You’re at work, like any normal day, and happen to look out the window as you head to the break room for a second cup of coffee. What you see makes you stop in your tracks: What is it?
It was a two-cups-of-coffee sort of day. This wouldn’t have been particularly impressive, aside from the fact that Jane’s mug could hold a pint of the black stuff. She added the lid to her mug and left the break room door open as she walked swiftly down the hallway back to her office. Jane usually felt that she must be completely absorbed in her job. She worried over looking up from her work on the chance that something more beautiful and engaging than spreadsheets and figures would attract her and take her away from her duty, unable to return. Her few moments of peace during the day were stolen often by looking at the sky out of the hallway window on the way back from the break room. Today, she looked out expecting to see nothing more than windswept clouds in the sky, when instead she stopped suddenly and stood still. There, on the gravely ledge that extended beyond the window, a large falcon was scraping the stones back to form a shallow impression. The bird’s feathers contained hues of subtle grays and its beak and eyes were outlined in stunning gold. Jane, afraid of startling it away, watched with bated breath even though she knew it could not hear her.
The evening of the same day found Jane at the Gallagher Rest Home. She sat in front of her grandmother Virginia’s chair, wiping yellow sleepy matter from the corners of her grandmother’s eyes with a warm cloth. She did not seem to respond to this, or to Jane taking a comb through her hair, smoothing out the mess of bed-hair until instead of a messy nest it appeared to be a cloud about her head with hues of silver and storm enmeshed. Jane sighed and stared into her grandmother’s face. She felt at a loss for what to do, for how to connect with her grandma.
“Do you want to go for a ride, Grandma Virgie?” she said.
Her grandma stared at her. “If you think that would be best,” she said after seeming to think about it.
Jane stood and began pushing the wheelchair towards the doorway of her grandmother’s room. Virgie reached out as they rode, almost like a child holding their hand out the window of a car on the highway. When they reached the door, though, Virgie grabbed onto the frame and held tightly.
“Let go, Grandma,” Jane said.
“If you think that would be best,” said Virgie, but she held on just as tightly.
Jane bent forward to try and release her grandmother’s hand. “You have to let go,” she said, now feeling tense.
“If you think that would be best!” Although her words were the same, Virgie’s voice now sounded anxious and angry.
Jane continued to try to pull her grandmother’s hand free. She briefly wondered if she would be stuck in this room, blocked from the doorway by an old woman’s death grip. “Come on, grandma!”
“Here, let me help you.”
Jane looked up when she heard the calm voice. One of the rest home staff came over and began speaking gently to Virgie, smiling brightly into her face chatting even though Virgie responded with the same phrase to every question. The girl somehow coaxed Virgie’s hands free from the doorway, then looked up at Jane.
“Go ahead and bring her through, now. Are you going for a walk together?”
“I think so,” Jane responded, flustered.
She took her grandmother for a quick ride through the halls, then returned her to her room where an aide was delivering a tray with dinner. That night, Jane went home and cried.
The following Monday at work, Jane stopped again to look out the window. There, the falcon nested, unmoved from her previous position while the wind occasionally rustled her feathers. As she watched, a second smaller falcon flew up to the ledge and the first falcon moved aside to allow the newcomer to take over the nest. As they switched places, Jane spied a clutch of four eggs – beige with dark red and brown markings – waiting in the scrape.
That evening at the Rest Home, Virgie was laying in bed, sleeping. Jane brushed her shoulder and called her name.
Virgie blearily opened her eyes and, without saying anything, closed them again. Jane quietly left the room.
“She’s very tired today, isn’t she?” Jane asked the aide, who was walking by at that moment.
“She is – we’ve let her stay in bed most of today,” said the aide.
“Did she eat, though?”
“No – it was hard for her to stay awake during the meal, so we put her back to bed.”
“Can someone give me a call tomorrow if she is still like this?” said Jane, concerned.
“I’ll let them know at the desk that you asked,” replied the aide while darting into a room over which a call light was blinking.
Jane had started to check on the falcons daily. Sometimes the male and sometimes the female was there, sitting on the eggs. Near the end of April, Jane decided to go outside and sit in the small park across the street from her office building during lunch. She didn’t feel like she could eat much that day. She saw a small rabbit sniffing around in a grassy area, nibbling at the green was starting to emerge. She watched it’s small nose wiggle and it’s little cottontail bounce in the air when suddenly it was tackled from above and a falcon stood on it’s dead body, wings spread wide.
“That food is going to help you and your children, isn’t it?” Jane said aloud, although she felt somewhat sick at the stomach. “The eggs need the warmth from your body.”
She stood and turned to go back to her office. As she was crossing the street, her phone rang and she answered it.
“Jane? This is Lisa, I’m a nurse from the Gallagher Rest Home. We would like to have you come in to discuss your grandmother – she’s not doing well. Could you come in sometime soon to talk about her options?”
A few days later, Jane found herself staring at the falcon in her scrape, but not really seeing her or the eggs. How could she have accepted hospice for Grandma Virgie? Wasn’t that giving up? Or was it really the best thing for her? How could she know what Virgie would have wanted? The falcon fluffed her feathers and settled down on top of her eggs. Then Jane was startled into attention by movement from underneath the falcon’s breast.
“Oh,” she said aloud. She stood closer to the window, her breath fogging the glass.
“Are they hatching?” came a voice from behind her. Jane looked up to see a woman from another office trying to peer through the window.
“I think so,” Jane replied.
