When they said I could go back to her, I didn’t hesitate.
I had had a great love. Something most people can only imagine, or read books about. If Juliet was the sun, Sylvia was the supernova. She made me laugh. She challenged my ideas, respected my ideals. And she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
What I didn’t stop to listen for, were the conditions. I couldn’t go back as me—as Daniel—I had to be reborn.
That alone might not have stopped me. I might have lived on the fringes of her life, admiring her from afar. Our love could continue, just a step out of time, a step out of what it had once been.
Instead, the form they gave me was her greatest fear. My lovely, funny, beautiful Sylvia. My superstitious Sylvia.
I was reborn just a few neighborhoods away, in a tree. Or, I should say, in a nest. But the nest was undoubtedly in a tree.
Thankfully it was far from immediate, my memory of my past life as Daniel. It might have been hard to learn to fly if I’d had those human memories and inhibitions, no matter how strong my wings. But then as I flew, I saw things that rang complex notes in my mind. Stirred feelings I was not quite big enough to feel.
The first time I saw Sylvia, after, I nearly fell out of the sky, I was so stunned. It was a clear summer night, and she was dressed in white, reflecting the brightness of the moon. It was the sudden feeling of finding true north, of moths to electronic flame.
Because in the moment, as I remembered her and our beautiful life, I also remember her oddities and quirks, and her acute superstition.
I was an owl. To Sylvia, I was an omen. A harbinger of death.
In the coming weeks, I kept myself close to her and tried, in my limited capacity, to show her that I meant no harm. This didn’t stop her from fearing me. Instead, I could sense her growing even more afraid, more apprehensive. Soon she would emerge from her door with hooded eyes, watchful and wary. I realized, to my aching, that I would have to stop. I would have to leave her be. She could never be happy so long as I was near her.
Watching her was taking its toll on me as well. Owls are meant to live in the night, when Sylvia was sleeping.
So I went back to the sleep schedule I was meant to have, watching Sylvia through her window at night, keeping my distance during the day.
And then one day, in the cold of winter, I was fleeing from her, praying she hadn’t seen me, when I heard a yelp.
I spun in the air, only in time to see Sylvia fall. What it was, I couldn’t have said. A stroke? A seizure? I only knew she jerked and then was still.
Once again, I all but fell from the sky.
The sky that was already dusting Sylvia’s lovely form with snow.
There was no one near. No one to come to her aid. There was only me.
And I couldn’t leave her alone. Not like this.
I settled near her and spread my wing to protect her beautiful face from the frost falling from the sky. But I could hear her breath, light and shallow, and faltering, and I knew that it wouldn’t be enough.
So I screeched. She winced as I did, but didn’t stir. Her heart was starting to slow. I cried out again and again, until finally, someone came to investigate. A neighbor, elderly, retired, lumbered out of his house.
When he saw her, saw us, he gave a start, ran towards us, shooed me away to check on her. I shuffled a few feet away but stood watching. If she went, I wouldn’t know where or what she might end up as. If she lived, at least I knew that much.
The man touched her, shook her softly, then hurried back into his home. Soon help arrived, each new body urging me farther and farther from her side, until finally they bundled her into a big vehicle with flashing lights.
I tried to follow, but it was of little use. Once they got to the hospital I could hardly go inside.
Instead, I waited.
It took weeks, at least I think it was weeks, for her to come home. A little slower, with her sister in tow, watching her every move. Still beautiful.
I couldn’t help it, I gave a cry of joy. It probably sounded like a squawk.
Sylvia, my Sylvia, started, but someone must have told her the story of her strange guardian bird. Maybe several someones. Her eyes found me, and for the first time, she smiled.
This story was inspired by the lovely photograph by Katerina Plotnikova pictured above. Her Facebook page is linked above and is well worth a look.