This piece was inspired by a real event. I was standing under a tree near the road to The Bird Rescue Center with barn owl Garbo on my fist. A black rolls Royce came up the road and stopped next to where I was standing. The window rolled silently down and a gentleman with white hair, twinkling blue eyes, and a mischievous smile looked out at us. “Is this were I drop off an injured bird?” he asked. I pointed to the hospital building, and he drove off. The car reminded me of when I saw a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow glided up the drive to Villa Montalvo in Saratoga. The car was magical. It looked like it belonged to a different era, and I imagined a ball held in the manor. With birds, of course.
Garbo looked out the window of the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow as it glided noiselessly up the circle drive to the gracious manor. She sat, spine straight as she had been taught, and smoothed the skirt of her dress. Not a gown. She wore a dress cut just below the knee. Cream colored, set with beads, fringe along the hem. Her white hair was styled in a short bob with finger waves. Her feathered arms covered in long kid-skin gloves. She belonged in this car.
The car slowed to a silent stop and a liveried doorman approached. She lifted her arm so he could help her step into the evening light. She saw Phoenix standing on the portico and hesitated at his nod. She knew him by reputation only. A dangerous hawk. She held his glance for a moment and then graciously nodded back.
The manor itself was two story white stucco with a red tile roof. A double set of stairs let up the terraced lawns to a long, columned portico. Double doors flanked by gently arched windows stood open to welcome guests. Strains of a waltz whispered through the air as Garbo floated up the steps. It was early yet. The sky glowed with the dusky blues and purples of sunset.
In the high-ceilinged foyer, Garbo accepted a crystal flute of champagne from as passing server. Lifting the glass, she let the bubbles tickle her nares while her dark chocolate eyes scanned the ballroom that opened beyond. Couples circled and swayed, skirts swirling gracefully to “The Blue Danube” played by the orchestra. Garbo heard the clinking of glasses and the murmur of conversation as she made her way around the foyer. She nodded regally at casual acquaintances and stopped to talk with old friends. She waved at Poe and Jazz across the room. They made a striking couple; his all-black tails and her rich sable wrap that brought out the gold in her large eyes. Garbo scanned the room looking for Him. She knew he would be here. That’s why she accepted the invitation. There, in the corner, in white tails, silver hair brushed back, his onyx eyes bored into hers. Champagne wasn’t on his menu tonight. Nor were oysters or caviar. Garbo and her beau saw only each other. They met in the center of the room, circled, and soared out the open French doors into the fading light and the dark shadows of the tall fir trees behind the manor. A light breeze ruffled their feathers, bringing with it the dark secret scents of the night. They seemed to float up to the tops of the trees. Swooping, dancing. Flap, flap, glide, flap, flap, glide to the orchestra’s waltz. Finally hunting in the dark. Mating. Elegantly as only barn owls can.
Prior Giuseppe stood by a narrow window in the three-spired gothic priory and gazed at the graveyard below. His eyes were rheumy with age, but he could see the late afternoon sun burnish the tombstones and bathe the village windows in a golden glow as if they were lit from within. The mist that always swirled around the grounds obscured the pathway through the graveyard with its frigid blanket.
Giuseppe pulled his cowl over his head and shivered. Damp seeped through the priory’s brick walls and emanated from its stone floors. His bones were always cold these days. He shook back his sleeve and looked at the nearly translucent skin of his arm, sinewed and scarred from decades of tending his garden. His fingers were knotty and bent with arthritis. Before too many more full moons, he too would be planted in the graveyard.
His garden grew well this year. Last fall, he had painstakingly exhumed bones of saints from the crypt beneath the chapel and crushed them. He sowed them under the first new moon in spring, watered them, and weeded them until they sprouted. Skeletal arms and hands speared up in rows among the tombstones. They were nearly ripe. In three days, the Hunter Moon would rise, cold and white, and his crop would be ready to harvest. Sweet, crunchy saints’ fingers. Giuseppe’s mouth watered.
Raucous ravens cawed overhead. Circling, calling others to join. They, too, liked saints’ fingers. Giuseppe hitched up his robes and hurried down the stone steps into the graveyard. He picked up his rake and swung it overhead like a gaunt scarecrow shouting at the birds. “I’ll plant you next! These are mine! Stay away!”
As dusk settled, he walked among the rows of saints’ fingers chanting softly.
On the morning of the Hunter Moon, Giuseppe rose just before dawn. He brewed a pot of femur tea, then sat to eat his breakfast of toast and pâté made from the livers of supplicants. While he ate, he thought about the crop he would harvest as the moon rose.
At nightfall, Giuseppe gathered his trowel and basket. His steps were quick on the path. He breathed in the damp, earthy scent. The air was still, silent. Ravens perched along the graveyard fence and watched, waiting. With practiced movements, Giuseppe picked up his trowel and knelt beside the first skeletal arm. The brittle saints’ fingers rattled. The hair on Giuseppe’s arms stood straight and he paused to listen. A soft slither whispered from the earth. Roots stretched, then tendrilled to grasp his ankles and circle up his legs. Bony hands reached to pull him to the ground. “No!” his cry was muffled by the soil filling his throat. As Giuseppe drew his last ragged breath, the forearms of the saints’ fingers creaked and bent. Fingers pushed earth over his body and patted it smooth.
The ravens swooped down to enjoy the harvest.