One Breath Moments

She had the body of a heron now, but her soul was still human. It was his fault, really.

Before he started coming around the garden, she was aware only of the physical. The glint of the koi and the way they wiggled in her bill when she swooped down for the kill. The feeling of power when she flew over waters sparkling with sunrises and sunsets, filled with fish all hers for the taking.

The names of these things didn’t matter then. Whether they were fish or lizards or dragonflies or salamanders, they were all food.

But one day the man came to the Japanese Garden in the middle of an American city and things changed. She remembered.

It was late afternoon, and the first orange rays of the setting sun reflected in the water, matching the colors of koi, variations of reds, oranges, blacks, yellows, and whites swimming beneath the clear surface. Focusing on an orange and white fish as she started her dive, she saw his face in the water under the red moon bridge. And, she did something she’d never done before as a heron. She missed.

“Kraak.”

His reflection was broken by the splash she made, but the awareness had hit her with the coldness of a lake filled with snow runoff. He had been her husband.

And she was now a great blue heron.

Memories flooded into a much smaller brain than she used to have, thoughts of another life, a different life, one less consumed with finding food and surviving one more day. His hair was grayer now than it was when she was alive in his world, but the same piercing blue eyes contemplated the world around him as if everything and every detail mattered. Even her, now just a giant bird, circling wordlessly around him before fleeing to the top of a nearby magnolia.

Allen had a small notebook in his pocket. He always did. If she had a human voice she would have laughed at the haiku he was probably writing about her.

spring sunset
the great blue heron dives
and misses

She watched him from her tree-top perch as he wrote in his notebook. Her gaze didn’t waver, as if he were a fish she watched for the right moment to quickly snatch out of the water. Eventually, the man who had been her husband pocketed the notebook, turning to walk away. She watched him until he faded from sight. Then she efficiently plucked the orange and white koi out of the pond and flew off into the night.

—§—

Spring perfumes the air in April with youth and the promises of new life. Allen felt younger and more alive than he’d felt in years as he watched Joyce shake the blue-black glossiness of her hair back over her shoulder and open her haiku notebook at the water’s edge. There was a small gathering of poets in the garden, but the intimacy of the setting made up for the lack of numbers.

As Joyce’s words and images began a musical dance in his imagination, he felt sparks of new life in that part of him which had been dead for so many years. Irises bloomed in the water by the zig-zag bridge, and he knew that his heart finally crossed over to that place beyond mourning. Joyce sparkled as she read and Allen allowed himself to fantasize, enjoying the cadences of her voice, the curves under her sweater and wondered if she was single…

Allen’s mind drifted with the pond koi, dreamily under the surface of the day. Suddenly, a great blue heron swooped down from the sky, a splash interrupting an increasingly erotic reverie with drops of cold water. Reality returned with a jolt as he watched the heron rise from the angry ripples of the once tranquil pond with a flopping koi in its sharp, spear-like beak. The fish was as thick as a man’s forearm and almost a foot and a half long. The heron loomed larger than life, so close to the shore that it seemed to be performing for the gasping audience. Joyce hesitated mid-word, unsure exactly what had happened behind her. She turned around to look, but the moment was gone.

A movement in the sky caught his eye. It was the heron, circling back. For some inexplicable reason he thought of his dead wife. “Melissa,” he thought, “if you are out there somewhere, please don’t be jealous. I need to live again.”

As if in answer, a second pair of wings followed the first.

—§—

“Ar.” A larger heron, beautiful with a gray upper body, neck streaked with white, black and rust-brown, with a male’s puffy plume of feathers behind its head, snapped its bill together and moved towards her, flirting overtly in the manner of birds.

It was the season for nests in trees by lakes, rivers, and marshes. The time for pale blue eggs.

Even as her bird body responded, Melissa completely forgot her name and her human past. She flew off with this season’s mate.

Ω

Deborah P Kolodji  Deborah P Kolodji's website is the President of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and a member of the Haiku Society of America. She also moderates the Southern California Haiku Study Group, which meets monthly at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. Her work has appeared in Modern Haiku, Strange Horizons, Tales of the Talisman, Mythic Delirium, Frogpond, bottle rockets, and Chicken Soup for the Dieter’s Soul.

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