Jamie Etheridge

A barred owl gyres in the air above me. Soaring. A sweep, a whirl. Twhoo. Hoo. Hoo. It swings low. Gray sky. Rain-pregnant clouds. I’m thrilled by the unexpected—camouflaged flight.

Still, he is not here.

Dust storms. Rust-colored sand. A different country. A desert. I miss him, there.

He brushes my fingertips with his the morning of my departure. Our daughters cry. Their fresh, baby-plump faces pinch and pink with tears. He kisses the side of my mouth, his mother idly watching. I blink goodbye.

We fly up and away. Owls at early dawn, one last sweep of the ground. Breakfast on airplane trays. Daughter #1, air pods in, closes her eyes. Daughter #2, head on my shoulder, weeps.

The plane roars, a different kind of bird, a different kind of sky.

Goodbye, I whisper to the slack and soggy clouds. To our retreating life.

Now we are here. Live oaks and pine trees. California redwood listing to the right. We are humidity at 85% and dew-splattered windows at dawn. We are thousands of miles from the sand beneath his feet. The girls are bus stops. Classrooms. New friends. They wear Vans and shorts. Refuse to brush their hair.

The pandemic has been forgotten. Here, where he is not.

Here, where it rains every afternoon. Where the grass sticks wet, clinging to bare feet. Where I sleep each night alone.

In the morning, the phone rings: “Hello, sweetheart. Miss you.”

We planned for this—this temporal disjointing, dislocation from one country to another. I’ll go first, trace a path across the sky, into the grass. He will, eventually it is hoped, follow.

But transitions are never easy. They do not respect straight roads or timelines. They arc and twist, dip and whirl. They blur. Are indeterminate and sometimes, interminable.

It will be months or years or eons before we meet again. A lifetime of cold coffee and solitary walks, of missed video calls and two time zones. We do not know when this separation will end. So we wait for maybe, impatient, holding each other, and ourselves, in abeyance.

I remember the ghost of his fingertips, brushing mine.

Here, the owl swoops. The air is hers. The pleasure of movement, of wind, and the smell of fresh-cut grass, pine needles wetted. Joyous, aerial autonomy. She glides.

Then I hear a second owl. Alone. In a tall Mexican cypress, hoot hoot hooting. Her lover? Her friend? Her lifelong companion?

Did she know that partings cut like a sharp, cold wind, slicing through the soft nest of her winter feathers? Did she consider the risk of leaving? Of what might be severed and never joined again?

All evolution is fraught, I realize. We are liminal. Uncertain. Each moment a leap of faith into the next.

His fingertips against my lips. I haven’t forgotten.

Owl #1 lands on a quivering branch, high up in a winter-bared oak. She ‘twhoo hoo huas’– calling to her partner in flight.

Translation: “Over here. I am waiting.”


Jamie Etheridge is CNF editorial assistant for CRAFT Literary. Her creative writing can be found in Anti-Heroin Chic, Bending Genres, Essay Daily, Identity Theory, JMWW Journal, Reckon Review, X-R-A-Y Lit and elsewhere. She is a Fractured Lit Anthology II prize winner and was a finalist for the Kenyon Review Developmental Fellowship in creative nonfiction. Visit her website at LeScribbler.com or on Twitter @ Lescribbler.