No Such Thing As An Eaglehawk11 May 2017
Solomon Delaware Daley was born wide-eyed and completely silent. The midwife looked at him, shook him slightly and then looked at his mother, who had fainted with a sheen of sweat across her forehead. Trepidation swelled in the midwife’s throat as she gazed at the soundless child. She cut the cord, placed the slimy child on the chest of his mother and collected her things. She marched out of the little tin house at the bottom of the hill and almost collided with Will Daley, the town’s farrier and father of the child.
“How is she? How’s the baby?”
The midwife looked at the handsome farrier. The skin-and-bones dog at his heel whined. “You should marry that girl, before anything else happens to the baby on account of your sinful actions.”
The midwife spat in the dirt. “It didn’t make a sound when it slipped out of her. Unnatural, that is. And it’s got eyes like an eaglehawk!”
As Will Daley watched the squat midwife scurry up the hill to the town he called after her. “There is no such thing as an eaglehawk!”
But when Will Daley entered his little house and gazed down at his son, the eyes that stared back at him did have a bird-like quality, although he wouldn’t describe them as that of an eagle or a hawk. Maybe a kingfisher. Or tawny frogmouth. He went to pick up his newborn son and gently brushed the cheek of his son’s mother, Trinity Delaware, daughter of the Honourable Bruce Delaware and disgrace of the town. He wrapped the child in one of his shirts and placed him in a basket of washing. The child blinked up at him, and despite the unnerving sight of its round eyes he smiled down at it before turning back to Trinity Delaware and the blood soaked sheets.
“Trinity dear? Trinity?”
He had one knee on the edge of the bed, his hands either side of her shoulders, the mattress sagging under the weight of both of them. Her face was speckled with sweat and her lips were tinged purple. The sheets around her were drenched dark red. His panicked brain tried to reason how such a large volume of blood had come out of such a slight girl.
She stirred. The dog sat at the foot of the bed and whined. Trinity Delaware murmured something.
“Get the dog out of the house. I don’t want it near the baby.”
When Will Daley returned from tying the dog up, Trinity Delaware was sitting up, but her face was transparent. He could see the lacework of blue veins across her cheeks. She looked at him with wide eyes and said, “Let’s call him Solomon.”
“Solomon? Solomon, like from the Bible?”
By way of answer Trinity Delaware slumped forward, dead against his chest.
It was a number of moments before Will Daley realised that the squalling noise coming from behind him was the sound of his son crying. It was a number of hours before he had washed the baby and dressed it in a cardigan Trinity Delaware had knitted in the second trimester of her pregnancy, and began the trek up the hill. It took a number of minutes for the Honourable Bruce Delaware to answer the knock on his front door, but it only took a few seconds for him to comprehend what had happened at the bottom of the hill as he took in the sight of the handsome farrier cradling the mewling child. He swung the door shut in Will Daley’s face.
As Will Daley walked away he could hear the howls of the Honourable Bruce Delaware and the hysterical shrieks of Mrs Bruce Delaware echo through the town.
As she had bore a child out of wedlock, the priest deemed it unfit to bury Trinity Delaware on consecrated ground, and the Honourable Bruce Delaware meekly agreed. His wife started to protest, but the Honourable Bruce Delaware held a lace handkerchief to her mouth. “There, there, hush now.”
The midwife had visited them that morning to express her condolences. They’d spoken over a plate of warm scones. “She was right as rain when I left, right as rain.”
The Honourable Bruce Delaware had thanked her and his wife had nodded.
“That child had the strangest eyes I ever saw. All black and beady. Like an eaglehawk,” the midwife had said.
The townspeople stood at the top of the hill and watched the farrier bury Trinity Delaware under the pepper tree beside his house. They all wore black, but didn’t dare to venture down the hill to stand beside him. The priest had offered a strip of grass beside the cemetery’s fence, but Will Daley had refused. He knew full well that if buried there, her gravestone would become the target of drunks, stumbling out of the pub to relieve themselves.
The town watched as Will Daley covered the mound with flat grey rocks he had lugged from the creek. Mrs Bruce Delaware’s thin bony hands shook. The Honourable Bruce Delaware held himself stoutly and stared into the middle distance, the burial a mere blur in his peripheral. The crowd began to disperse as the farrier, the baby with bird eyes and the skinny-as-a-stick dog disappeared inside the house.
