Monday, June 25, 2012

Cooper's Hawk excerpt by Victor J Banis

This story is kind of exciting for me because I had been through a difficult period in my life, and this was my first new story in over a year. VJB

Cooper's Hawk is Victor J Banis' first new story in over a year, after having been through a difficult period in his life.  Banis asks if love is truly eternal, what lasts beyond the grave -- and what form might it take?

Mike Patterson loses his life-long partner, Adam Cooper---and soon thereafter, a hawk appears and seems to hang around with him. Is the hawk a message from Adam, from beyond the grave -- or might it be Adam himself, come back to offer solace. A bittersweet tale that will resonate with all who love deeply, a story of the sharpness of grief, the pain of loss -- and, ultimately, a story of never ending love.

Cooper's Hawk
MLR Press (June 21, 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-701-5

It is now 4 days, 2 hours and 58 minutes since my life ended.

Well, okay, I’m being dramatic, my life didn’t exactly end, if you want to be technical about it – just the stuff that mattered. That all ended when Adam died. The rest are just days – 4 of them, and 3 hours, now, and about 1 minute.

“Daddy,” Alma Jean – she’s my oldest girl - said, “do you want me to fix you some pancakes? You must be hungry.”

“No,” I told her, “I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything all day,” her sister Elizabeth said. She always backs Alma Jean up in any discussion involving other people, though the two of them fight with one another like cats and dogs otherwise.

“Daddy’s not hungry. Let him alone.”  That was James, Adam’s oldest boy—his oldest surviving boy of the three he had. Lester didn’t come back from Afghanistan. That is to say, he did, but not upright. Oh, I remember how broken up Adam was over that, I thought he would plain jump in that hole with his son.

My son, also, of course, just not in the same way. His boys always called me Daddy, too, same as my girls called Adam—Or, Daddy Adam and Daddy Mike, to avoid confusion. We used to joke in the beginning about maybe his and mine would end up hitched, and we laughed because there were only two of my girls and he had three sons then, so someone was going to get the short stick. That was before Afghanistan. After that, the numbers matched, even if the kids didn’t. Course, they were just little ones when we got married. By the time they were old enough to think about things like that, they had gotten used to brothers and sisters, and it wouldn’t have seemed right.

When I say married, I don’t mean in the way they mean it today, the way they write about in the papers and talk about on the news. It was a long time ago. Things were different. There was no preacher waving his hands over us, and no wine glass smashed underfoot. Those are the externals. We were married just the same, in our hearts. Internal, I liked to say. And eternal.

Lord, I hope I was right about that eternal part. How I would love to think that one day Adam and I will meet up again. “In a land that knows no parting,” as Willie puts it. I hope Willie is right too. I think my heart could stand all the excitement of getting back together, but I don’t think it could take another parting. I’m not sure yet that it will take this one. God Almighty, how you can miss a man. If that’s all just a bunch of fairy tales, Lord, don’t let me find out, please. I’ll settle for the blackness of eternal night, anything but not seeing him again. You want to know what Heaven means to me? That’s it, right there – the rest of eternity with Adam’s arm about my shoulder, the way he used to do, standing by me. If I can’t have that, you can keep the wings and harps and the rest of the stuff, that’s fine by me. Got no use for them without him. Got no use for any of it, to tell the truth. There or here.

Alma Jean is on me again about the pancakes. “Alma Jean, honey, a mess of pancakes would taste awful good about now,” I tell her. I know she’s hurting too, and cooking is how she handles the hurt. I can always feed them to the dog, after she’s gone home.

I went out to the porch after they were gone. Adam and me had loved to sit out here, about this time of day, when the sun was dying, slipping down into the gray of dusk. I sat in the usual rocker, the smaller of the two because Adam, that giant of a man, had required the big one, and the smaller one fit me just fine. The way our bodies had fitted together all those years, his big, powerful one and my little reedy one, that seemed as if they had been designed to suit one another.

I closed my eyes, but the image of Adam pasted itself on my closed eyelids and I could not bear the pain that stabbed through me at the sight. My eyes flicked open, and I saw the hawk.

