times we’ve had to catch him, else he would have broken his skull on the ground. No, we land a distance away and edge towards him, one on each side, until we’re close enough we can feel him shivering. We don’t say a word. We just gaze off into the black with him. Eventually she shivers stop and he may nod off to sleep – a light doze, from which he startles as if the sun were rising. We take turns napping, the other watching.
If the morning dawns sunny, it’s as if nothing had happened. He’s chatty, ready to fly, to eat even a tiny bit, to share a joke. But if it dawns cloudy and grey, it’s as if the sun had never risen. We stay with him, through the wind and rain.
Sometimes we work to fix the nest. It was theirs, he said, long ago, before he knew of the beavers far off in the box canyon. She’s the one who showed him. She loved flying, and not just the teasing flights most magpies do. But long distances. “I’ll catch the horizon with these wings,” she said often to him. And he often believed it, and laughed as they raced to that distant line.
Once he found a bit of string, a faded bit of orange farmyard twine. He pulled at one end of it, poking out of the dirt at the edge of a field of potatoes, until its full length flew form the ground. She grabbed the other end and off they flew, one tugging at the twine one way to pull the other off course, then switching, Jarrod flying low in the trees and her above, doing their best to dodge the branches.
They laughed and the wood and all creatures in it were younger and happier to hear it.
Then one morning, Jarrod atop the barn, alone.
We flew to him, Chylus and I.
“Where is she? Where is Rebekah?”
He stared off at the sunrise.
The sun rose and reddened the low-hanging clouds.
“She came,” Jarrod said. “She came to claim her, and she left. Oh,” he choked, “oh how she did not want to go. But she had no choice. The Lady came and she had to go. I don’t know why, except that the Lady said it was her time.”
Matter-of-factly. Without empathy or remorse, he said. Just her time to go.
They touched wingtips as she faded into the moonlight, he said. “Her eyes were the stars.”
It was she who put the schemes into Jarrod’s head. To help the family of moles find their lost child. To watch the fledglings while the widowed left to find food. She planted ideas in his head, his Rebekah, and they couldn’t go anywhere in the wood or in the canyon or in the fields and mountains beyond without being hailed as a friend by bird or beast.
Even to the beavers, their grandest idea of all.
Then gone, the beavers and his Rebekah.
And he suffers.
And is mocked for his rare failures, where he does not see that one consequence she would have seen.
He mourns, and is bitter. But still he tries.
It doesn’t matter the tally is mostly in Jarrod’s favor. He’s the one who talked that lazy farm dog into chasing away that pair of feral cats who’d moved in to an old haystack and were taking more than their fair share of young ones and old ones. He’s also the one morose enough to stay up that night of the fierce thunderstorms, when the creek rose suddenly and would have drowned anyone underground had he not sounded the alarm.
“She would have seen,” he says. “She would have seen.”
Often, at sunrise, we see him atop the barn.
We know he is waiting.
He knows she will not return.