Fiction by Megan Ayers

By the Signs

            I see them out of the corner of my eye: crows’ wings flailing and void-dark. Other times, a man’s body moving quickly against the fence line at breakneck pace. His shadow is long out of the frost-streaked window. There and then gone.

Last night, I dreamed I found one of the dog’s legs broken off in the bed. Bloodless but bone-shining, I squeezed the paw, knotting my fingers between his toes, still warm. He didn’t seem troubled by the loss, content to hobble at my side, still valiant, Little Blackie.

            More signs: the moon piercing my sleep; wormy potatoes; a smear of blood on the hard flesh of a gourd; a yolkless egg, its albumen milky and thick. The midwife tells me in hushed tones that it is all meaningless, but she presses a small totem into my palm and considers my eyes too long.

            I decide to not confess to John these signs. He will see evil and lower me to pray with him. He will be earnest, embarrassed, scared. He will ask about the baby.

            It has been so cold and I have no appetite. I do not sleep and instead, wait noiseless for the long snore of my husband. It comes quickly and I roll from the bed to wrap blankets over my underclothes. John’s boots and coat just near the door, I grab the rifle, stir the fire to ensure its health, and Little Blackie follows me out. The full moon above, together we walk the skeletal fields, my shadow humped and awkward with the pregnancy, and Little Blackie’s eager trot in silhouette, double-time beside me.

            We crunch through the furrows, and since it is my first, I fret over the child’s silence. It is so heavy in front of me, inside of me, pulling hard on all my secret inside places. It is a pain emanating out, swallowing days. I cry into my skirts, nested solitary in the barn or root cellar, alone and alone.

At dinner, John looks at me over the steaming bowls and does not speak. He slurps. He stares. He finds it hard to touch me in this state and shifts his weight uncomfortably in bed beneath our piled quilts. His mother dead six months’ prior, the grief seems to have infected us all. In my woman’s way, I thought news of the child would cheer him, and yet, we are trapped in our divided lives, our singular bodies rotating daily on some unseen, celestial axis.

            Outside and over acres of earth, there is a halo round the moon. I smell snow. Little Blackie hears a stirring in the faroff wood, pricks his ears and head to the sound, and stops. A snap of frozen forest floor stick and bramble, a low growl from some small motor inside him. The wind quakes the last leaves and three deer trespass with meek steps into the field. The dog looks to me to shoot, but we are rich in meat for the season, and I could not haul a doe’s carcass across the hillocked ground to the smoke house. It seems a sin, somehow, to take her life in the dark. From the wood, an owl rebukes.

            The dog and I walk on, breath pluming, the unnamed child carried ahead of us both, jutting in front like some unwieldy contraption whose necessity has yet to be discovered. Above, the cathedral of stars winking in the black, singing down to us from Heaven in tones our ears strain to decipher. And then, a further tightening across my back and belly, a flood against my legs and into John’s boots. I turn back toward the house, but it is disappeared into the dark distance.

            Little Blackie is at my feet licking the pool that is not birth fluid alone, but blood. Again, out of the corner of my eye, a flurry of feathers. I duck and swoon to the ground, cocooned in the quilts, but so hot that I shed their protective cover and my skin breathes the icy air. My gut twists, and I sweat. It is time and it is not time. I gulp and sputter, not finding words for this emptying ache. A claw. A dune. An underground hollow, close with screwed root and dark magic.

            Above, giant Orion and his own canine friends. Below, Little Blackie’s keen eyes ask questions I can answer only in dry whispers. The man again, racing across my periphery. The crows’ greasy wings in my eyes, my mouth.

            In the moon’s wan light, all is reflected in stark contrast: Dark wood to pale field; Little Blackie blinking an inky energy beside me to white blankets like snow drifts; seeping dark between my legs which grows with my confusion compared to the pallor of skin on my bone-thin arms. I turn to all fours and shoulder the quilts with a new chill. Around my lowered head circle the crows, and the man, racing, closer now. I can hear his quick step orbiting my excruciating gravity.

            As I crawl on the frozen dirt crumbling beneath my wet limbs, the pain’s waves begin to vibrate under my clothes, lifting me into the air, turning me over, pulling me into twelve parts, holding me up, setting me free. The crows close, I bear down and am gifted a rare-skinned slick, lovely and still, eyes like crescents of tropical moon, steaming sweetly and silent.

            Little Blackie intrudes to lick her free from the bonds of my body, and we sit swaddled in the moment before the crows carry us, unmoored, away.

           

Megan Ayers has been published in journals like Bluestem Magazine, EDGE, The Emprise Review, and Moon Milk Review. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and teaches writing in Cincinnati, OH, where she lives with her husband, three dogs, and too many ridiculous chickens.