The father tapped the bottom corner of an ornate frame, a touch so light that any reasonable person would call it pointless. But it satisfied him. He stepped back, fingers stroking his chin, and turned slowly, panning the room for another flaw in his otherwise perfect arrangement. Square, round, and oval picture frames passed under his searching eyes, each protecting precious moments snapped, cropped, and bordered with care and precision.
His gaze held on two boys, his boys, standing proud in green uniforms. Sashes slung over their shoulders were covered with small round badges. But, most important was the patch on each left breast: an oval bearing the iconic red, white, and blue symbol of a bald eagle. The American Dream. Sharp talons gripped the tree, holding fast in an unyielding pose demanding honor and respect. With outstretched wings, the eagle stood high for all to see, for all to admire.
The father was unconscious of his sudden deep breath and of the way it made the buttons on his shirt strain. Nor did he notice how the corners of his mouth tightened and fought his unconscious efforts to both smile and suppress it at the same time. He was aware, however, of of an image from years past, floating up from his deep mind. A similar picture of himself, framed on his own parent’s living room wall.
Three little girls pulled his gaze two frames to the right where pink and yellow frill of spring dresses competed with bright smiles for his attention. Wide eyes reflected the excitement of their cradled baskets full of colored eggs and candy.
As he finished his inspection, the walls showed children growing and graduating. The green uniforms become dress blues; the frilly dresses, ornate white gowns. All were aligned with perfection. Except the first wall, by the front door which he didn’t even realize had been missed.
The front door opened, sunshine flooded the room, and the mother appeared. The corners of his mouth turned up awkwardly, this time straining against a reflex not to smile. They met each other with cold eyes and despite the brightness, the room seemed to darken.
Behind her, on the wall, the father noticed an image of a young couple, beaming inside a golden frame. The corners of his mouth became heavy and his strained smile faded. He sighed. Resigned, his eyes returned to hers, warmer this time. He didn’t see the tear stains or her quivering hands. Instead he sensed opportunity, an opening.
Seizing the chance, he nodded to the right: a simple plea, an argument, an unspoken reprimand.
She looked, and for a brief moment they both saw the five little children so carefully arranged around the same, but slightly older, couple from the other picture. All smiled, although at least two of them against themselves. The picture hung to the wall like a code of honor, the type that should never be broken. His point made, he turned back and caught a quick glance of her narrow eyes before they flicked away. She dropped her purse and took three quick steps into the kitchen.
He followed her, curious and hopeful. She walked across the room, snapped a set of keys from a hook, and turned, dangling them in the air for him to see. Just keys. Forgotten keys. His chest fell, his shirt sagged, and his eyes darted around the room searching for something to save his dreams. An empty vase, a clock that ticked and tocked with a flippant mock, a bottle of wine, a fruit basket…he found nothing.
With quick short breaths, he made a desperate gesture to the front room. They had to go back to the front room, where he could show her, remind her. If she would just look she would see and understand. She would change. He stepped forward, prepared to go and grab her, not to hurt her of course, but to help her see. Her body stiffened, her face paled, and her eyes widened. He stopped. She wasn’t looking at him; she was looking past him into the front room.
A screech split the air. A loud, shrill cascading blend of hawk and songbird that made him cower and jump backwards, deeper into the kitchen.
A bald eagle stepped out of the front room into the kitchen. Its massive yellow talons ripped gashes into the linoleum floor with each step as it cocked its head from side to side, studying him with fierce golden eyes. The father stood there, frozen.
The massive bird snapped its head to the mother, also too terrified to move. Then the giant bald eagle jumped up onto the counter next to the fruit basket.
The father nodded quickly at the basket, giving permission to the wild beast to eat and satisfy itself while he waved gently for the mother to walk into the safety of the front room. But the eagle turned back to him, eyes fierce and burning. It raised its head, opened its mouth, and another cry split the air. The father cowered, covering his ears in an attempt to escape the burning, pulsing pain that electrified his mind. When the noise settled, he stood to face the eagle. Sweat dripped down his temples and he knew the eagle was here to destroy him.
It locked fire red eyes on him and took a step forward. He could hear its breath, fast and deep, through its open beak that seemed to curve into a vicious snarl. This was his last chance.
He lunged, a single move that carried him across the kitchen to the mother, where he grabbed and shoved her. They pushed and scrambled to the front room as the eagle cried again behind them. Arms flailed, feet slipped, and they stumbled toward the streaming daylight ahead. He felt a tug on his leg and a sharp pain on his back, but kept pushing until she was out the door.
Then he turned and talons slashed like knives, ripping gashes in his shirt that instantly turn red. Pain ripped through his arm again and again as it snapped until its beak was crimson. He punched, aimlessly, again and again as giant wings beat the air around him. A sharp scratch tore across his face and warm blood ran down his cheeks. He knew he couldn’t beat the eagle. It would destroy him.
He punched again.
This time his closed fist found something solid and he felt a moment of release and freedom. In a single motion, he fell out the door and pulled it shut behind him.
Outside on the ground, he was alone. Through his heavy panting, tears and blood dripped from his face. His body rang in sharp pulsing pain. White bone stood out through the meaty, red flesh of his exposed forearm.
Behind him, inside the house, the eagle continued to scream amid the thrashing sound of breaking
glass and splintering wood.