“We’re sorry, Miss Blackquill.”
Simon was thirteen years old when he accidentally broke his mother’s lucky pendant: a charm in the shape of a dove. He had lifted the delicate necklace off her dresser to admire it and his clumsy adolescent hands had let it slip between his fingers. He heard the clink of glass as the pendant shattered before his eyes absorbed what had happened. His mother’s kind forgiveness did not assuage the sense of foreboding that filled his heart.
So when the police appeared at the door a few days later, Simon wasn’t surprised at the news. His parents had been on their way to the airport when a truck leapt over the divider and into their lane. They never stood a chance.
“We’re sorry, Miss Blackquill,” the officer slowly repeated.
Simon watched his sister nod as she took in the news. Just one hour ago she found out that her application to the GYAXA Space Center had been accepted. Now their parents would never know.
There were a lot of papers to fill out, arrangements to make. First there would be the visit to the hospital with the authorities. Relatives living abroad had to be notified. Preparations had to be made with the local temple for the memorial. The cemetery needed to be contacted. Even after all that, there was still the matter of the estate. Aura flitted in and out of the house on her somber errands instead of celebrating her newfound job, her letter of acceptance lying forgotten on the gray tiles of the foyer.
Simon was alone with his thoughts all the while. He found nothing unusual about his solitude; after all, it was a fact of life in the Blackquill household. Their parents were frequently away on business trips as they grew up and Aura had busied herself with after school club meetings and friends. Simon quietly read history novels and lost himself in samurai dramas—jidaigeki—and cartoons when he wasn’t attending martial arts lessons.
Life flipped like a light switch when their parents were in town, however. On those days, the evening hours would come and the siblings gathered to lie in wait like a pair of fledglings for their parents to arrive. Their mother and father would show up well past dusk, tired but all smiles at the sight of their children, and they would spend a few precious hours in each other’s company. The siblings had no one to wait for now.
Even several days after the funeral, Simon was still alone—still felt alone. In the mornings after Aura left for work, he stared at the news commentaries slotted in regular intervals in memoriam of his parents’ accomplishments on TV. His teachers didn’t question Aura when Simon was absent from school and his sensei didn’t send any inquiries when Simon didn’t show up to train. His friends didn’t call, either. They all knew what had happened to the two politicians who had died in a tragic accident. It’s been several days, and Simon could still hear the tinkle of the little dove as it shattered.
“Staying home again?” Aura asked one morning. She gently placed a hand on Simon’s mop of jet-black hair as he sat on the couch. Another news segment about their parents was on. Aura stared at her little brother for a moment; only thirteen, yet already as tall as she was, and would be much taller by the time his adolescence came to an end. Only thirteen. When Simon didn’t answer, Aura quietly shrugged on her blue GYAXA jacket, picked up her bag, and left. The clock’s insistent ticking on the mantle and the newscaster’s voice diffused through the empty spaces of the house.
His sister’s voice hadn’t roused him from his thoughts, and neither did the news. The sound of the little dove shattering resounded in his head and only when he heard a scream several minutes later did Simon finally turn his head. Hesitantly, he stood and slowly made his way towards the patio to investigate. The form of a hawk with its wings spread wide met his eyes as he peeked through the curtains. It was a beautiful creature, feathers glistening in the light of the morning sun, eyes sharp and trained on Simon’s sudden movement through the glass door.
Simon stared back at the hawk, his gray eyes questioning and plaintive. With a single beat of its wings, the hawk rode the wind current upwards and it rose out of view. Simon pressed his unruly hair against the glass as he craned his head in an effort to trail the curious bird, but the hawk was already out of sight. Only when he heard it screech again did he know it was still there, soaring somewhere high above him.
For the first time in days, Simon didn’t feel so alone.
Another week passed and it was April. The phone calls finally started to come in and Aura couldn’t avoid the subject of her brother’s absence from school any longer.
Simon went to school the next day, if only to exchange the cold comfort of the television for the austerity of the library. The corner of the library was musty and quiet and it was where Simon found what he was looking for. He grabbed every book he could find on hawks: eating habits, lifespan, motifs in literature. In a particularly dusty book he learned about takagari, the practice of falconry amongst the Japanese nobility of old. His finger traced a line on a page as he read about the animals that hawks preyed upon: rabbits, mice, squirrels. He checked out all the books and left the library as cherry blossom petals showered down upon him in the spring breeze. His classmates watched with curiosity as the quiet boy walked home.
