While I lay bricks for a house I could never afford, a day shy of a year after Leigh picked me up from rehab for the last time, I think about falconry. How the bird needs to share a strong bond with its falconer for it to land safely on their arm. The falconer must not flinch, not fear talon lacerations through the leather gauntlet. The falcon must want to return to its human more than it longs to fly unfettered. That’s what I think about while the sun assaults the construction site, the sweat stings my eyes.
On my way home to Leigh, I pass the garage sale. Only, it’s gone now, the house a husk. I was lucky yesterday when I bought that falconry equipment, raptor hood and protective glove still unused in their sealed box.
Leigh doesn’t know about the box stashed under our bed. But tonight, I will tell her. Because, tonight, she will want to talk about tomorrow.
“A year,” she says over a microwaved lasagna dinner. “It’s a big deal.”
What present can she give me? What can she do for me? Although I have a whole speech rehearsed–tasting of sun and sweat and brick-dust–when the moment comes, I cannot work my jaw loose.
I am too much sometimes. I cling. Once, high as anything, I found a sex doll in the trash behind the club and hugged it despite the filth and fleas, wanting to feel close to the person who last had their hands on her pink plastic likeness. Sometimes pills swallowed with strangers felt like a group hug, a shared consciousness that rocked and cradled me.
The drugs let me fly along thermals, the wind ruffling electric fingers through pinions and vanes. I was never tongue-tied then; my caw powerful enough to put fear into the pebbled hearts of smaller birds, bigger raptors.
I get up, clear the dishes, buy myself some time. Leigh waits while I go into the bedroom and return with the falconry equipment.
“Make me a hood,” I tell her, leather changing hands. “That’s what I want for my sobriety anniversary.”
Leigh doesn’t ask how–she owns a leather workshop where she makes all sorts of accessories. Why falcons? is another thing she doesn’t ask, although I answer in my head anyway.
Because they return.
Ever practical, Leigh wants to talk safety. Words and signals and minutiae. The precise dimensions of my skull.
She doesn’t ask why, but she makes it happen for me, a year and a day after she picked me up from rehab for the last time.
While I kneel on a floor pillow at Leigh’s feet, brown leather hood over my head, I think about falconry. The little morsels of fruits and nuts Leigh hand-feeds me through the hood’s opening crunch pleasantly in my mouth, treats for a job well done. For returning to her side when it would have been so easy to abandon our aerie and become one with the sky. That’s what I think about while Leigh and I perch in our living room together, bird and handler.
We skipped certain parts of the process. Bells, jesses, they didn’t fit the metaphor I have going. The one Leigh has caught on to by now.
The drugs made me soar, but it was the safe landing that had me singing. The spotting-Leigh-from-the sky, the plummeting-down-to-meet-her. A falcon, digging sickle talons into the buttery-soft leather of my falconer’s equipment.
Old track marks pucker the skin under Leigh’s gauntlet. The wound isn’t as fresh for her, but she understands how the wind never really stops battering or serenading those in its domain. What’s another scar? someone might think, but I’m mindful of my talons. From my perch on the pillow, I hold onto her gloved hand as it rests across the armchair’s worn velvet. My fingers curl around her wrist, circling it completely. Digging nails around the leather cuff, but never breaking skin.
I cling and cling, and she lets and lets me.
Although my vision through skin-warmed leather is reduced to twin tunnels, the world the fuzz of the peach slice melting in my mouth, I know Leigh is above me, her wings mantling protectively over us both.
Avra Margariti is a queer writer and poet from Greece. Avra’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge Literary, Baltimore Review, matchbook, Wigleaf, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Longleaf Review, and other venues. You can find Avra on twitter @avramargariti.