Photo credit: The Old Owl Woman by Hilary Luetkemeyer, as hibbary on Deviant Art.
Warning note: possible trigger content in some of the story.
The UnSevered Twine
The sun rose, bright and beckoning in the cloudless sky, and the old woman was more than ready; she’d rested well, ate a decent supper the night before, and poured out the little cup of pills by stuffing them in the soil of the dieffenbachia plant. The plant looked a little worse for the wear, but she felt great. Being outdoors was better than pills. And today was a Spring beauty, as she looked out the window. It would be the first time out since last Fall, and she could barely contain her excitement. Soon. Be patient, Ruth, told herself. Alberta would be here soon enough, exhausted from her long night out. Then, and only then, could she leave.
She glanced down at the twine in her hands and frowned in concentration. It was joined at the ends and looped in various ways around each finger. A wrap here, a tug there. She used to know how to create the laced objects, play the game Cat’s Cradle. She remembered making them, but it was a struggle, now, to correctly entwine the ‘cup and saucer’, ‘Jacob’s ladder’, a ‘witch’s broom’, and the first one she learned how to do was ‘crow’s feet’.
Ahh. Crow’s feet–now, that brought back memories—-
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In her mind’s eye, she saw a young girl, happy and curious, as she squatted to touch every flower, turn every rock. Her brown hair was wild: more strands free than remained braided. She wore a thin pale yellow hoodie, grimy from dirtied fingerprints and her jean pockets were full of nature’s treasures. It was a beautiful clear day and the sun was high and birds were singing. The wooded acres behind her farm were shady, cooler. She hummed a tune liltingly, a song she had learned at school that day. She threw her arms wide and swerved this way and that, pretending to be a bird flying through the leaves. She wished she could fly.
She heard a noise up ahead and stopped humming. It sounded like angry squawking and flutterings, and drew her immediate attention. She ventured to find the source and came upon a clearing. Four large crows, hopped in agitation and flapped insistent wings. Their loud caws were unsettling and it appeared as if they had something trapped, encircling it. She glimpsed white fluff in the middle of them.
“Shoo,” she said running to them, waving her arms in crazy abandonment. The crows took flight and their absence a small furry thing was revealed.
It was a baby owl! So little it was, nothing but big eyes and beak in a ball of down with wings only hinting at feathers. The girl looked at the dense tree branches above and saw two identical owlets clutching a limb. She bit her lip and frowned. The limb was very high. Too high. Making a quick decision, she scooped up the tiny bird and settled it safely in the front pocket of the hoodie.
Once home, she knew her mother would never allow it in the house, so off to the barn she went to make it a home. She climbed to the rafters. Pushing a couple of free standing bales of hay in the back with all her might, she was able to tug them next to the walls in the corner to form a cage, of sorts. She placed the owlet in the loose hay inside the makeshift cage.
She hurried back down, then up, then down, and up, fetching a tin of water, pockets full of grass and leaves, and other comforts. By her last trip up the ladder, huffing out of breath, she placed a tree branch she’d found by the wood pile across the top of the two hay bales. She picked up the owl, and wondered at the immediate grip of it’s small fingered talons as it clutched the limb instinctively. Now, to catch some bugs and worms, she thought, and off she skipped.
She visited daily, but one day found the owl gone. “Alberta,” she called with concern. She heard the familiar hissing sound and found her growing owl behind the snow shovel leaning against the wall. Alberta had a mouse between sharp talons, bloody bits hanging from her beak. The girl scrunched up her face in disgust and knew her job of feeding Alberta was over.
One day, she pulled open the barn door a bit too quickly in her haste to see her pet. Out flew Alberta in a rush, flapping high into the wide sky. The young girl cried for weeks, knowing she would never see her pet owl again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was twilight, almost too dark for her run, the jogger thought, as her legs beat a fast rhythm on the path. She’d been thinking of her youth; her childhood on the farm. Probably why she gravitated to the woodsy areas to get her jog on. The music in her earbuds were in sync with her long strides and she concentrated on her paced breathing: in through her nose, out through her mouth. Looking ahead at her footing on the dirt path, she didn’t see the two men leaning up against a tree, smoking and laughing, until it was too late. Both watched her, intently.