Juggling the books, Simon fished the house key from out of his pocket and thrust it into the lock, but was stopped by a familiar scream. He looked up and found the hawk floating in wide circles over the house, just as it had been doing for the past week. Simon smiled and rushed in, hurriedly placing the books on the coffee table before throwing back the curtains and leaping out onto the porch.
The hawk was there, floating above the expansive green field that bordered Simon’s house. The hawk was there and Simon was transported back to a time when the samurai fought for their lord and kept the peace in an age of war. Every jidaigeki he had ever watched came to life before him, every story made material.
The hawk beat its wings and soared higher into the air. Simon’s eyes followed it until a speck out of the corner of his eye ripped like a bullet towards the hawk. The speck turned into a second hawk as it drew closer, and Simon’s breath caught in his chest. The new hawk was smaller than the first and it swept in, beating its wings rapidly as it danced through the current. Another beat took it up high above the larger hawk, where the smaller hawk would twist and suddenly plummet back down to Earth. Much to Simon’s relief, the larger hawk ignored it.
The dance continued for some time. When the larger hawk deigned to acknowledge the smaller hawk, it was to nip at it or to screech in warning. Simon tore his eyes away from the spectacle and rushed into the room. He flipped through one library book, then another, and another until he found the passage that explained it all.
—Adult male hawks are typically smaller than female hawks; this dimorphism is commonly observed in most birds of prey.
Simon blinked and turned to stare out the window. The screeching had stopped and both birds were now circling each other.
—Courtship begins in the spring. The pair will circle each other.
Simon placed the book down and walked back onto the patio. He watched the hawks as they circled upwards, riding the current as their courtship spiral tightened. They suddenly locked their talons together.
—If the courtship is successful, the new pair will grip each other’s talons and plummet towards the ground from great heights.
The pair fell at a dizzying speed. Simon held his eyes open lest a single blink caused him to miss their rapid descent to Earth. They twisted through the air with their wings closed, clutching each other close. At the last second, the pair detached. Their wings caught the wind and they were pulled upwards once again. Their daredevil courtship was complete.
The tension left Simon’s shoulders. He shakily exhaled as the new pair flew off across the green field towards the forest at the far end. He watched them until they were out of sight, and even after then he stayed as the sun set across the field. The green grass turned silver in the late afternoon light.
Aura came home at her usual time. She always came home in time for dinner these days. Before their parents died, Aura came and left as she pleased. Now he could set a clock by her schedule.
She was quiet as she set the carryout container on the counter. Simon didn’t mind that Aura didn’t cook all the time; she wasn’t a bad cook, but she wasn’t a great cook, either. She’d brought back food from Whet Noodle again. Their parents had been fond of the restaurant.
“I think I met someone at work today,” Aura said during dinner, her chopsticks poised above her bowl. She had hardly touched her food. The broth had stopped steaming long ago.
Simon paused with his chopsticks in his mouth. He slowly turned his gray eyes to his sister.
Aura met his eyes. After a moment, she turned away with a soft glow on her cheeks, a smile slowly creeping along the corners of her lips. “Someone special.”
Simon continued to stare. He wasn’t quite sure why his sister had chosen to share that information with him, but as he lay down for bed later that evening, he decided it made sense. It was spring, after all.
—When a hawk chooses a mate, they stay together until death. Hawks mate for life.
It was the middle of May when Simon stopped hearing the screams, and the sound of the dove shattering quickly rushed in to fill the void. One night before bed, Simon realized he hadn’t heard the familiar screech all day. The next day, he flipped through his library books to find out how long it takes for hawk chicks to fledge and learned they were only about two weeks old at the most by this point—much too young to survive on their own. On the third day he panicked.
Over the past few weeks Simon had gotten used to seeing the smaller male hawk perched on top of his house. The hawk usually spotted Simon first as he returned home and he would send out his familiar screech across the neighborhood. Simon imagined it was like a vassal heralding the return of a samurai lord to his lands; in reality, Simon knew that he was the guest in the hawk’s territory. Either way, the males regarded each other with silent respect. Simon did his homework and read his history books while the hawk hunted the field for prey to bring back to the nest.
Aura would return home and the pair would have dinner while the hawk returned to his family. The days continued in this fashion and Simon felt some comfort in its familiarity. What discomforted him, however, was Aura’s countenance. She was tired these days.
“Dr. Cykes and I are working on robots,” she told Simon over dinner one evening. She gave him the same tired smile his mother and father would give them when they came home from work. “These robots will be able to sense emotions just like a regular human can.”
She was losing weight, Simon could tell. The events of the past few months had stressed her and she had too much to do. Between settling his parents’ estate, establishing herself in her career, and taking care of him, her health was declining. She was too young to be a single parent to him. She would never admit it, however. Simon turned his eyes away and quietly ate his food. Aura turned in to bed early.
