Fear of the Hawk
The hawk glides in on silent wings. He sits on top of the hydro pole and surveys his empire watching for the slightest weakness. Bored, he takes a step into space and drops the weight of his body onto a gangplank of fragile air. He opens his wings and speeds the feathered arrow of his passing across Frank’s garden.
CBC reports another incident. This time, Frank’s son’s regiment is involved. The boy hasn’t e-mailed his father for seventy-two hours now and Frank’s worried about him. The father thinks of his son making all those patrols among today’s smiling friends. These friends may well turn out to be tomorrow’s scowling foes. Frank knows that every day something bad may be coming, but neither he nor his son knows how or when.
Outside in Frank’s garden, the morning sun carves charcoal lines of shadow. Light dances and reduces the snow to tiny islands of white that float in a rising sea of grass. What remains of winter is no longer smooth, but dimpled and wrinkled, glowing with a million tiny dots of color. From the cloudless sky, an occasional snowflake parachutes down, cross-wise, like a feather.
A military robin, nonchalant in the sunshine and bright in his scarlet uniform, steps his sentry duty across advancing grass.
The predator comes from nowhere, makes contact, talons first, lifts the robin, and slams him into the ground. A single prolonged shriek emerges from the robin’s beak. The sharp-shinned hawk tightens his grip. Claws clench, the robin’s movements weaken and his eyes glaze over. The hawk’s eyes throw a defiant light challenging the space before him. One final spasm, a last quick twitch, and the robin is gone, one wing dragging, borne skywards in triumphant claws.
Frank opens the door to the garden and walks to the killing field. A white tail feather and several bright beads of blood mark where the robin surrendered his life. Silence reigns around the place of execution.
A flutter of feathers beneath the silver birch catches Frank’s attention. A red-tailed hawk lies there with the wind ruffling its plumage. Frank walks to the bird and turns its body over with his foot. He examines the gashes beneath the left wing where the crows’ marauding beaks have punched their way through to the white bones of the rib cage and into the heart. No wonder the crows were making so much noise earlier this morning, he thinks.
He walks to the garage, fetches a spade and places the blade beneath the corpse. Then he carries it to the back porch and sits down beside it on the step while he talks to the hawk. What shall I do with you? I can’t just throw your body into a plastic bag and leave it for the garbage men, or can I? No, I’ll have to dig another grave and bury you in the garden.
Frank has buried so many bodies at the garden’s foot. When he lost his wife and daughter to a highway tractor that swerved into the vehicle they were driving, he scattered their ashes beneath those trees. He still prays there daily and tells them all the news. Burials: he’s done them before and he’ll do them again. He thinks of his son and the lack of emails. He hopes all is well, but he fears that any day now he may receive that fatal call.
The ground’s still hard, but he’ll be able to scratch a shallow grave, a scrape, if nothing more. It will be enough to keep the neighbor’s cat at a distance and to deter stray dogs. Never two without three, he thinks as he walks to the garden’s foot and starts to dig.
The digging done, he returns to the back porch and sits on the step. From there, he watches the sunlight playing touch and go with the early oven birds that scratch among the dead leaves.
Somewhere, high above, another hawk casts its shadow across the lawn.
Inside the house, the telephone shrieks like a dying robin.