The air is sharp. The sun is cloud-cloaked, light escaping its flimsy white negligee, and tufted titmice glow grey-orange and blue jays are ornamental. The afternoon is soft the breeze is coldsoft, and acorn caps rise sideways and roll on edges along the path.

Warmer days are coming waking hibernators from new sleep. A wave of fat robins runs down the Stroke Hill slopes and into the meadow where I see fairy rings in summer. It is a bad day to be a sunning worm.

The coal smoke from the power plant forms marshmallow shapes and blows parallel to the horizon, reflecting in the glassy Mississippi River. There is a line of parked barges downstream, waiting for their turn in the lock and dam. At La Vista Park the air is colder, shadowy, the creek frozen, its smooth surface looking like a windowpane.

Thirty feet up the path, a squirrel with a nut in its jaws wheels and stares and sits up—and this is its last breath, I am the last living thing it sees in this last millisecond, for a barred owl swoops down the left slope of the bluff and explodes the creature and lifts off, the squirrel’s body dangling limply, and small birds gang up and beak the owl’s head to no avail, and there is no sound, for the owl’s wings are serrated, and then the tiny birds shriek and three crows fly in from the right and caw a racket. This afternoon, I have seen the opaline eyes of Death.

I think of the September day I was out walking and pain slammed my chest and I stopped and tried to see the invisible fist which was punching me, and I walked on home, marveling at the unknown sensation, finally talking to my nurse friends Kim and Michele on the phone and learning I was having a heart attack—mild to be sure, but when it’s your heart mild is small comfort. And a week later my stent was put in and I realized I could die. The commonality of heart attacks and barred owls, death by stealth.

Physicists posit the theory that all of us may live in millions of parallel universes, each life similar but taking different tacks. So . . . this day, a squirrel was murdered and eaten, the same squirrel saw the owl and ducked and told its children the tale over nut stew dinner, the same squirrel threw its hickory nut and bonked the owl’s head, the owl and the squirrel shared the nut at tea.

Had I not seen the act, did it happen? Are the things we see inventions? The black wolf last fall? The bobcat lying on my car roof? The thousand white pelicans of spring? The chickadees that perch on my shoulder? All are illusions?

Home. The sun falls like a frozen orange leaf toward the river. The breeze rests from its labors. The naked, wintery earth glues itself stiff. On the road below me a beautiful woman in a flimsy white negligee sheds it and waves, her body the color of porcelain. I am pro-illusion, you see, you c, you sea

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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