Home > My Life in Shambles(25)

My Life in Shambles(25)
Author: Karina Halle

I shake my head. “I’m fine. It’s so fresh out, it’s making my hangover go away. Turns out I can’t handle whisky.”

“First of all, that’s blasphemy. And second of all, I thought you handled your whisky just fine,” he says. “Falling asleep peacefully is what every Irish person should do but it’s usually the opposite.” He sticks his arm out and the owl opens his eyes. “Now, here, the glove that I have is called the gauntlet. Obviously you need this or Hooter’s wee claws are going to break your skin.”

Those claws definitely aren’t wee.

He reaches back to thin leather strips that hang off the owl’s ankles and slips them between his fingers. “These are the jesses. Normally they would tie onto a strip attached to the gauntlet, like a leash, but Hooter ain’t going anywhere, so I just hold the jesses lightly. Otherwise it attaches to the perch over here.”

He starts walking toward the post, the top of it lined with artificial grass.

I start following him, keeping my distance, when Padraig suddenly stops and throws his other arm out to the side, stiff as a board.

“What?” I ask.

He shakes his head, keeps walking, but then his frame starts to lurch to the side, his legs crossing, and then he’s going down. His glove opens, and just before he slams into the frozen grass, the owl flaps his giant wings and takes flight.

I don’t have time to worry about the owl.

“Padraig!” I yell, rushing over to him and dropping to my knees, hand at his back. “My god, are you okay? What happened?”

He’s on the ground like an injured beast, but he’s not getting up. His eyes are shut tight and he’s trying to breathe. “McGavin. The owl. The owl,” he says, voice hoarse. “I can’t lose him. I can’t lose him.”

I look around, trying to see the owl in the nearby trees, but I can’t. “I don’t know where he went. What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m not okay. I can’t lose that owl. I can’t, I can’t,” he keeps muttering to himself. “My dad will kill me, he’ll bloody kill me.”

Shit. He’s more upset about the owl than the fact that he lost his balance for no reason and fell over like a damn tree.

“I’ll help you get him back,” I tell him, stroking the back of his head. “Just as long as you tell me you’re okay. Do I need to yell for help?”

“No,” he says, whimpering. “No, I’m … fine. The owl … I can’t. I can’t lose him. It can’t happen again, not again.”

Jesus. To see this big tank of a man down like this, it’s unnerving. I want nothing more than to help him, to protect him.

“Okay, it’s okay,” I tell him soothingly. I try and grab his arm. “Come on, you need to at least sit up.” I pull at him but he’s almost dead weight.

Finally he moves and sits up, leaning against the pole. I crouch in front of him, my hands on his face. His skin is cold to the touch, like the air. “Padraig,” I say gently, brushing his hair off his forehead. “Look at me.”

He looks up at me with red eyes, drained eyes. The kind of eyes that have just been through something traumatizing and can barely manage to keep being traumatized.

I place my hand at his cheek. “I’m going to try and get your bird back. Give me your glove, your gauntlet, whatever.” I reach down and pull the leather glove off. “Now, is there something I need to do, like a call or something? Should I hoot like an owl? You know, it’s one of my many talents. Hoo hoo, hoo hoo.”

Okay, so I’m trying to make him laugh and it’s not working. The man looks fucking lost.

“I’ll be back,” I tell him. “Don’t go anywhere.”

I slip on the giant glove, feeling a bit like Thanos but without any of the power. It engulfs my hand and forearm but is blissfully warm from Padraig, then I start walking out across the field, to the trees.

I scan the branches, wondering if he’s flown farther than that. I thought most falconry birds always returned, so I would think he’s close by. But I can’t see him anywhere. I’m starting to panic because I know Padraig is on the ground back there and he’s panicking.

There’s something seriously wrong with him. The thought grips me and I don’t want to think about it but it might be true. Maybe it is just the stress of everything and maybe these are just panic attacks, but panic attacks that are strong enough to bring a brick house of a man down like that mean serious trouble. I don’t want him to sweep it under the rug.

I go over how I’m going to broach the subject with him when a flash of white and grey catches my eyes.

There! The owl flies forward from the depths of the forest and lands on a nearby branch.

He’s surveying the land, probably looking for prey. Probably hungry.

