The Red-tailed Hawk
Gabriel Parker

“Daddy read me a story.” Beautiful words. So, I break out dust covered volumes of poets and thinkers, undertakers and dreamers, and I read. I read to the young boy, both me and not me, who lays comfortable in his bed on the earth so far below my flying words. From my lips flow the great cosmic blasphemies of men who dare to question and cry; men who curse the very breath they’ve been given with each breath they have, only to turn around and praise the profundity of life. The warm scent of worlds on paper fills the room, fills our minds, like the wind off a battlefield. I read to my son and I watch his eyes as I read, eyes that glint with immortal knowledge and I know he feels it too. He feels the warmth that draws our cold hearts in, to stand like icemen around the blazing fire and feel our souls melting in the heat. He hears the explosion as each page falls upon its brother, dead in the passing. I smile. Then when the final page turns and falls like coffin lid back onto the grave of the immortal blasphemer we read that night, I see the words cutting like blades upon my son’s mind.

For what seems like decades, and might truly be in the un-turning landscape of the mind, I see the cuts bleed inside of him. Finally, when the red pool is deep and calm enough that he can peer in and see his reflection, he looks up to me. With tears in his eyes he asks, “Daddy, why do they always have to kill the hawk?”

I know the answer. I know the cost of the bird upon the soul, its burning-golden taunting feathers and god-like flight, its sharpened wings scything through bone and marrow and soul. I know.

“I don’t know.” I say, tucking him in for the night.

“Daddy? I would never kill a hawk.” As tears run cutting chasms down his face.

“I know.” I say and turn out the light.

***

“Dad, it’s beautiful.” He says, holding the cold, gleaming, black metal up to the light. Remington, .22. It was mine, my first, my father’s first. I see his nimble fingers running over every joint, every screw, every deadly detail, feeling them for the hundredth time but now born again-anew in a new adjective. His. The dying wrappings lie discarded on the hardwood floor, jagged ripped edges of paper that lay still where they had dropped to the ground like so many feathers. The paper had fallen on top of the mountain of gifts that had already been unwrapped-a football and baseball mitt, telescope and marbles, and so many books-already come through the ritual of rebirth on this twelfth year birthday, all but covered by the fallen tissue paper.

“Now you be careful with that. It’s not a toy.” I say, remembering how I played with it; remembering all the squirrels and rabbits it had claimed over the years, how many times I had played soldier once and because of that, because of my imagination, watching a furry tail go still, or a golden feather on a silver sky fall slowly to the earth.

“I would never play around with it. You know that.”

“I know.” I say and tousle his hair, sending him outside to go shoot. For a time, I watch from the window, see him line up the sights, peer down the barrel. An old tin can; no, bandit or villain, a hundred yards away goes flying. For a second, I feel the dying grass scratch against my stomach and smell the spent gunpowder carried off in the autumn wind. The cold walnut brushes my cheek, a kiss-my first. Then the memory passes. I watch him line up the next can then I turn, proud and sad, from the window.

***

The boys, almost young men now, are outside, like cavemen throwing rocks up at the blue heavens. I know what they are aiming at, know that their rocks will never hit it, never wound the god-in-the-sky. The day bloomed bright and cold and I feel the chill of early spring in my blood. For a moment I try to think of the words I know I will need, try to hear the truth in the blasphemy; try to recall anything of use. “Forever earthbound. Fit only for dog tooth, not sky.” Those cursed words now cut me. I dare to look down, only to be ashamed of my reflection. The window in front of me seems more like a cell than ever before and I’m trapped behind it in the cage of experience and years. I feel a tear winding its way down my face, to fall like passion on the floor.

The door flies open. “Hey, Father. We’re just playing around. I’ll see you later.” Then he is gone again. Out beyond my home, out beyond my cell. I watch him join the other boys, carrying it. Watch it go up, watch it fire. In him, I feel the gun thud against my shoulder, my face pure elation as the god spirals to the ground. It cracks on the fledgling grass. I wonder why, and feel my face harden into a smiling mask of death. Disgusted and weeping I turn back to where my father sits in the window, watching. The metal taste of blood flares into my mouth.

“Father, I’m sorry. I didn’t,” in a minute, I am there next to my son. He throws the weapon at me. Sobbing, the tears muffling and distorting his speech, he says the words caught in his throat, “it shouldn’t have been like this. Why?”

With one hand holding the demon of adolescence, I pull my son into an embrace. Peering over his shoulder, I see the hawk, crumpled and bleeding great dark beads of life into the ground. Its cold black eyes peer up into mine; in them I now think I finally find forgiveness.

“I know, son. I know.”

Gabriel Parker is an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University majoring in Creative Writing. He has had fiction published by the Underscore Review, Ripples in Space, and in an anthology by Grey Wolfe Publishing. He can usually be found deep in the bowels of the campus library holding back piles of books with one hand and typing away with the other. More of his work can be found at gparkerauthor.wordpress.com, or on Instagram @gabrielparkerauthor.

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