by Anna Shannon
Previously published in (Nо̄D, Issue 27)
The low-grade symphonic humming of my old fridge drove me out of the house. Might as well go for a walk while we were still allowed to. See the neighbourhood. Tour the cul-de-sacs. Hadn’t done that in years. Mine were the only prints in the snow. Or so I thought until I figured out that the scratchings in the snow were squirrel claws, the triangle of ovals were rabbit feet and a tail, and what looked like little branches were the three-pronged feet of birds. Standing up from my inspection, I let out a triumphant “Ha!” As soon as I did, it felt inappropriate, jarring even.
I turned a corner and froze. A red-breasted robin stood in the yard right next to me, so close I could have grabbed it. It looked me in the eye, then turned and ambled a few paces. I stood still, watching, waiting for it to fly away from me. Hearing an influx of calls, I searched for them, guessing at chickadees, sparrows, and magpies, and wishing I actually knew. There were no other sounds, no cars, no buses, no planes: just the birds and my loud breathing. The robin turned and stared at me. I blinked first and looked away. I looked back. It was still staring. In the stillness I sputtered, looking around for validation, “My God! The robins aren’t afraid of us.”
A call wailed out above, like a drawn-out, slow-motion scream. The blood in my hands and feet went cold. Was it human? I couldn’t place it. I walked around the corner, scanning the sky, hearing the call as it bounced off shingles and windows, fences and parked cars. I nearly slipped on ice as I twirled, looking up, and then I found it: a dark, winged creature perched on a power pole, head back, mouth open to the heavens.