BIRDS OF PREY • by Deborah Winter-Blood

In a crowd like this, a woman walking alone with a hawk poised on her heavily gloved hand hardly merits a second look.  The fair is swarming with faux royalty who sweat profusely under the Southern California sun in their velvet and brocade, minstrels plinking reproductions of ancient instruments, belly dancers (Were there belly dancers during the Renaissance? she wonders.), morose jesters in suspiciously goth makeup and, of course, tourists.

She stops for a moment to get her bearings.  She doesn’t want to be too conspicuous.  She could probably circle the fair a dozen times without attracting undue attention, but prefers not to risk it.  It would be disastrous if one of the handlers from the Winged Predators show were to notice her.  She’ll only have one chance at this, one chance to get it right.

She intends to get it right.

She saw Robert approaching the fair entrance an hour earlier — Robert, so tall and lean and breathtaking in his jeans and button-down shirt.  As he paused at the ticket booth, a gust of wind tugged at his dark hair and she felt a pain so crushing that for a moment all she could think about was locking herself away from it by carving hieroglyphics into the pale skin of her thighs.  (Focus! she scolds her weaker self.)  With the wind in his hair, he had leaned down and said something to the small woman by his side.  The other woman laughed and touched his chest.

There might have been some doubt about her plan until then.  She could have changed her mind at any time up until that moment.  Now, nothing could dissuade her.

It was the scars, Robert told her when he ended it between them.  She pointed out that falconry was not without risks.  Not those scars, he’d responded.  It wasn’t the thin lines on her forearms or the one on her shoulder.  It was the scars on her thighs, those silvery Rorschach patterns by which he judged and pronounced her damaged.

She suddenly spies Robert by a refreshment stand, a head taller than the crowd around him.  His date is still glued to his side, naturally.  Sluts do that.  They find men who don’t belong to them and coax them away with their flawless thighs and untested hearts, and then they lean on those stolen men in public like the small brunette was doing to Robert at that very moment.

Stepping partially behind a vendor tent that seems to breathe, she unhoods the Harris hawk on her wrist.  The bird blinks rapidly a number of times before settling its expectant gaze on the woman.

She pulls the hawk to her chest and strokes its mahogany pinions.   The large bird is the same color as Robert’s eyes, fiercely dark and shot with amber.   She turns so the hawk is looking in her lover’s direction.  The hawk knows him.  The hawk witnessed the woman’s love for him, was there to hear the sounds of ecstasy they made together and was there to hear the woman’s sobs after he left her forever.

Lowering her lips to the bird’s auditory meatus, she sighs an endearment.  For a moment there is nothing else, just the communion between them before she unclips the tether.  She holds out her arm and turns to walk away as soon as the bird’s mercilessly powerful legs launch from her glove.

The screams begin almost immediately.  Random cries of bystanders, the shrill screech of what can only be Robert’s slut and Robert’s own screams.  Above it all she hears the beating of the hawk’s wings, the hushed shwap, shwap, shwap of a four-foot wingspan.  She lowers her head to hide her smile as she walks casually against the throng of fair-goers who rush to the scene of confusion.

Sirens fill the air by the time the woman reaches the parking lot.  She leans against the side of her car, feeling the sun-heated metal burn the back of her thighs.  Her smile doesn’t falter.  She understands real pain and by now so do Robert and his woman.

The emergency vehicles come to a stop outside the fair entrance, vomiting personnel and equipment while the wheels are still rolling.  Before the gurney is able to force a path into the wailing crowd, she sees the hawk rise overhead.  It wings away from her, toward a line of trees surrounding the grounds. It disappears for a moment, then reappears, banking left on unseen currents and unerringly finding its way.

The hawk is waiting in the branches of the acacia outside her window.  She pulls her car into the garage and lets herself into the house.  The bird, its talons sticky and hung with grotesque ribbons (Trophies, she thinks happily.), flutters into the living room as soon as she opens the French doors.

The hawk drops an orb into her palm, a small, reddened orb with a faintly pink banner dangling from it.  The woman turns it over and smiles.

The iris is the color of a Harris hawk pinion, fiercely dark and shot with amber.

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years. She’s recently completed her second novel.

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