Click here to go to the beginning of this story.
She tosses and turns that night, unable and unwilling to sleep. Her red-rimmed eyes itch from exhaustion but the notion of sleep terrifies her. She grips her wrist until the bones grind together and sallow bruises appear under the skin, but the pain isn’t enough and she slips into a fugue state, entering the strange twilight world nestled between the realms of asleep and awake, living and dead. She slowly becomes aware of a soft breathing and her eyes fill with tears beneath their lids. He’s so close to her – yet when she reaches out, she cannot touch him.
A tap on the windowpane jolts her into full wakefulness. It’s 4:32. The breathing was her own.
She wipes her eyes on a corner of the sheet and goes into the bathroom. She comes out again with a glass of water, then goes over to the writing desk and opens the window.
A pure snowy owl steps delicately from the windowsill onto the smooth tabletop. Feathers ripple down: white edged with black, shadow and light. Tawny eyes settle on her face. When she sets the glass of water down, the bird drinks briefly.
“You must be a long way from home,” she murmurs. The soft rustle of feathers is her reply.
Hesitantly she runs a finger along the soft down of its back. She’s heard that owls can bite, and bite hard. But this one allows her to stroke its back and wings. Her hand – so pale when twined through his tanned fingers – seems so dark against the predominant white of the owl. “White and black,” she muses. It was the color scheme for their wedding. Her parents had thought it strange, but her favorite color was black, and his white – and the more they thought about it, the more perfect it became.
“I was a night owl once,” she says. She gets the same sense of attentiveness from the owl that she got from the crow. It wants to listen to her. “I thought that the shadows were my place, that the daytime would only show everyone how dull I was. But Alan reveled in the sun. He wanted to show me how things could shine in the light…and so I wore black to my wedding, and he wore white. He said it was a union of opposites.”
The wedding featured in his novel. He told her she could read it when everything was finished. He said that it should be a surprise for her.
“White and black for the wedding,” she says. “But just black for the funeral.”
The owl leans forward and takes a strand of her long dark hair in its beak. She winces in anticipation of a sharp pull, but with great gentleness the creature lets the hair slide. Alan used to run her hair through his fingers like that.
Then it hops away. The wings flap like heartbeats and a few moments later it has disappeared in the gloom. A low fog has risen around the base of the trees outside. Tomorrow will probably be rainy, a day to stay in. But she never leaves the house anyway. Her nest, her prison, her future.
Continue to Part III