Somebody once said graveyards are filled with indispensible men—the same is true for indispensible women. I was indispensible once but that was when women in trouble came to me with coat hangers. Yes, in my own mind I was important—too important to die—too important for jail—too important for all those women I helped to turn against me. As I said, that was a long time ago. I learned the hard way that women like me were as dispensable as old dishrags.
I’ve tried to forget those days but sometimes the more you forget, the more you remember. Bad has a way of sticking to you. And so it is with my story.
I dreamt last night that I was still a young girl. The superstitious consider dreams hieroglyphs of things to come, of things gone, of things transpiring now. Is it possible to decipher the secret language of a dream when its very essence dissolves when you awake leaving you bogged in a quicksand of symbols? What’s real? Nothing and everything. Perhaps it takes a monumental leap of imagination to unwrap that enigma and so it should. How else to twig the ambiguity of this thing called life with obstacles and coincidences that order and disorder at the same time? I asked myself these questions last night but in daylight, life seems less mysterious, less of a puzzle, less of a branch I cannot grasp. Last night’s doubts remain with me like a faint shadow, like stripped skeletal remains trimmed down to the bone.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not one for superstitious tripe. That’s for those who gaze into thick brush and think evil spirits live underneath the roots and thrive when they heap misfortune onto some poor soul. Still, when that hoot owl crashed through my window, superstitions spoon-fed to me as a child came roaring back. The cracked mirror, black cats that serve as mediums to the under world, evil eyes that instantly change one’s destiny. It’s in my blood to engorge small trifles with more power than they deserve. As I said I was dreaming when the Hoot owl shattered my window. The racket scrambled my brains because I couldn’t comprehend the broken glass, blood and feathers everywhere.
The accident—let’s call it an accident—happened at midnight—not two minutes till midnight—not two minutes after but midnight on the dot. Terrible things happen at midnight. That’s when the dead claw from graves to punish the living. Nothing good happens at midnight and no amount of charms can safeguard you. That’s what the superstitious believe but not me. Still, when my bedroom window shattered, I hobbled out of bed–no easy feat for my arthritic knees and eyesight that comes and goes. The owl shrieked and made a mess of the sheets I’d rubbed my knuckles raw to get pristine white.
Makes no sense when I say it out loud but the truth is or at least last night’s truth was terrifying when that owl propped itself up on its wings and gazed straight through me making me tremble until a coolness seeped into my bones.
The owl shrieked and tried to right itself but its wings were injured and as it accepted its fate, a range of emotions fluttered through its golden eyes. Its glistening eyes sought me out and for seconds I seemed to step right into them, into the darkness of its mind then a sensation overtook me, grew and multiplied. This unanticipated reunion with something deep-rooted and primal is incommunicable. To put these feelings into words seems blasphemous to the beauty and the tragedy of last night.
I see you’re worried. Don’t be. This old woman with her wrinkles and sagging breasts is sane. What’s sanity anyway? Some agreed-upon term to determine whom you pray to or how decent women dress or behave? I’ve lived long enough to know that unless you wear the right costume or behave in a particular fashion, you become a source of scorn. Imagine how outside the mainstream I was to deliver and to cast babies away.
Unfortunately, I became a pariah when “decent” folks learned the aspects of my occupation. Before then, I was Good Old’ Jessie who prepared potions, battled rain, snow, and blistering heat whenever duty called. Even at 3:00AM professional pride and old-fashioned grit ushered me from my warm blankets for payments of butterbeans, ham or whatever grew in fields or hung in smokehouses. I lost only one patient and the fallout from that loss unraveled my good name but that’s a story for another time. Eat your stew before it gets cold. Now back to the owl.
The owl was dying. I knew it. It knew it. Its cracked beak and feathers were ripped from its skin and its flesh was embedded with shards of glass that glistened when it moved allowing the light hit the glass just so. I wouldn’t let it die alone because there’s something beautiful and tragic about death and if that owl and I could exchange something before its last breath, we both might be affirmed somehow.
“Got something to tell me?” I heard myself ask in a dry and cracked voice that belonged to some old woman, certainly not to me. I inched closer to the owl reminding myself to breathe. Self-conscious, I felt like a blasted old fool. What insight could some fool owl too stupid or too blind to avoid glass windows give me? What can a bird know that I don’t already?
It released a cry built on aches and sorrows. “I can’t help you,” I said. Tears haven’t streaked my cheeks in decades but I cried for that owl or, perhaps, I was crying for myself.
Before the owl died, something strange and fascinating passed between us, something that doesn’t begin or end.
How’s the owl stew?
Sherland Peterson has written several plays and short stories. They include: Daddy in Daddy, Can I Tell You Something, Monologue: Mildred, and Radio play: Poisoned Water.