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Through the Snow at Night
She lived in a house on top of a hill that nobody visited at night. She had long, flowing white hair and her skin was old and longed to rejoin the earth from which it was made. Her eyes were a startling blue color. Her movements were more creaky than graceful, her look more scathing than sweet.
She had a daughter who visited her every summer. But their conversations were not long. There was much that the old woman didn’t like about the world. There was much that she had cut herself off from. Her daughter brought a laptop and a month’s supply of coffee. The noise between them was the clicking of keys, or the clicking of needle against needle as the woman knitted herself a scarf.
This was not the summer. It was chilly outside, and a thin layer of crystalline snow was scattered across her front porch as though every snowflake had been purposefully put into place by angels. She sat her still-steaming mug of tea down, and the snow underneath melted into a puddle.
In the dark, she heard an owl’s song cry out. She knew which owl it was, for this owl had returned to her every night in the winter for the last thirty years. The feathers around its small body were glossy and shiny. It was missing one of its front feet. The creature cooed again, the sound rolling over the woman’s body like the soft beating of a drum. She almost recognized the drum beats from her ancestors, from so long ago.
She stepped through the snow. Her feet were bare. She was the last person she knew who could do this; her daughter had stopped long ago, and her husband had died at a young age. She had been alone in shedding her skin for years now.
She shakily raised her feet onto the bench. Then, higher. She stepped up onto the railing, her feet ice cold as she left her mark in the snow. She dropped her robe and was naked, standing on her porch railing, looking down a hundred feet towards the side of a mountain. She closed her eyes and leaned forward. She allowed herself to fall.
Her wrinkles became feathers and her face sharpened into a beak. Her feet shifted into talons as she chose tonight’s form, an owl. She shook out her arms and she closed her eyes and she savored the feeling of freedom that came with knowing how to fly. The cold winter wind whipped around her body, and she leaned into the truthful cruelty that was nature. This was sheer independence. This was true freedom. This was how humans were meant to be.
As usual, the owl that came in the winter was now understandable. “Please stop, please don’t do this. You might not come back. There will be no more humanity left within you if you go. You might not-”
But she didn’t listen, and she flew off into the night. Night, after night. She whipped through the air, she swallowed mice whole. She picked up fox cubs off the ground and snapped necks with talons like razor blades. She was free. And she almost always returned home.
One summer, her daughter came to visit, and walked into an empty cabin. She swatted away cobwebs and walked out onto her mother’s porch with a sadness and acceptance both swirling around in her head. Dead crickets lined the stairs where bugs had invaded the house in the spring.
“Oh, mother.” She sighed, wiping the dust off of the oakwood kitchen cabinets, off of the seemingly ancient fridge. A picture she had drawn when she was younger hung on the fridge, the crude crayon reminding her of her own daughter. She had freshly moved out of the home. The woman’s hand traced along her own drawing, a kind of nostalgia in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was soft. “It’s my turn, isn’t it?”
Nothing answered, but she could feel the song of the sky rattling deep within her bones. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath before she pulled away from the fridge. She walked back to her things and picked them up, the cracked leather of her suitcase digging into her hands. At least she felt like she had done some good in the world. She had been celebrated during her own time.
She walked up their old, creaky stairs and into her mother’s room and placed her suitcase, gently, onto her new bed.