Charlie by Asha Rajan

Fiction

The day my oldest son ran away from home, a wedge-tailed eagle took up residence in his room. Nobody knew where it had come from, or where he had gone. Wedge-tailed eagles aren’t common around here — too many cars, not enough dead cows. There was no note, no announcement, no Lost Eagle poster on light poles around the neighbourhood. Just an absent Charlie, and a very present bird of prey.

I called the ranger. The ranger arrived — leather gloves, large metal cage on the back of his vehicle — took one look, scratched his head and said “there shouldn’t be a wedge-tailed eagle in your house.”

“No shit,” I said. “Can you take it away? Release it up in the hills?”

He shook his head. “It’s beyond my skillset. Try the police? Maybe they can lure it out.”

The woman who answered the police non-emergency number thought I was playing a prank.

“No, really,” I said. “It’s a wedge-tailed eagle. In my son’s room. And my son is missing. Can you help with either of those things?”

“Are you sure? Could it be your son in a costume?” she offered.

“I’m not blind. It’s an eagle. It almost pecked my husband’s nose to a nub, and it tried to fly off with the dachshund in its talons once already,” I moaned.

“I’ll send someone round,” she said.

When the policemen arrived — there were two of them; one on secondment from the Met in London, the other a local — it was obvious they thought I’d lost my marbles.

“Want to show us where the bird is, love?” said the local one.

“Sure, but you’ll want to put on some riot gear or something. It’s not very friendly.” I sipped my tea. The English one pulled out padded vests, gloves and helmets from the back of the paddy wagon.

When they had their gear on, I led them upstairs and knocked on Charlie’s door. An ear-piercing shriek answered.

“Shit. That’s an eagle.” The local one was catching on.

“We’re not really equipped to deal with wild animals. Have you tried calling the ranger?” The policemen removed their helmets and unbuttoned their vests.

“Tried that. No good. He suggested I call you.” I was losing patience and beginning to wonder exactly how I was going to feed this creature, or what I was going to feed it. Cow carcasses aren’t sold at the local butcher, and I can’t pick up sheep entrails down at the supermarket. Did eagles need salt licks like finches?

The policemen looked at each other and shrugged. “What about a wildlife sanctuary?”

My husband, who’d made himself scarce up to this point — perhaps he was worried about that wad of notebooks he’d pinched from work last year, or the red light he’d run two weeks ago — suddenly appeared.

“Maybe we could just keep it,” John said softly.

“Are you completely bonkers?” I shrieked.

The policemen, who didn’t hear me, thought this was a stellar idea, and busied themselves with patting John on the back and shaking his hand. John had the good grace to look sheepish. Perhaps I could feed him to the eagle.

“Where is it supposed to stay?” I imagined stinking sodden carpets and tried to calculate exactly how much newspaper we’d need to line the floor of Charlie’s room.

The policemen, satisfied that the eagle had landed in good hands, left. I opened Charlie’s door gingerly. The eagle, agitated and animated while the police were in the house, had grown quiet and reflective, with wings outstretched.

Questions surged out of me in quick succession. “How do we explain it to friends and family? Should I buy it clothes? Is it covered under our dental plan? Does it even have teeth? Should I enrol it in school? College? Who’ll look after it when we’re dead?”

A primitive drive, a yearning for connection pushed me into the room. The eagle wrapped its wings around me and drew me into its downy chest. Everyone else seemed to think a wedge-tailed eagle living in my house was the most normal thing in the world. Maybe I was wrong.

“I can’t keep calling it “it”,” I said having run out of questions, my voice muffled by feathers.

“You could call it Charlie,” John said.

Biography
Asha is a Malayalee-Australian writer and editor who lives and works on Whadjuk, Noongar country, and is in permanent servitude to her dogs. She is published in various places including Modern Loss, PANK, Dead Housekeeping, and SheKnows. Asha frequently shouts about feminism and social justice on Twitter @asha_on_45, and blogs at asharajanwriter.com.

Image: unsplash.com

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