Singly and in pairs, they arrive — men and women, dressed in jewel-toned satin and velvet gowns, in embroidered cravats and dark silk tuxedos. They sweep into the ancient, compact castle — more of a turret, in truth, or a fortress. Clustered in small knots about a great length of dining room table, they bloom against the bare, gray stone floor and walls. Soft conversation flickers with candlelight.
But their arrival is earlier than expected. Unprepared, shake each proffered hand. Kiss signet rings, the backs of smooth wrists. Return each smile, each warm greeting. Hear not one comment, nor one remark regarding disheveled hair, tattered clothing, unwashed odor. Surely, they notice. Kindness stills their tongues; propriety.
At last, the number of arrivals diminishes, ceases. Slip away. Slowly, back towards the small door, that ellipse of wood within stone. Quietly, quietly — ease the door open. Steal through the narrow fissure to enter a small, round stone chamber. Softly, pull the door shut. Lean against it.
Spread across the chamber’s floor — rumpled and crumpled and imbued with blue shadows — is a great sweep of strewn white cloth. To the left of the closed door, a stone staircase sweeps upward, follows the tight curve of the turret’s exterior wall. Set foot on the bottommost step. Notice the white cloth shiver and move. A kitten – small, gray-and-white, with the short stand-up tail of the newly born — wriggles out from the fabric’s folds. Mewing, comically determined, it follows along behind, up the steps.
Climb. Five steps. Six. Seven. With the kitten directly behind. See, at eye-level on the steps ahead, a frantic blur of yellow motion. A fledgling canary with curiously long feathers. Scoop the bird up – out of the kitten’s reach. Feel the brush of soft feathers, the tick of small talons against skin. Watch the canary lift up, flutter out and away. Its extraordinarily long wing- and tail-feathers flow like ribbons of sunlight. Over the kitten. Down the steps. To safety.
Continue climbing. Arrive at another small, wooden door. Push. Beyond it, find a circular room with high-vaulted ceiling. White porcelain sink and toilet and bathtub gleam against gray stone walls and floor. A single window stares out into darkness. Across the room, a narrow, arched doorless exit leads down a corridor… Cross the room. Step into that arch of stone-darkened throat. Set hands on a small gate, draw it out from the wall — a makeshift barrier that will lend privacy to the bath.
Again, movement. There, further down the corridor, emerging from the dark — a tall, trim man. Dressed in soft brown tweeds. A bulge beneath his jacket and vest. Approach carefully, step toward him. Peer — curious, eyes squinting — at the lump caught gently, safely against his breast, buttoned up beneath the tweed vest. See a small, smooth-feathered crown; wide gold eyes within a heart-shaped face — a barn owl.
Listen as the man explains: Out on the darkened lawn, far below the castle, five shapes lay motionless as shadow. Each a barn owl — four young, one adult. All but he had passed by, oblivious. None but he had taken note, gone to investigate. Had found one young owl alive amongst the five.
From the deep vee opening of the man’s vest, see the barn owl blink. Smitten, reach out. Stroke the smooth, white-feathered head. Feel the sharp clench and wrench of heart.
— C.Birde, 8/17