We aren’t friends anymore, but I once stepped out of my woodland cottage—not my cottage, really; it was a sort of artist retreat, a weeklong affair—and saw her standing there between the green trees in her red cotton robe, the trees looking so much taller for how short she is, like they might be celebrating her smallness, this little cherry tomato, a grandmother who’s still perky enough to be the dot on their exclamation mark, and she was holding a tea kettle and staring up into their branches like she wished she could be one of them, and I was incapable of staying away. I stepped toward her and, noticing me in my blue pajamas—it was early morning yet—she held up her kettle (to hush me, I realized), and stage-whispered through the woods, Up there, look. I did as she bade me, turning just in time to see one of the brown branches ruffle its feathers. She gasped out loud and I inside myself. The owl was large as a dog, the forest’s pet, its guard animal, and it blinked slowly without looking back at us, as if it were still half-asleep. She broke her gaze at the creature to smile for me—we were friends then, good friends; she made me feel safe and I let her treat me like a rosy daughter come in from the cold to see her—and she said, Do you think we might be having the same dream? I looked back at the owl, abruptly uncomfortable, her robe was a bit open, and made no reply. She’s remarried now, still writes poetry, and she’s sent me pictures a couple times of her with her new family. It makes my heart jump like a mouse every time, seeing her email address. I don’t remember what it felt like to watch the owl swoop away from us, how its wings must’ve been as long as a man’s arms, a paintbrush of gold against the trees. Maybe I felt the breeze of it on my cheek, maybe she gasped again as it glinted and melted down into dappled sunlight, a dream. I remember it was my fault, though, how the owl bothered awake and flew away—my crackling footstep, a moment’s carelessness—and left the pair of us blinking in the woods alone, wondering that such a beautiful thing had come into our lives at all, even for so brief a time.
K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, MD. Her fiction appears in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, CutBank Magazine, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Tin House’s 2018 Winter Workshop for Short Fiction and of the 2018 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.