By: Bill Gillard

The dream opens on a white sandy beach. Clear water. Completely colorless. The waves are smallish, like a harbor or bay, but the horizon is uniform, and boundless. I stand at the water's edge, feeling the soft, warm water splashing rhythmically against my ankles. The near shore is filled with people, all wading silently, like me. Strangely, it is almost dark, at least it seems near dusk. But the sun is directly overhead in the clear dark blue sky. It can muster only about a moon's worth of light, however.

My wife is on a towel, ten feet from the water's edge. Her knees are up, she is propped on her elbows. She is wearing the sun hat we bought when she was still in school, a good few years ago. The hat seems hardly necessary. She is waving toward me, silently, beckoning me. Becoming more insistent. Then she doubles up in pain, knees and feet toward her chest, chin to her breast. I run across the sand to her; it takes longer than I thought it would. By the time I arrive, she is surrounded by her old girl friends from high school and college, her mother, and her sister. I push my way through them and drop to my knees next to her.

"What's wrong?"

"It's time. It's time." She spits the words out through gritted teeth, and I am grabbed beneath the armpits by the other women. My wife screams, and I am spun out of the circle, back toward the water.

"Time for what?"

But suddenly I am back on the deserted, silent beach, my wife sleeping on the towel.

"Time for what?" I shake her awake.

"Time for a baby, beautiful. It's time. Let's go." She stands. From behind she is as skinny as ever. She turns and begins to shake out her towel, smiling at me, her abdomen huge with a late-term pregnancy.

"What baby? Are you pregnant? Why didn't you tell me? How come I didn't know, all of this time?" I grab her by the arm, stopping her from gathering our things. "Are you in labor? Do we have a doctor? A midwife?" She laughs quietly and turns to walk up the beach carrying most of our things.

Now we are in my childhood bedroom, I am crouched atop my old wooden dresser trying to get a better look at what is happening on the bed in the corner. My wife, surrounded by other women, writhes in pain, screaming for water (not for me), on her back, knees up, pressed to her chest, her chin buried into her breast. She is naked and sweating. Her friend from grade school sees me. She turns toward me, holding a towel soaked with blood, and tells me to go outside and throw it in the garbage. Her voice is calm, but it carries with it a tone of warning. Don't get too close to this, she seems to say. It is better if you stay away, she seems to say.

I wad the towel into a ball, trying to be of use, trying to puzzle out what is going on. I know the way to the garbage cans, of course, having grown up in this suburban house, and I turn left through the screen door. It is twilight, the air comfortable, the world silent.

Sitting perched on the old basketball backboard in our backyard is a huge gray shape. I stop, holding the bloody towel, to stare at this unexpected sight. It must an owl of some sort—I should know the names of at least some owls, right—and just then it breaks into flight. It glides above the house, momentarily disappearing over the roof, only to return, wings spread wide and strong, talons unsheathed, to attack. I crouch next to the garbage can, using it as a shield. It comes at me, batting its wings at the last second to avoid crashing into my head. I feel its feathers sweep by me and the firmness and fragility of its bones is combined with a good deal of weight.

I know for certain now that it is a gray owl. It turns in mid-air and comes down at me again, ready for the kill. I think calmly of the skull and bone crushing power of those talons. I think of the flesh-ripping, knife-sharp beak. I know my bare arms will be injured badly, but I put them over my head anyway, trying to protect myself in any way I can.

The owl hits me with all of its force, pouncing on me, much heavier than I thought it might be. It hits my forearm first, both talons. She is quick, deliberate, and overwhelmingly powerful.



Female, I don't know how I know it.

I feel the weight on her daggers, I can feel the bones in my forearm, now so fragile, as they are about to be shattered.

The soft wing feathers sweep by my face, almost gently, as the owl tries to maintain its balance. Her talons do not break my skin, however. Not even close. Instead, I feel something more like a firm handshake than anything else. After a moment, the owl takes off again, big wings lifting it up and out to the backboard where she lands and sits, looking down at me. I get to my feet and dust myself off, still not trusting the owl, and hurry back to the door. I open it and go inside closing it tight, sliding shut the deadbolt.

The bedroom crowd around my wife has thinned a bit and I recognize only a few of the ten or so women now in the room. I push past them to the bed. My wife is covered in sweat, still screaming, knees and chin to chest—now clearly in labor. I yell frantically, "Is there a doctor here? Are any of you doctors? Or midwives? Somebody get some help! She's going to die!" Strong arms pull me by one shoulder, spinning me away.

I turn, determined get back to her side, when I see the other bed in the room. It is the one my little brother used to sleep on. The blue plain sheets—again, the same old ones—are disheveled as if someone had slept and had gotten up without making the bed again. On the bed sits the owl, staring at me. I am about to yell in alarm, but then I see the windows. They are open wide, screens and all. I look from the windows to the group of women, some of whom are now staring at me menacingly. The owl has lost interest in me. She has resumed digging and pulling at something under the sheets, using her claws to hold it down.

"There's a dangerous animal in here! Somebody help—let's get this out of here!" But nobody moves. I rush over to the bed and grab the sheets, intending to throw them over the owl, gather the bundle up in my arms.

And that's what I try to do. In the process, however, I expose what it was that the owl was tearing at. A small, brown curly haired child, about one year old, lays dead in my brother's bed, naked, with small rips and tears on its face and chest. The owl had just begun to eat.

I throw the sheet with the owl inside out the window.

"There's a baby here! That owl killed a baby! Whose baby is this? We've got to find out!" I don't touch the child. I look closely, though. Its eyes are open, arms out to either side, surrendering. Small pieces of flesh hang in random places on its forehead and chest, but they don't amount to much at all.

I hear my wife scream, more like a keening screech, long and loud. As the door closes behind me, I arch my neck over the heads of the women to see my wife one last time, legs pulled wide apart and up, her face red and clenched in pain. The owl sits on the windowsill, looking at her intently. Strong arms grab me. They pull and push me away from the bed, through the door, and out into the hallway.

The door closes firmly.

I press my ear to the door; all is silence beyond.

I try the handle. Locked.

One more thing: the last glimpse I had of my wife was of her lower half, the inside of her thighs. The shoulders of the women in the room had parted briefly, and I saw my baby being born. Just the head was exposed at this early stage.

That's all I saw.

I didn't imagine my baby would be so smooth, round, and white.


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