Third Place Winner:

The Dead

by Beverly Jackson

We walk every morning, our pace well suited—old dog and old woman—a leash uniting us in silent journeys down country roads. The Redwoods and Douglas firs creak in winter gusts that push us along. The sky is a changing panorama of purest pinks and the clear blues of newborns' eyes. Glorious enough to explain why people think heaven is skyward. The mist steams on a horizon of pines.

A dead mouse in the road is tiny, scrawny, with gray fur. If not for the black ooze beneath its head, it looks asleep. I drag Murphy away, his nose urged toward the scent.

The following morning, we see a thin snake flattened on the pavement, its scales glittery in the early light. Its skin is unharmed, like a flower pressed under the wheels of a car or truck. As I again yank Murphy from the kill, I see movement—an infant is silhouetted, perched high in a tall, soft fir. It's a flash, an image. I cup my hand over my eyes, but she is gone—a mirage.

Next outing, bitter cold, the trudge up Arcadia Road is arduous. Murphy's fur ripples against his flanks in the wind. I wonder, for the millionth time, how different life might be, had the child been born. I shiver with cold and my dark thoughts.

"Better take a quick whiz, Murph," I say. The wind shakes the trees, making a whooshing eerie rustle. The dawn skies are flat and gray.

On the road an injured wren huddles, motionless. I hold Murphy back as I swoop it up. It struggles only a little. I move it gently to the grassy shoulder where it sits, immobile, while my mind battles between leaving it to survive in nature, or taking it home. Murphy's interest has been captured by a movement in the trees.

The baby appears again in the fir. No mistake. She is perched naked and rosy on an outer limb. The tight curls of her hair are honey-colored, and her face dimples with mirth as she waves her tiny fist.

It begins in my chest, and explodes in my ears, filling my mouth and nose. My head rings with the screech of wind and cries that must be born in my own constricted throat.

For years I've wondered what she'd look like, this child of mine. She gaily waves and I lift my hand in response, as if our fluttering fingers spin a thread, forever connecting us. She waits, I now know.

The vision of her fades in and out of the dappled foliage of the woods.

At my feet, the bird takes a few faltering steps, and I swipe my wet face with the sleeve of my parka. When I look back, the empty branches, heavy with needles, sway, waving.

The wren lifts off in a dazed and haphazard little circle. Then, buoyed by wind, it soars up into the trees.


Copyright © 2003 Beverly Jackson

Beverly Jackson, a poet and writer, is also Editor In Chief and Publisher of INK POT, a literary journal, and LIT POT, e-zine eclectic. She also runs an independent, small press specializing in virtuoso prose and poetry. Her work can be found on the web and in print and all over the floor of her office.


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