From the kitchen Grandma and I heard glass shatter. She put her finger to her mouth signaling I should be quiet. She said later she imagined a dark hooded burglar reaching through broken glass by her front door to unlock and turn the knob. Signaling me to stay behind her, she tiptoed toward the doorway and peeked around it. It was a dark hooded figure that she saw, but not one she expected.
I was so bored that even a burglar was welcome excitement. She’s my favorite Grandma and takes care of me often, but this time my parents said no phone, no tablet, no contact with friends allowed. My middle school principal had suspended me for three days. I am eleven, in sixth grade. I have an older sister but she’s in the hospital. I don’t want to talk about her.
We should have known it wasn’t a burglar. The sound was a loud crash, as if someone had thrown a brick through the big picture window. When I scanned the room, I spied shards of glass littering the oriental rug. I looked again and saw—perched on the carved wooden arm of Gram’s old sofa—a peregrine falcon. Blood dripped out of a wound in her head. The dark head of the bird looked exactly like the hood Gram expected, and the yellow eyes, stunned and staring, frightened my talkative Gram into silence.
Later Grandma explained that the bird saw the wide-open sky reflected like a mirror in the glass, along with the big oak tree in her yard. When she said this female falcon could be trying to feed her young fledglings which made her in a hurry and distracted easily, I could barely hold back tears. Gram said that she’d read over a billion birds die each year from window strikes. Even if they recover and fly away, often the birds die later from internal bleeding or bruising on the brain.
Bruising on the brain is serious. I knew about this because when I was eight, Grandma was taking a new medicine which made her dizzy. She tripped on our rug and hit her head on the corner of our coffee table. She had to have surgery to remove a large hematoma on her brain (which I learned is a big word for blood clot), and for a while she was confused and did not recognize me in the hospital. That’s how I know that what looks like a simple cut on the falcon could actually be compressing her brain, raising pressure inside her skull. She could forget important things, like how to fly.
I was totally sympathetic to the arrival of a female falcon attempting to fly through glass. Crash landings were a regular thing with me lately.
I was suspended from school for flying my Tactical X on the playground, against the rules for so many reasons. I got money to buy this mini drone from sales of cinnamon lollypops to other students, candy which I had lifted from my father’s store where I was required to help after school. I had managed to hide away over a hundred dollars of other kids’ allowance cash in my locker at school before my crime was discovered. They would never have figured it out if I hadn’t bought that mini drone, but it was on sale for exactly the amount I had stashed.
Except for the school principal, who was enthusiastically examining its features when he discovered my drone crashed on the playground pavement, Grandma was the only adult who found my plight interesting. She called me an entrepreneur but suggested that next time I consider paying my supplier; this was, she said, preferable to theft which could lead to jail. I knew it was wrong, and I don’t know why I did it, except that I always loved those lollypops and wanted to make money—and dad had so many boxes I didn’t think he’d miss the few I took. I’d opened each box of ten large ones, separating them for individual sale. Gram also reminded me about inventory systems in dad’s store. I was never going to get away with it.
It took a good ten minutes for the falcon to gather herself while we waited in the doorway, not wanting to scare her. I could hardly stand the wiggles that demanded to get out as I stood impatiently behind Grandma. Then, just as suddenly as she arrived, we heard the flutter of wings, and the peregrine flew out the hole in the broken window to the branch of the oak tree. She perched there for the next half hour before she left for good.
We cleaned up the broken glass. Gram had called her friend Clive who was on his way over to temporarily board up the hole. While we waited, we sat on the sofa, arm in arm. Through the broken window, I smelled the neighbor’s newly mown grass.
Gram said, “The truth is you know all about inventory systems. You wanted to get caught with this candy scheme of yours.” As I’ve said, Gram is talkative.
“It’s about your sister again, isn’t it. Your parents have to spend more time with her since the cancer came back; it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Do you want to talk about it?”
Gram knows me well. But I didn’t know how to tell her. It sounded so weird: to feel guilty—guilty for being the healthy sister. When I didn’t answer, she said, “I’m going to install awnings outside this window, block the reflection. Prevent future bird accidents.”
I was quiet, thinking of the injured bird. Did she fly away to die somewhere, or would she recover? As we looked at the broken glass and the sky began to darken with dusk, the way the light dimmed we could make out the shape left by the falcon’s wings. The break in the glass was in the exact form of a heart.
Stories by Jeanne Althouse (she/her) have been published in numerous literary journals, most recently in The Plentitudes, Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, Catamaran Reader, Connotation Press, The Penman Review, Digging Through the Fat, Potato Soup Journal, and Amarillo Bay. She is grateful her work has won several awards, been collected into a chapbook, and twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She dedicates this story to Sheila, with gratitude for her inspiration and friendship.