“Oh my goodness,” said the woman, “I can see something moving around – look there’s a little bit of fuzz!”
Somehow the corridor filled with a handful of other people from the building and Jane left to go back to her desk, but found herself unable to concentrate. The sky was dark when she finally left her office and locked the door, but instead of heading straight to her car, Jane turned the other direction and headed over to see the falcons. The corridor was empty of people, so Jane stepped right up to the window. The female was nibbling at pieces of eggshell and the chicks flopping around the scrape, wiggling while their mother continued to sit on them. They looked so fragile, Jane was frightened for them, worried that even a gust of wind might blow them off the building to their deaths. Their mother, however looked unconcerned and confident as she kept them close to her.
As Jane watched, the tiercel flew up to the ledge and took over guardianship of the scrape while the female flew away from her mate and chicks to hunt.
Jane started to spend as much time with her grandmother as she could find. Virgie’s room become crowded with family members briefly stopping by to watch her sleeping, a large noisy oxygen compressor, and a Hoyer lift, but there were fewer than ever signs of Virgie in her room – no letters, no books; her personal furniture had to be put in storage to make room for all the medical equipment. Jane used a small green sponge on a lollipop stick to wet the inside of Virgie’s mouth, but her lips still looked cracked and her breath stank. Why do things have to happen so slowly and painfully? Jane thought.
Fewer people were present to watch the the eyases feeding as there had been to watch them hatch. The adult would bring some dead animal and tear it up, standing right next to (or occasionally and accidentally on top of) the young. Jane watched the ligaments stretch as the parent nipped a piece of bloody muscle with its beak and pull it away from the carcass. A piece would disappear into the parent’s mouth and then it would lean forward over the open mouths of the white downy babies to give them what it had. Jane was surprised how quickly the carcass would disappear, and when the chicks were sated, anything left was voraciously devoured by the parent.
As the weeks went on the chicks gained more feathers and started to look almost mangy; soon their down was all but gone and they looked sleek and glossy as they hopped about the ledge, fluttering their wings and feeling the air about them. Jane felt impatient to watch them fly, yet at the same time dreaded the moment that they would leave and not come back. She stood by the window one evening as one of them perched on the edge. It apprehensively bobbed its head around and walked back and forth. Finally, it took a great leap into the air. Its wings fluttered maddly and it landed – somewhat sloppily on another ledge below the level of Jane’s window. Jane tried to run down to a different floor to see if she could find it, but her phone rang and she stopped to answer it.
“Jane? I’m calling from Gallagher – Virgie has a fever tonight. It won’t be long, now. You may want to come see her.”
At the nursing home the center coordinator, the nurse, and a volunteer from the church were all in Virgie’s room. Virgie was sleeping, as she had been without ceasing for days, and the oxygen compressor worked noisily in the corner. Jane went to sit next to the bed, and the center coordinator put a hand on her shoulder.
“I think I want to be alone with her for a minute,” Jane said. “If that’s okay.”
The others left with a quiet “of course.”
“I’m here, Grandma Virgie,” she said, and held her grandmother’s hand, the skin so thin Jane thought she might injure her just by touching her. When did Virgie’s hair get so thin and lank?
Jane dozed off in the chair. She woke in the morning with the sun shining through the windows, and the first thing she noticed was that Virgie’s eyes were open. She started, jumping upright in the chair and leaning forward to see what her grandmother wanted. Only a second later, Jane realized that the eyes were unseeing, and despite the continued hiss-ahh of the oxygen compressor, Virgie was not breathing. Jane calmly stood up and walked to the nurse’s desk.
“She’s gone,” she said to the nurse sitting there.
Jane wasn’t sure how she did everything she had to do in the next few days – organizing the funeral, calling family members, collecting cards and potted plants, digging through pictures to find ones to put on display in the funeral home, as well as showering and sleeping and heating up meals. She went through each task diligently, as though it was her job, and graciously thanked each person at the ceremony for coming and sharing memories of Virgie.
The following weeks, she continued to go about in the same manner, working as though her life depended on it. She found herself unsure what to do with the empty time that used to be filled by visiting her grandmother, so she went to bed early and tried to ignore anything that she considered “trivial” or unimportant to her job.
Jane even stopped going to see the falcons, until one day – again, the last in the office – she turned around suddenly on the way to her car and walked as someone with a pressing purpose up to the window near the scrape. There was only one falcon there, among pebbles, molted feathers, and little pieces of bone and fur. He was still smaller than his parents, but not by much. Jane watched as he stood on the edge, looking down over the city bathed in the golden light of a setting sun. The young tiercel spread his wings and flew away from the ledge and out of sight.
Jane suddenly began crying – at first just one tear, then sobbing while gripping the window sill. It did not last long, but Jane felt somehow exhausted when she stopped. She slowly walked down the many flights of stairs to the ground level, thinking of the falcon – looping and soaring in the air – and of her Grandma Virgie in the pictures she had seen – dancing at her wedding with a smile on her face – and the two somehow merged into a fantasy in her mind of Virgie and the falcon dancing together in large circles, laughing excitedly. She shook her head clear when she reached the sidewalk, and instead of walking to her car, she crossed the street and turned down the block to step into a small coffee shop. The barista behind the counter smiled at her, making Jane’s heart warm more than her hands when she picked up her tea. Jane sat down at a table to watch the people around her, with no desire to look away.
She had the distinct feeling that she was looking at something incredibly beautiful.