I suddenly turn around and run back to Padraig, who is still sitting on the ground, his head in his hands. “Hey, I found him. I need to lure him. Don’t you lure him with treats? Where is his food?”

He doesn’t answer and I try not to let that break my heart, so I look around and spot a leather pouch lying by the open door to the owl’s cage. I fumble through the pouch until I find something that I hope is a piece of chicken.

I run back out to the field, the owl still on the branch.

I think he’s looking at me, but who knows.

I stick out my arm and put the piece of chicken on the back of my hand.

My arm starts to shake but I keep it out there.

The owl spots me.

Starts to fly.

Oh shit.

He really is going to land on me.

I’m no weakling and my arms are the opposite of twigs, but that’s a big fucking bird with a big fucking beak and big fucking claws, and it’s going to land on my arm and snap it in two.

At the last minute, I prop my arm up with my other arm and try not to scream.

The owl lands on me and immediately starts pecking at the chicken.

I sway from the impact but otherwise my arm is holding steady, even without support.

I’m kind of an idiot, forgetting that birds have hollow bones and not weighing a lot kind of enables them to, you know, fly.

Still, the rest of me is shaking, and I’m panicking, especially as the owl is staring right at me, right into my soul.

I fumble for the leather strips that hang off his legs and grasp them in my fingers. Then I very carefully, very slowly, very awkwardly, walk back over to Padraig and the mews (which, by the way, sounds like a great band name).

I put the owl back in his cage, where he flies to his perch, then I quickly shut the door and exhale the breath I most definitely had been holding that whole time.

I sit down on the ground beside Padraig, ignoring the bite of the frozen grass against my leggings. “Hey,” I say to him softly. “It’s okay. I did it.”

I reach over and take his hand away from his face and hold it in mine, squeezing it hard. “It’s okay. The owl, your Hooter McGavin, is back in his bird box. He’s fine. He’s safe. You’re safe too … but you’re not fine, are you?”

He takes in a deep breath and opens his eyes, looking at me with clarity that wasn’t there before. And maybe a touch of embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

“For what?”

“For acting the maggot.”

“Tell me that’s another saying.”

“I lost my shite. I shouldn’t have. I don’t know what happened.”

“You fell is what happened.”

“I know. I just … lost my balance. I think the ground must be uneven here,” he says, eyes scanning the ground as if that could be it when we both know it’s not.

“You were pretty upset about losing the owl,” I say carefully.

Like, nervous breakdown kind of upset.

He nods, licking his lips. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

He studies me for a moment, as if he’s trying to deduce whether he can trust me or not. I would hope at this point that he could but the truth is I guess we don’t really owe each other that in real life, just in our fake one.

“After my mam and sister died,” he says quietly, clearing his throat, “my dad and I grew apart. I think we were enemies. My nan, back then, she was living elsewhere and she had to come move in with us just to keep the peace. He was drinking all the time. Cruel. He’d tell me things … things like it was my fault somehow that they died. Or that he’d rather have a daughter than a son. Things like that. Things that, when you’re sixteen, you take to heart.”

“Or at any age,” I say.

“Maybe. So we had another horned owl like McGavin. His name was Jasper. And my dad, he put all his love and energy into that bird and none into me, and I needed him the most, you know? Not the bird. I needed him. I’d lost my mother and I needed him and I never had his love anymore. And so … one night I came out here and opened the cage, and I let the owl loose. Owls are nocturnal—I knew he’d never come back.”

He takes in a deep breath, and guilt and shame radiates from him. “The next morning my dad went out there to feed him and he saw the bird was gone. Obviously someone had let Jasper out. I admitted it before he had a chance to blame me. I told him I was glad that the stupid bird was gone, that now he can be like me with nothing left to love. It was … ugly. It still scars me to this day. And I know that the rift between us started when they died, but it became a fucking fracture the day I let that owl go. We’ve never been the same.”

Jeez. This is heavy. No wonder their relationship is so rife with tension. Last night it was like everyone was walking on eggshells around them.

Except for me, who was just blundering about, not really having an idea about that, nor about what happened to his mother or that he had a sister.

“I’m really sorry,” I say softly, staring deep into his dark eyes that are sheltering so much turmoil. “It makes sense now why you need to be here and make amends while you can.”

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