Merlin Falcon

Kelle Schillaci Clarke

It’s not our usual market, but we find ourselves at the Quality Food Center for chicken breasts and peas on our way home from couples’ therapy, a good hour past our normal dinner time. Charlie, our only child, is even more quiet than usual, and has been since we picked him up from the sitter’s. Derrick drops us off in front of the store, and we dodge the rain and duck through the automatic doors while he parks the car.

Once inside, Derrick beelines to the jerky samples in the deli, while Charlie runs his finger along the glass in front of Panda Express’ eggrolls and greasy lo meins, leaving a meandering line in the steam.

“This one’s too sweet,” Derrick says to the man in the apron cutting strips of dried beef, turkey, and pork into mouth-sized bites. “This one has more heat, a chewier mouth-feel,” he says, as if he has to earn the samples by offering pretentious critiques; as if we hadn’t just ripped each other’s guts out thirty minutes prior. I can’t even think about eating, but he says it’s important for Charlie that we eat dinner together during this time.

I see it first, a rush of blurred wings in my periphery, but it’s Charlie who calls it out.

“Bird!” he yells, nearly tripping over his high-top dinosaur-print Converse while trying to track the winged creature as it cuts a low figure-eight through the produce. He knows birds evolved from theropods, the same group of meat-eating dinosaurs that included Tyrannosaurus Rex, his favorite. Birds are the closest link we have to his beloved prehistoric creatures. This one—a Merlin Falcon, we’ll later learn on the nightly news—must have swooped in through the automated doors shortly after we’d arrived, attracted perhaps by the store’s light; its warmth and dryness.

Charlie gasps as the bird swoops dangerously close to a steaming bin of Orange Chicken, nearly grazing the Kung Pao Beef before spreading its wings and taking flight into the rafters. Its large talons slide on a metal bar until he’s able to find a delicate balance, surrounded by a scattering of helium balloons that have slipped from kids’ loose-fingered grips and are now trapped up there until their monatomic gasses deplete.

None of us knows what to do.

“Five!” Charlie yells, spotting a giant mylar balloon in the shape of his age.

“It shouldn’t be in here,” I say to no one, watching the falcon, feeling panic grow in my chest as the bird spreads its wings, still clinging to the bar, the screech of its talons against metal reverberating across the store. “Someone needs to help it get out.”

My husband stands holding a piece of jerky in each hand, staring blankly.

When you do nothing…I feel like I have to do everything;

When you refuse to take charge…I feel unsafe, unsettled, uncared for;

When you stand there chewing jerky…I feel fury, rage, and sadness.

A man rushes from over the bakery, swinging a pair of French baguettes. “Someone trigger the door. I’ll guide him out!” he says.

No one points out how short he is, how high the bird is, or any other myriad flaws in his plan. At least he has one, I think. At least he’s trying to control what happens next. The rest of the shoppers stare for a moment, then return to trolling the aisles, consulting lists and filling carts as the storm outside grows stronger.

The baguette guy stations himself at the automatic door, stomping on the motion pad each time it begins to close. Derrick gnaws on jerky, staring upward. Charlie uses chubby fingers to count wayward balloons.

“Animal control is sending someone,” says a man approaching the deli, wearing the same maroon shirt as the sample guy, but also a belt-clipped walkie-talkie, a ring of keys, black shiny shoes. Managerial. “But let’s shut this down for now,” he motions to the meat, making me wonder if it was the jerky that had attracted the bird in the first place.

“You and your family are safe to continue shopping,” he turns to me, as if it’s my family’s safety at risk.

It doesn’t feel right, filling a cart with a wild animal trapped overhead.      

“Where’s its mom?” Charlie asks, grabbing my hand, anxiously.

“Waiting for him outside, I bet,” I say. “They’ll get him out soon.”

Derrick stands by the empty jerky table, looking at his phone-list and debating which way to go: chicken or peas.

The falcon makes a sudden move, dropping low and flying a wide, panicked circle over the cashiers, making them duck and yell out. He’s disoriented, unable to find a place to land, despite the baguette guy waving loaves like batons, like an air traffic controller attempting to guide the bird safely down the runway, through the automated doors, through which all the bird can see is darkness.

“He misses his family,” Charlie says, his gaze trained on the falcon as it makes a sharp, low turn, disappearing down the frozen food aisle. “Will he get the ice-cream?” His eyes widen, his concern transferring from the bird to the fate of his favorite dessert. But the bird keeps flying, pivots in the air, can’t stop flapping wings.

“It’ll be okay,” I say, not knowing for sure. I squeeze his hand and rush him to the door, pulling his small body past the jerky-sample-guy, the walkie-talkie manager, the baguette waver, and into the rain.

In the end, the falcon finds its own way out, before animal control arrives. I watch his adventure on the video shown on the nightly news, captured by an amateur ornithologist who identified its species by its compact build, talon size, and the blue tag on its leg. I press pause and stare into the grainy background, finding my family there, frozen wide-eyed in the deli section, each of us staring blankly upward, waiting to see what happens next.

Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a Seattle-based writer and journalist with L.A. roots. Her recent work has appeared in Barren Magazine, The Citron Review, Ghost Parachute, Mothers Always Write, and Pidgeonholes. She has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but is happy to now call the rainy PNW home, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She’s on Twitter @kelle224.

Photo on Visualhunt

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