A rumbling made them all turn back around. Will Daley’s pale blue ute was idling beside the house. They watched as he crossed the verandah three times. Once to collect a suitcase, which he tied to the roof of the ute, a second time to collect his son, who was dozing in a milk crate, and a third time to lock the front door and whistle at his dog. Then he slid into the driver’s seat, wrestled the old vehicle into gear, and drove up the hill. He did not slow down as he approached the congregation standing in the middle of the road. The townspeople scattered. They watched the farrier pass by, his face expressionless. Mrs Bruce Delaware let out a shriek. “He’s stealing my grandson!”
“Good riddance,” the midwife muttered.
The Honourable Bruce Delaware huffed and puffed, but nothing could be done. The farrier had taken his son and left town.
In a few years, the town had forgotten the scandal of the farrier, Trinity Delaware and their bird-eyed baby. No one except the midwife had seen the child, so the story quickly fell to myth. Only the children in the school yard ever mentioned Eaglehawk Ethan, the kid born with feathers and a razor-sharp beak. The town had a much more serious issue to concern itself with. Two seasons after the farrier had locked his door and left, the harvest was destroyed by mice. And the next. And the next. Until every year the town awaited the arrival of the vermin with bated breath and heavy stomachs. The mice would come in throngs. The ground would heave with them. They chewed through car seats and nested in sofas. They fell out of cereal boxes and into bowls of milk. One year, they knocked down a silo. The townspeople watched in awe as it crashed down the hill and landed with a thump in the dry creek bed.
They tried catching them in traps. They baited them. They built thicker silos. They hired exterminators. But still the mice came and destroyed their grain. The Honourable Bruce Delaware tried to rally the town, but the townspeople shrugged and stared back at him with tired eyes.
Their tired eyes didn’t notice the stranger at the back of the crowd. They didn’t notice the powder blue ute chug through the town. They didn’t notice the smoke puffing gently out of the chimney of the little tin house at the bottom of the hill which had sat empty for twenty years.
The week slid by until suddenly it was Sunday. The townspeople sat stiff-backed in the church. A mouse crawled across the lectern as the priest delivered his sermon. He dismissed the congregation with a shaky sign of the cross.
As they left the church, the woman watched mice scurry over their shoes and the men crumpled their hats in their hands. The children turned their faces to the sky and screamed. Huge dark birds swooped down. The men batted at the birds with their crumpled hats. The women clutched children to their bosoms and cowered. The congregation ran for their cars, and amidst the flurry of feathers and the screeching of the birds they failed to realise that the birds weren’t interested in plucking out their eyeballs.
That afternoon, the ring of telephones echoed through the town and the switchboard operator struggled to choose a conversation to listen in on. One question hung in the air. Where did the birds come from? A few of the children examined their Birds of Australia books and attempted to identify the enormous creatures. Outside their houses, the birds continued to snatch mice and drop them onto the tin rooftops like hailstones.
As the sun edged towards the horizon, the children of the town donned bike helmets and saucepans and sprinted down the main street to buy lollies. The elderly midwife who had pulled them all into the world stood gossiping with the shopkeeper.
“They’ll have all the mice out of here in a week,” she wheezed. The store owner nodded and began shoveling lollies into paper bags for the children. The eldest child, whose helmet buckle was so tight it pinched the skin under his throat, said, “I wonder what sort of birds they are.”
“No doubt about it, those are eaglehawks,” the Midwife said.
A freckled girl shook her head. “There’s no such thing as an eaglehawk.”
“They are eaglehawks, actually.” No one had noticed the tall stranger standing at the back of the shop.
The children turned and gaped. The shopkeeper’s hand froze mid-shovel. The children mouthed “Eaglehawk Ethan,” while the midwife whispered, “Solomon Delaware Daley?”
Solomon Delaware Daley examined the group of people in front of him with incredibly round eyes. He picked up a newspaper and a bottle of milk. The children edged away from him. The midwife staggered.
Solomon Delaware Daley paid the storeowner and pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket, which he left on the counter. He left the store as silently as he had entered.
The shopkeeper picked up the piece of paper. It had been torn out of an updated edition of Birds of Australia –
Eaglehawk (aquila accipiter):
The eaglehawk was developed by Solomon Delaware Daley. It is believed to be a cross between the Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Crested Hawk and the Collared Sparrowhawk, however Solomon Delaware Daley refuses to reveal the details of its breed.
Unlike other birds of prey, the eaglehawk hunts in large groups. They are fiercely loyal to Solomon Delaware Daley and reportedly follow him from town to town.
Very little is known about Solomon Delaware Daley, except that he is a talented bird handler and has exceptional eyes.