"Birds of Prey"
by Jason Bovberg
Her only memory of the end was of great, winged beasts descending upon the earth. Had that really happened or had she imagined it? She thought about the creatures often, most often at night, behind tightly closed eyes. Maybe the answer to her question did not really matter.
She saw them more clearly every night, as if they were only gradually revealing themselves to her.
Only to her…
Rachel stared across the table at Greg while she spooned meat from the great black bowl. Silverware clinked against broken dishware as they ate. Rachel found it difficult not to look at Greg. She watched him stab a piece of meat with his tarnished fork and bring it effortlessly to his mouth. He chewed without wincing. Rachel admired that. She admired the way his firm jaw moved beneath this skin; she could not take her eyes away from his mouth. She wondered what that mouth would feel like on—
It was John.
“I said, could you pass the salt?”
John stared at her through his glasses. His eyes looked crossed.
Now everyone was staring at her.
Greg was staring at her.
She could feel the blood pulsing behind the skin of her face. She grabbed the salt shaker and handed it over to John. Looking down at the food again, she felt the pressure of the three gazes. Had they understood what she had been thinking? Had Victoria caught her staring? She spooned three more helpings of food.
John was pouring salt over his plate. John always covered his plate with salt. Rachel ground her teeth so she wouldn’t have to hear its falling-sand sound.
Unconsciously she looked at Greg again, at his thick neck, at his hair.
The conversation went on around her. Greg’s voice made her eyes water, made her palms sweat. She wondered how that voice would feel whispered in her ear late at night under the yellow moon. She and Greg spread out on a blanket holding each other, knowing each other, watching the dim movement of the heavens. She discreetly shook her head. How could she be thinking of Greg this way? How could she be doing this to Victoria? Oh forget it, forget it.
“The water is particularly refreshing tonight,” John said. Rachel hated him when he said that. Not that she felt differently; it just sounded so … bland, coming from John.
It was hard not to look at Victoria, at the drool.
“Well,” Greg spoke, “it’s all we have, you know.” He looked at John, a quizzical expression spreading across his face. He hesitated, as if almost remembering something, then he shrugged. “I guess we’ve all been very fortunate to even have the pond. And to have uncontaminated food.”
Both Rachel and John glanced accidentally at Victoria but then looked quickly back at Greg. He did not miss the glance; surely he was used to that by now. Poor Greg, thought Rachel.
“I know,” said Greg, “I know what you’re thinking.” He did not have to look at Victoria to remind himself. He did not have to acknowledge the bandages or the wire. He looked down at his food and shook his head.
John said, “Still, it is quite refreshing.” He drank deep from his glass.
The winds beneath those wings, the destruction in their wake. Collapsed buildings, savage cries.
Clouds of memory in Rachel’s mind: deep thunder above the falling beasts as they struck. Eternal night, black faces.
Rachel giggling softly as the giant birds screeched overhead. Her hair whipping in the darkness.
And when the rain began, Rachel wanted to scream but could only laugh...