Our babysitter’s son was a hunter.
On the few times that we slept over at her house she would make a bed for me and my sister in the living room, where all walls were lined with stuffed game. I woke up in the middle of the night, listening to my sister sleeping, and my eyes wandered in the darkness. Above me an eagle spread its wings, struggling with a snake coiled around its talons. In the shadows the wings widened and shivered, if I looked away they moved in the corner of my eye. The brown owls leaned over us, watching, smooth shapes of a deeper black with gleaming eyes. They frightened me most so I loved them best. I was excited, I knew I should never move until the light came. The hares trembled in their tiny thickets. Snakes tensed up their branches. A still flamingo, taller than either of us, stared blindly from the coffee table. I nodded back into sleep.
Sometimes there were two sons, but perhaps it was just the one, with two faces. The hunter was tall and black-haired, all scruffy cheeks and booming laughter, handsome and terrifying, with a big, easy smile. He kept the hounds in the far side of the yard where we weren’t allowed, and I leaned over the balcony to wave at the dogs as they panted and barked madly. The darling was a lithe female one, called Ewe for her silky coat in the color of cream, with ginger spots clustering up to her head. I longed to touch her ears with their hanging threads of soft auburn hairs, baffled by the oxymoron of such a name for a hound, trying to imagine her benevolent snout clamped around the neck of the living room pheasants.
Ewe, Ewe. There was love in his voice when the hunter called her. I was not scared of him when he talked about her, when I watched him walk into her pen and let her jump all over him, nosing his chest. Ewe meant mystery, meant that upside-down was one of the natural states of the world, that we weren’t supposed to make sense of anything. In Greek the four-syllable word dragged tenderly: Provatinaaa. She was all that was friendly and bizarre in the house with its petrified predators and their prey, paused inches from one another. I firmly believed that if only I were allowed to pet her, I would understand how that place functioned. The gentle honey-eyed dog with the innocuous name, which could bring down the owls and the eagles, must have held the key to the riddle.
But the need to know was not urgent: In childhood you get accustomed to existing in perpetual curiosity. You are bewitched by all that scares you. I immersed myself in the mystery until the desire to solve it faded. In the daytime I walked back into the living room in its haze of soft noon light, with the sticky rain lamps weeping green around young girls in kimono, the subdued birds of prey dozing glued to their logs. Ι traced everything except for the animals; I bore them a grudging respect for their ability to thrill me.
The rest of the week held more prosaic experiences: school, feuds, games, books. I never noticed a moment of transition when I stepped through the looking glass, and when I returned to daily life from my small, provincial fairy tale. I accepted the abundance of taxidermy that surrounded me as I slept. I accepted the hound named after the sheep, the hunter and the hunted. Back in my own familiar bed, I contemplated the memory of the shadow of the eagle’s outspread wings. I can still see it, cast wide and distorted across the corner of the ceiling. Slowly, I learned that the presence of wild things brought me comfort. And I sank invariably into a deep, easy sleep.
CLIO VELENTZA lives in Athens, Greece. She’s a winner of Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best Small Fictions 2016 and was anthologized in Rethinking The Plot (Kingston University Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Literary Orphans, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Letters Page, and Airgonaut. Find her at @clio_v.