On the third day after the familiar screech had gone missing, the sound of his mother’s pendant breaking on the floor in front of her dresser filled his mind. He arrived home and found the rooftop empty once again. His chest burned as he let himself into the house and he flung the curtains open. The sky above the silver field behind his house was empty. Ominously empty.
Simon struggled to fight the panic down as bile rose in his throat; his head pounded as the sickeningly sweet sound of glass breaking filled his mind and suddenly the police officer was at his door all over again, red and blue lights flashing in the background and alerting the neighborhood of their misfortune, the officer apologizing to his sister as the letter of acceptance slips from her fingers and flutters to the floor and he apologizes again when she doesn’t respond—
something must have happened
they’re good parents they would never
Simon left the house with nothing but his keys and a small flashlight lashed to his wrist, only pausing long enough to leave a terse note scrawled and tacked to the refrigerator door. He looked out beyond the large field at the forest where the hawks had made their nest. The forest beyond the silver field was far and he had no idea where the pair had made their home. It was already 4:30 in the afternoon.
Aura would understand.
Simon set out. The grass was thick and the further he waded into the sea of silver, the taller and thicker it got. Small animals scurried away from his feet, which had already outgrown the shoes his mother had bought him for Christmas. He would have to ask Aura to take him shopping when he got back.
Aura, I don’t want to be a bother.
Eventually the tall grass gave way to a floor of pine needles and saplings. It took him longer than he thought it would to walk to the edge of the forest; the sun was already sinking behind the tall pines. It was getting dark. He clicked on his flashlight and hesitantly stepped into the old pine forest.
The eaves of the old pines obscured the little light left in the day and Simon tripped over rotting logs and fallen branches. His shoes, which were much too tight, had given him blisters during his long walk; he felt a sharp pain every time he errantly kicked a boulder or stumbled. His hair, which had grown much too long, was damp with sweat and stung his eyes. His mother had always reminded him when it was time to get a haircut. That time was long past.
He swept away his bangs and shone his flashlight into the trees. There was no sign of the nest and he didn’t get one until half an hour later, when a sliver of sunlight that cut through the trees revealed a bundle of feathers at the foot of a large pine. Simon quickly shone his flashlight on the remains of a dead hawk, its eyes clouded and its beak slightly open. It was the male. There were large gashes across his abdomen.
Without a word, Simon turned his flashlight up into the tree. The lower branches were thick with needles but the tree was sparse up above, and Simon could just barely make out the outline of a large bundle of sticks. It was the nest. Turning his flashlight back to the dead hawk, Simon finally understood. Most likely, a raccoon had attacked the nest. Most likely, the chicks were already dead.
He grabbed the lowest branch of the tree. Without looking back, he started his long ascent. The tree was tall, his shoes were ill fitting, and it was a dangerous climb. Simon didn’t care. He had to see for himself. He had to put an end to the sound of glass shattering in his head. One way or another, it was going to end.
Aura, don’t worry about me.
It was hard to climb at first. The branches were spaced far apart and for the first time Simon appreciated his lankiness. It became easier to reach the branches the higher up he climbed, but the branches creaked and groaned in protest under his weight. It didn’t deter him, however; the sound of glass breaking rang louder in his ears than the creaks of the branches and the pounding of his heart, and so he continued to climb until he reached the nest. And then he stopped.
The first thing he saw was the female hawk. Her wings were still spread wide over the nest in a vain effort to protect her precious brood. Her feathers, glossy and sparkling in the morning light only weeks before, were broken and dull in death. Blood dotted her beak and face where she had supposedly ripped at the intruder, but there was no sign of the chicks. It was a seemingly ignominious death for such a noble creature.
And in that instant, Simon was alone again.
Sunlight faded and he sat quietly perched in the tree next to the large hawk. He sat like that for some time, and when the stars started to glow overhead he finally clicked on his flashlight. Aura was undoubtedly home by now. By now, she was probably starting to worry. By now there was nothing more he could do and there were no more answers to be found, so he began to lower himself for the long descent—
—when a plaintive chirp stopped him.
Simon quickly shone his light on the nest and there it was, a fuzzy thing wriggling under the large wings. He gently lifted the body of the dead hawk and found one chick, beak wide open and scrambling out from underneath the parent that had given her life to protect it, and Simon cried as he scooped it up in his hands. He didn’t realize he was crying at first, and when he finally did, the tears flowed even harder. The chick had been all alone all this time, had been waiting for someone to hear it, to take care of it. They had both been alone, waiting.