She tucked her head and sped up preparing to sprint around them, but they divided, spreading out across more ground, blocking her. She slowed and started to speak. The bigger one moved fast, caught her, grabbed her arms and moved behind her. The other ripped the speaker cords from her ears and clapped his hand over her mouth. She screamed and kicked and squirmed, but their combined strength dragged her into the trees off the path.
They forced her onto the ground. Her spandex top ripped at the seam. One held her mouth, positioning his hand over both her mouth and half her nose. She struggled wildly, her labored breath was trapped, had no where to go. Her eyes widened in terror as she struggled to exhale and breathe.
Suddenly, a shadow appeared above the men. Back and forth it dipped. It dove with large menacing talons outstretched, tearing their black jackets. Another pass clawed their ears, then their neck, next their hands, as it swooped again and again. The men stood up, arms cradling their heads. Giving up, they ran like rats and the owl gave chase in the air, screeching loudly into the darkening sky.
The young woman, sat there shaking, gulping air, and gathering her wits. The owl returned, gliding soundlessly to the ground at her feet. When she looked up, she shook her head in disbelief and whispered, “Alberta?”
She reached a trembling hand out to pet the owl. It’s huge black eyes blinked, unafraid. And as if to tell her the debt was repaid in kind, it allowed her to stroke it’s feathers—hissing that familiar sound she’d all but forgotten—before it took flight to an overhead branch, head jerking this way and that, ever watchful.
She was certain Alberta had just saved her life; another ten minutes and she’d have been dead. A reconnection, a bond, like no other was born between female and fowl that evening that would continue throughout the years.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
An orderly opened the door with a tray of food. The old woman looked oddly at the twine and began unraveling the mess from her fingers.
“Hello, Mrs. Bryant,” he said, setting the tray on a table. “How are we feeling this morning?”
The door opened a second time and another man, middle -aged and smartly dressed in a business suit, entered. He stood next to the tray of food, slid off his coat and laid it across the foot of the bed. He unbuttoned his sleeves and rolled them up. “Thank you, Jaxon, I’ll see if I can get her to eat breakfast.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Bryant.”
“Did she have a good night?”
“Seemed to,” the orderly said, then looked at the old woman sitting by the window and said loudly. “Sleep well, Ms. Ruth?” When she didn’t answer, he looked back to the man and shrugged. “She asked for a ball of twine, earlier. Been working with it around her fingers since the sunrise.”
The old woman looked up at the man in the suit and asked, “What did you say your name was?”
“Hi, momma. It’s me, Spencer.” His smile was melancholy.
Ruth cocked her head to the side. He had kind eyes and smelled nice so she smiled back at him and said, “Hello. I’m Alberta. Nice to meet you.”
“Your name is Ruth, momma.” He sighed and moved the wheeled table holding the tray to her and scooted a chair close. “I hope you’re hungry today?”
Ruth looked out the window, to the tree in the distance, and thought of the mice in the barn. She closed her eyes, spreading her wings and willed Her to come quickly. She thought of swooping down, flying from the rafters, from the branches, flying out the window and into the day while Alberta napped.
She watched Alberta arrive in a flurry, looking well fed. She waddled over and sat with Ruth in the chair by the window.
Ruth slid her eyes, slyly, to the men. Good thing they couldn’t see Alberta. Ruth decided she better hurry before they wheeled her off to exercise class. She stroked Alberta. In her contentment, Alberta dipped, looking ready to drop and sleep any moment.
Ruth closed her eyes and escaped quickly. In a flash, she felt the cool morning breeze against her wings as she soared, peering down at the fields and houses and parks below with more than perfect eyesight. She saw every single thing clearly; a person’s color of clothing, every leaf flutter, every bug creep. How she lived for the daylight, when Alberta tired.
“Momma,” Jaxon broke the silence, holding a spoonful of oatmeal close to his mother’s mouth.
Alberta’s head jerked to the man. Her large eyes were black and blank. She blinked quickly. Twice. She remembered this one—he was the son. She tested Ruth’s voice, remembering the words she was suppose to say, but thinking instead of her perch, the metal headboard behind the bed just beyond the man. She blinked slowly this time and yawned, ready to sleep the day away. She forced herself to speak.
“Hoo–Hoo–Who are you again?” The twine fell from her lap to the floor in a forgotten puddle.
Written by Ronda K Reed