My first thought was, the chickens, but the chickens had already found their way into the coop, instinctively taking themselves out of the night, content to wait for me to come and close the door on any errant foxes—or hawks, though a hawk wasn’t likely to come into the coop, they were more likely to swoop down on you unexpectedly and carry you off you knew not where. In my experience, love was like that too, though I’d never heard love compared to a hawk.

Anyway, the hawk didn’t seem to have any interest in the coop, or the chicken run. He was just up there, soaring. The way we had used to cruise the drive-in when I was a kid, Diggy Holman and me, back and forth, back and forth, endlessly, trying to get ourselves noticed. The hawk banked and swooped and came lower than a hawk should, with a person sitting there in a rocker, not knowing how friendly that person might feel toward a hawk. Especially a person who kept chickens. Chicken people weren’t as a rule hospitable to visiting hawks.

Then, as if he knew he’d finally been noticed, his presence accounted for, he winged his way upward, flew over the house, and was gone. I waited, watching the sky, scanning back and forth, until the sky had grown dark and the stars were blinking back at me.

The hawk didn’t come back.

# # #

Not until morning.

Adam Junior—who we had always called Junior, to avoid confusion with his father, had driven up from Florida for the funeral, and since he was leaving the following day, he’d come to take his other father to breakfast. We came out of the house, me balancing carefully on my new walker, still getting used to it, heading for Junior’s fancy Buick, and I looked toward the barnyard fence, and there was the hawk sitting atop it, staring at me.

“Look,” I said, pointing. “There. A hawk.”

“Where?” Junior asked, and looked, but the hawk lifted off the fence then, like a rocket sailing into the sky, so fast you could hardly track him.

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“Just a glimpse. What do you think he was, a redtail?”

I had to think about that a minute. “No, he wasn’t a redtail. Nothing I’ve seen before, I don’t think.”

“Well, he’s probably got his eye on the chickens,” Junior said, opening his car door for me. “I better borrow Darrel’s shotgun and come over later. We don’t want him carrying off one of your leghorns. Plus, once they get the taste, you’ll never get rid of him, he’ll be hanging around every day, him and his whole family.”

“No,” I said, looking over my shoulder as we started down the drive, trying to catch another glimpse of the bird, “No, I’ll take care of it. You know Darrel. He’ll want to come over and do the shooting himself, and next thing I won’t have any glass in the windows. He’s a good boy, but a lousy shot.”

We had our breakfast—I made a show of eating, though I hadn’t much appetite these days, but I did it for Junior’s sake. We stopped to gas up his car and at the nursery, where I got a box of flowers, pansies, which I told him I was going to plant in the yard. He asked me where else I wanted to go, and I told him home.

Where I really wanted to go was to the cemetery, which was where I intended to plant the pansies, but I wanted to do that on my own. I waited in the house until Junior had driven away, and then I took the flowers and my walker, and put them in the back of my truck, and climbed in behind the wheel, and fired up the motor, which was noisy and smoky, but had always gotten me where I needed to go.

Alma Jean and Darrel lived just across the field, and I knew one of them—Alma Jean, certainly—would hear the truck start up and wonder where I was going. So I put it in gear and started off in a hurry, and sure enough, I hadn’t gotten half way down the drive before she was out of her trailer, in her front yard, watching me go, with a disapproving scowl that I could make out even in the distance, and which I pretended not to see.

I was almost to the cemetery, keeping my speed to a safe and steady thirty miles per hour, when I saw, just out of the corner of my eye, something fly by the window. I thought it was a bird, but I’d never known a bird to fly around a moving truck so close like that. I decided I was just spooked. More than likely, it was seeing that hawk the day before.

Now that I thought of the hawk, though, I tried again to think what kind of a hawk it was. Mostly, you got the red tailed hawks here, but this hadn’t been a redtail, I was sure of that. It was too small, for one thing, and the color wasn’t right. But it wasn’t any kind I knew either.