Simon wiped his eyes across his sleeve and carefully placed the chick inside his shirt, where its tiny talons clawed at the soft skin of his stomach. Simon winced, but he lowered himself onto a branch where he winced again from the pain in his feet. He lowered himself slowly, fully cognizant of the cargo in his clothing, but he didn’t notice the rustling in the lofty boughs above him and he didn’t hear the growl of the raccoon as it leapt at him.
Aura, I'm sorry.
The branches snapped and he fell. It took a long time to fall back down to Earth, unlike the hawks’ spectacular courtship dance so many weeks ago. He was vaguely aware of the raccoon tumbling alongside him and he instinctively wrapped his hands around his precious cargo instead of grasping at branches like he ought to have been doing. It wasn’t much longer until his back and his head struck something hard and he—
was there again in his parents’ bedroom, staring at the broken dove on the floor, the delicate silver necklace laced between the glass shards. He looked up and saw his mother coming into the room, her eyes focused on the broken remains of her pendant.
Simon’s face fell. He knew the story behind the dove-shaped pendant. His father had given it to his mother on their first date.
“It’s a lucky pendant,” he had said with a laugh.
She had looked at him with a twinkle in her gray eyes. “Lucky for whom?”
He had laughed even harder. “Oh, dear. I can tell you’re a handful already.”
And lucky it had proven to be. His mother had recounted countless stories to him as she tucked him into bed, drawing the covers up to his neck and gently tousling his mop of hair. She had many stories that attributed her luck to the little dove pendant: she was lucky to have escaped a broken leg while skiing. Lucky to have won the election for state senator. Lucky to have married their father. Lucky to have had two beautiful children.
Simon turned his eyes to his mother as he handed her the silver necklace. —I’m sorry.
Despite her disappointment, his mother smiled. —It’s all right, Simon. It was an accident.
Simon’s breathing quickened as his nerves were wracked with guilt. —But Dad gave you that pendant. It’s your lucky dove.
Simon’s mother smiled and she reached up to wrap him in a hug. He was already as tall as she was.
—I don’t need a lucky dove….
She pulled away from him and looked into his gray eyes, as gray as her own.
—…When I have a hawk right here to watch over me.
Simon closed his eyes. —I’m too young to watch over anyone. I can’t even watch over myself.
His mother clicked her tongue. —You’ll grow strong. You’ll grow up, and when you do, you’ll be strong enough to protect so many others. You’ll see, his mother said, a smile touching her voice. —Now open your eyes.
Simon’s eyes stayed shut. If he opened them, she would leave again.
—Open your eyes, Simon. Open your eyes.
Eventually, reluctantly, he did as she asked.
His eyes fluttered open, and Aura was there. His head throbbed.
“Simon,” Aura whispered. She bent over and gently wrapped him in a hug. “You’re awake.”
Simon looked around the room. It was white, sterile. He was in a hospital. Tubes protruded from his forearms.
“You’ve been out for two days,” Aura said. She walked to the window and opened the curtains as Simon gingerly sat up. “The doctors were confident that you’d wake up. I’m glad they were right.”
It was night and moonlight poured into the room. Simon sat quietly as Aura told him how she and the police found him under a tree next to a dead raccoon. She told him he was lucky that the boughs of the old pine tree had buffeted his fall.
The fall. Simon clutched his stomach and opened his mouth to ask about the small chick when Aura held up a finger.
“I have your friend right here.” She picked up a large box that had been sitting on a chair. She opened the lid as she brought it to Simon.
The inside of the box was piled high with terry cloth. Simon parted the folds and uncovered the tiny hawk chick, unperturbed and asleep. Simon exhaled in relief.
“I looked through your books and found out what hawks eat,” Aura said. She shook her head. “I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but you saved it.” She tousled his mop of hair as Simon continued to stare at the chick. “You saved it.”
Simon stared at the sleeping chick. He heard his sister’s words…and nothing else. The sound of breaking glass was gone. He wasn’t alone anymore. He had a feeling that the chick had saved him just as much as he had saved it.
Aura stretched out across the foot of the bed and leaned her head against her hand. Even with all the trouble he must have caused her, the color had returned to her cheeks and a smile touched her eyes. The siblings would be okay.
“Now all it needs is a name,” Aura said as she lounged. “What are you going to call it?”
The memory of his mother’s necklace and the silver field behind his house were all the inspiration he needed.
“Gin,” Simon said softly. He touched the top of the chick’s downy head. Its eyes fluttered open and it stared back at him the same way its mother had when Simon first saw her.