I pull in beside the picnic shelter of the nearby nature center where kids have birthday parties on Saturdays. There’s a bench in front of the cage that houses the Northern Saw-whet Owl. It’s usually where I sit after work when I’m feeling despondent. Today it’s lower sixties, warm for March, but there’s wind and cloud cover, so it might as well be forty five. I wrap my scarf around my neck a second time and approach the cage. My eyes revisit the story of the bird found along the highway, awake in the daytime with a broken wing. They do not name their birds here. The signs say names anthropomorphize the animals, which is supposedly a bad thing.
I find yellow eyes within his enclosure. He waddles from his bed of hay towards the perch. He is a small breed and appears infant-like despite being a full-grown adult. I think how if this were a story, the owl would begin to talk. He would give me some vague task, a challenge. He might say the name of a location over and over again. Maybe he’d hoot, “Louvre, Louvre, Loooouvre.” Then I’d go home, pack my bags, and when my husband came upstairs to question the luggage, I’d throw him some trite phrase only Nic Cage would utter. I’d follow a series of clues: at every crossroads, an owl would appear, flying in the direction I was to follow.
In a cramped French boutique I’d find a vintage barrette shaped like an owl. I’d use it to sweep the hair from my eyes and no longer think of myself as Marcie, but rather the owl woman.
By the time I’d make it to the museum, I’d search it over the course of several days. You’d think there’d be more owls in such a large collection of art. Finally, I’d find a painting that would make me stop short and gasp, then push my face as close as it could get without tripping the alarm. It would be a dramatic oil on wood, depicting the same little, broken-winged talking bird from the nature preserve perched upon a familiar-looking washing machine — a washing machine in my own basement.
The owl opens his mouth as if to speak, and I jerk back a little. He picks at his armpit with his beak. I sit down on the bench. I try a breathing technique that’s supposed to bring contentment. I hear a thunk and feel a reverberation in the wood slab that travels through my slacks. A walnut, like a dense, vengeful softball rolls off the bench and onto the ground. I pick it up and look at the walnut tree it came from. It’s seemingly too far west to land so close to me. I think how if it’d fallen five inches closer it would have hit me on the scalp, maybe knocked me out.
If this were a story, a girl scout troop leader working in the community garden would walk over to use the outhouse and find me. I’d wake in an examination room surrounded by my loved ones. The doctor would enter and reveal X-rays, taken while I was still unconscious: tumors, shaped like cauliflower florets, only bigger.
Upon returning home, we would review the purpose of our savings. We’d take a trip to Disney World and my children would forget they were teenagers who were afraid to be seen with me long enough to enjoy seventeen rounds on Space Mountain. We’d spring for the souvenir magnet with a picture of us, screaming our heads off even though it was already round eleven.
My girls would look at the magnet longingly as they opened the fridge to get their own breakfast in the mornings I still had left. They would not forget to say they loved me before they went to school.
I’m getting cold and I need to move. I get up and walk around the cages. I don’t like the eagle, who seems like a bitch (though I know I’m anthropomorphizing like I shouldn’t). I gaze lovingly at the turkey vultures: the red of their raw, ugly faces hiding rather gentle eyes. I notice tiny bones next to their water dish.
I walk towards the pine trees, along the trail. At first it’s dotted with posts that uphold informational plaques about Michigan’s native trees. Then the plaques disappear and the roots rise up from the narrowing path. If this were a story, a man would jump behind me and clasp a calloused hand over my mouth. In a flood of adrenaline I’d jab my elbow into his ribs. I’d summon combat moves I’d never really learned, only heard about on the network that calls itself “Television for Women.” Even though I could never before imagine gouging out someone’s eyes, I’d suddenly know what to do, and I’d pluck them clean from their sockets.
After calling the cops and giving a statement, Mylar blanket around my shoulders, I’d return home. They’d know not to ask about dinner by the look on my face. They’d never ask about dinner again, actually.
I’d feel an internal shift the next day. And I’d radiate a strength I always knew I had but could never externally convey. Coworkers at the dental office would notice, and patients, too. I’d no longer find Yelp reviews of Dr. Morris’s practice that referred to me as “that meek woman at the front desk.” I’d have confidence in my decisions, a sense of superiority.
The trail ends at a tree tagged with red spray paint. It is one marked for removal. I turn around, circle back around the bird cages. I return to my car. I turn on the ignition, but only to get the heat going. I’ll wait here for a bit longer, I think. I’m waiting for something to happen to me, something to reveal myself.
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