I parked along the road outside the cemetery and got the walker out of the back of the truck, along with the box of flowers. I was still getting used to the walker, but the truth was, my hip hadn’t been good for a long time and it was worse now, and I didn’t fancy falling over and not being able to get up, waiting for someone to come along and find me, if they ever did. This wasn’t a popular visiting spot, this old cemetery. Nobody used it anymore, and even the preacher had been a bit reluctant about burying Adam here, but we had the plot, had had for years, enough room for me right next to him, and all the kids, too, except something would have to be done about their kids, we weren’t all going to fit unless someone got stacked atop someone else. I didn’t know if they permitted that, but I kind of doubted it. One thing I was sure of, though, I wasn’t going to be around to worry about it.

I let myself in the gate, using the walker with the box of flowers carefully balanced on its front bar, and went slowly in the direction of the fresh grave, the walker’s legs sinking into the damp grass, so I had to go slow and cautious.

I saw before I even got there that they had the headstone up, which was pretty quick, but that wasn’t what surprised me. Sitting atop the headstone was the hawk—well, a hawk, anyway, although it looked like the same one to me. The hawk watched my approach with a yellow-tinted eye, until I was so close I could almost have reached out and petted him. Then, just like that, he flew off, circled overhead once or twice, and disappeared into the distance in the direction of home. My home, anyway. I had no idea where his was, but it seemed as if they might be in the same neighborhood.

“Well, if you’re wanting to hang out together, I guess that’d be okay,” I said aloud. “I’d like that better than my daughters yammering, to tell the truth. You don’t have to keep running off, though.” If the hawk heard me, he gave no sign of it. In another minute, he was gone.

I turned my attention back to the gravesite, and my eyes went to the headstone, and just like that, it clicked in my mind. “Adam Cooper,” the carving on the stone read, and below that the dates of his birth and his death.

“Cooper,” I said aloud. “A Cooper’s Hawk.” I laughed for the first time in days. “You’re a Cooper’s Hawk,” I yelled after him, although the bird had long since vanished. He probably didn’t need me to tell him who he was anyway.

# # #

Junior came by soon after I had gotten home. I expect Alma Jean had told him about my driving off, and he was the one designated to be sure that I was okay and hadn’t gotten hauled off to jail for driving without a license. My last one had expired twenty years ago. I didn’t even bother trying to renew. Who’d be fool enough to give me one?

I was glad to see Junior, though. I was excited about the hawk, and I wanted to share my discovery with someone else.

“That hawk we saw this morning, that’s a Cooper’s hawk,” I told him.

“Daddy…now, you’re just making that up, about the name, ain’t you?”

“No, no, it is, really, a Cooper’s Hawk, let me show you a picture.” I got out the encyclopedia, the C volume. I’d already marked the page with a piece torn out of Sunday’s newspaper, and I opened right to it, and showed him. “See.”

He squinted and looked at the picture, moved a bit to one side and then to the other, looking at it like the picture was going to change if he moved around.

“It didn’t exactly look like this,” he said, kind of embarrassed. I knew what he was thinking. The old man is getting a little fruity. That’s what they think, all the kids, but Junior was uncomfortable with my knowing that’s how they feel. “Course I didn’t get but a glimpse.”

“It’s a young one,” I tell him. “A male. They’re smaller than the females, it says here. And the coloration is lighter when they’re young, plus the eyes are yellow, and his were. They turn red as he gets older.”

“Cooper, huh?” he looked at the picture again, and then at me, sort of half-grinning, but his eyes serious. “So what are you trying to say, Daddy? You think this hawk is Daddy Adam, come back to you somehow?”

“I think it’s a Cooper’s Hawk,” I told him.

I know what the kids have been saying, I heard them whispering the day of the funeral, like they thought I couldn’t hear them, when I was pretending to be asleep. They’re wondering if it’s okay for me to be alone, if I might be “losing it” the way Elizabeth put it.

Hell, I’d already lost it, lost everything that mattered. But I didn’t want them fussing over me and I didn’t want anyone staying with me like a baby sitter, which was one of the things they’d been debating, and I sure didn’t want them carting me off to some home where I’d be side by side with old farts wetting their pants and women drooling on themselves, which Elizabeth had suggested. The home part, not the drooling.

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C. Zampa said...

God, that was beautiful.

Eric Spector said...

A masterful story from a master storyteller. You lose yourself in the world he creates.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

A nice but sad tale but leave it to Victor to provide with a little chuckle at the end. Nice ;)