Melody Hessing: The Owl
Deirdre flinches from the sound. Something has smacked into a window, not enough to shatter it, but enough to make her bolt from the rocking chair. She has been writing lecture notes about religion, on Durkheim's ideas about 'sacred' and 'profane.' Her eyes scan the sage-strewn hardpan just outside the window and swoop the silver of Okanagan Lake where pruning fires dull the October afternoon.
She darts outside and scans the kitchen porch. The goldfinch have scattered from the feeder; no chipmunks are in sight. Under the picnic table, Deirdre spots a black and white rummage of feathers, not much bigger than a tennis ball. She scoops it from the floor. The bird is the size of a small poor-will, warm and supple. The head lolls back, as if unhinged from the spine.
Deirdre has held birds in her hands before and had them come back to life. Sometimes they are just stunned by impact. She arcs the bird slowly in front of her, like a planet orbits the sun. Its eyes hold her gaze the colour of cottonwood leaves along Arawana Creek, the chrome of highway signs; eyes like a Halloween cat.
She cradles the bird in the palm of her hand. Its round taupe head is dotted white. A striped tail reaches to her wrist. Puffy and light, perhaps it is a juvenile. No, she thinks, a pygmy owl! Alive, the bird would rake her flesh, but no pulse throbs, just a duvet of feathered warmth cradling tiny bones.
Deirdre folds back into the rocking chair, where she strokes the bird, searching her mind for a lullaby to such fierce beauty, a song to the small divinity in her lap.