DEATH BY MATING
It's Monday morning and she's reading the newspaper, a little bleary-eyed, not really looking forward to the day ahead, another damn split shift in Women's Apparel at Sears. "Yes, ma'am, No, ma'am, Is there anything else I can do for you ma'am?" She's tired already, her back hurts just thinking about it.
Turning the pages of the Tribune, she tries to avoid the Oakland police blotter and the short items at the back, but she can't help but notice: a deadly shooting of an 18-year-old at his birthday party (by his 15-year-old girlfriend, the paper says), a fatal car crash at the Fruitvale exit (drunk driver), two shootings during convenience store robberies (one, only eight blocks away), a mugging turned violent on International. A typical weekend, and she's just glad she doesn't recognize any names from the neighborhood.
She turns to the column on natural phenomena across the world with some relief. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, at least they're far away. And there she reads about the two Alaskan bald eagles: "The airborne mating frenzy of two Alaskan bald eagles left the pair jammed beak-first into two feet of hard snowpack on Sunday after the birds apparently became lost in the passion of the moment and plummeted from the sky." Well isn't that a bitch, she thinks. Who would've guessed that birds get lost in the passion of the moment too?
She's seen birds do some stupid things. The mourning doves in her neighborhood seem incapable of building a nest that will last, in a location that makes any sense. One year she saw a nest with two chirping baby birds slide off a low-hanging branch in a tree. Another year, the eggs disappeared from a mourning dove nest in a hanging planter outside her kitchen window, probably easy prey for the squirrels. She's seen squirrels mating, a raucous, acrobatic affair, but never birds.
"Mating season is in full swing for the eagles," she reads, "who perform an elaborate ritual in which they clasp talons and spiral downward toward the ground." She can almost feel it: the desperate clasp, the overwhelming, distracting passion, the downward spiral so swift that you don't notice what's happening until it's too late.
She's seen it all right, lots of times. Maybe she's even been there. Her and Leonard those last months, her hanging on far too long—turning a blind eye to his bullshit, trading good sense for good sex, not waking up 'til she almost hit ground. "Hey baby. This dude at Walmart needed a jump, and then he took my cables, and I had to follow him halfway to Martinez to get 'em back." "I must've fallen asleep on George's couch, I was that beat from work." "Couldn't stop thinking about you all day, doll. Then that fucker makes me stay and do overtime." "Have you got a little something to tide me over? I promise I'll pay you back." All those nights when he didn't show, or came home late, smelling of pussy and whiskey and weed. All those wasted tears.
The female Alaskan eagle survived the mating accident, according to the Tribune, but the male didn't. Now that surprises her. She would've guessed the male would be the one to walk away.
She sips the last of her coffee, wishing for a moment there was someone to talk to over breakfast. It's the kind of news item she used to share with Leonard, when he was still around. He had his sweet side. Some mornings he made her eggs and sausage and grits. He rubbed her feet when she came home from work, massaged her tired legs, working his way up, tugging at her panties, undressing her real slow. The man took his time, you had to give him that. Well shit. She hasn't seen the son of a bitch since he took off for Visalia almost two years ago. He's probably still an asshole. On probation for something else, living off someone else, messing with her head.
There's a sudden burst of sunshine as a cloud moves away from the sun. The light reflects off the battered Formica kitchen table, wavering as wind rustles through the trees. She gets up to rinse her coffee cup in the sink, noticing again that the back porch roof is sagging, the paint peeling from the wood siding of the house. There's no nest in the hanging planter outside the window this year—no plants either. Maybe she'll buy some geraniums after work, something cheerful.
For just a moment she imagines the eagles soaring and circling, floating on currents of cold air, sun glistening on outspread wings, the dazzle of snow on ragged mountain peaks. She’s airborne, flying high. Then she reluctantly moves back to the bedroom to get ready for another day. A survivor—flying low, flying solo. Damn right. She’s not going to end up face down in some pile of snow again. Shit no. Not her.
Click here for Jacqueline Doyle's bio