Carlile saw the pond on Tuesday, framed for a moment in the dirty window of the train, like locking eyes with a beautiful stranger. Then gone. Back to the long grey blur of the route to the city. Carlile had ridden the train five days a week for two years, minus two vacation weeks per year. The train never varied its route. Yet she had never noticed the small pond in the woods, never chanced to raise her eyes to the window at the exact moment the train passed by.
Through the rest of the ordinary day, she thought of the pond often. A gift. Several times that day, she opened her lips to say, "I saw..." But she didn’t mention the pond to anyone, not to the woman at the coffee shop, the people in the office, the teenager at the dry cleaners where she stopped on her way home. Not to Eva, at home, who was leaving her.
The next day was drizzly. Carlile forgot her hat and the rain seeped through her hair and was cold on her scalp as she walked to the train. The train came and she sat in the same seat as the previous morning. She tucked her commuter ticket under the clip on the seat in front of her, as she did every morning. She unfolded her newspaper, as did the man in the seat beside her. As one body, the new passengers raised their papers in front of them. Carlile glanced at the headlines, at a photo on the front page of a ship listing heavily to one side but still afloat. If I were a different sort of person, she thought, I would show this photo to Eva and say, "This is our relationship." But she was not melodramatic.
She looked out the window and wondered if she had imagined the pond the morning before. She lowered her paper, re-folded it and tucked it back in her bag. She watched the landscape flash by, the back lots of tenements and factories. Then the pond, pale gray in the mist, ringed with wet black trees.
The pond was there the next day and the next, bright blue in the midst of chainlink fences, things grimy and abandoned. It was small. Carlile could have swum across it in twenty strokes. It was shallow, though Carlile did not know how she knew this. It was perfectly round, ringed with trees still green though it was autumn. There was a rock in the middle with a few dry rushes grown up around it. A bit of wild in the ravaged track-side landscape. She waited in anticipation for the sight of it, while around her passengers read their newspapers and the conductor quietly made her way down the aisle checking tickets. After the pond flashed by, Carlile stared out the window until the train jolted and huffed into the station. She had lost interest in the newspaper.
On Friday morning, a tall gangly bird stood in the middle of the pond by the rock and the rushes. A heron. It seemed a reward for keeping watch through the week. Carlile awoke on Saturday morning thinking of the heron. She felt a moment’s regret that she would not ride the train that morning. Eva was already up, pulling on running pants and humming the same tune over and over. Carlile watched her brush her hair in front of the mirror, looked at her the way she would look at a stranger. Eva was lovely. Honey gold hair, smooth skin, long graceful legs. Carlile watched her watch herself in the mirror. Her mouth twitched in a smile that was not for Carlile. Her eyes did not see their bedroom. Eva turned then, and smiled at Carlile, an automatic gesture less real than the smile for the mirror. Carlile opened her lips to say "Is there...? Are you...?" Instead, she said, " I saw a heron yesterday."
Eva bent to tie her running shoe. "Really."
"From the train."
Eva stood, kissed her index finger then leaned to place it on Carlile’s cheek. "Gotta run."
The heron was still there on Monday. It had long legs and a long neck. The feathers on top of its head swept back into a tousled crest. Its back was slate blue, its chest cream-colored in the morning sun. Carlile saw it the next day and the next.
It was early October. The leaves on the tops of the trees around the pond turned scarlet. Most mornings, the heron stood still. But sometimes Carlile caught it in motion, a long leg reaching forward, the graceful neck curving as the heron bent to the water. Once it made a quick strike into the rushes with its heavy bill just as the train went by. On cold windy mornings, the heron folded its neck, hunched into itself and faced the wind. On cloudy mornings, the pale feathers on its chest looked gray. In sunlight, they shone white or gold, or even pale red, like blood in water. Carlile started leaving the house earlier in the morning to make sure she got a seat next to a window on the train. She wondered how long the heron would stay.
Eva noticed that she left earlier. This surprised Carlile. For some time, she had felt invisible at home. Eva asked if her workload had increased or if her boss had asked her to start earlier. Those two choices. That was how Eva asked questions. Carlile tried to remember the early days of their relationship, the days of wanting to know all of the life that came before they met. Had Eva always asked questions that way: Was your childhood happy or sad? Goldfish or gerbils? Girl Scouts or 4-H Club? Had Eva always narrowed her life to two choices?
Even when she was lost in thought or jotting a note, Carlile knew the exact moment the train passed the pond. It was as though her body counted the clacks and jolts from the depot to the pond. Then she looked up and stared intently out the window. She saw details, as though time slowed those few seconds that the train flashed by. She noticed how the tops of the rushes broke apart and spilled downy white seeds into the wind. She saw red and gold leaves blowing across the surface of the water, the heron’s feathers ruffling across its back as it turned to the wind.
One morning, a woman sitting in the seat beside her noticed Carlile staring out the window and followed her look. She looked back at Carlile, baffled, and Carlile had an uncomfortable moment of seeing herself in this woman’s eyes -- a young woman staring intently at nothing. Carlile looked down the aisle at the various heads, balding and coiffed, bent over their morning papers. She felt separate. A good or bad feeling? No, that was Eva’s question. It was neither good nor bad. It was simply separate, a lonely yet satisfying separateness. The train clattered on to the station, into its berth, and its passengers poured out like termites from a log on fire. Carlile walked slowly among them.
The trees around the pond turned deep gold and bronze. The morning sun was lower and its light took on texture, like syrup. It had been a dry autumn. The pond was shallow and ringed with dry brown grasses. One morning a small flock of ducks was busy dabbling in water. They looked like travelers newly up and awake, getting ready for the rest of their journey. The heron still stood by the rushes. Once, it raised its graceful head and looked directly at Carlile, as though conscious that she was watching from the train. Carlile was struck with gratitude.
Carlile had fallen out of love before, felt it suddenly give way like a rotted stair tread. When it happened, and it had happened several times, she knew that love had not existed in the first place. She had been mistaken, lulled, hopeful, hornswoggled.
So how does real love end? Had it evaporated, its passing unremarked by either her or Eva? They sat at the table one night, eating dinner -- baked squash, rice, spicy ground beef. The open window let in clean October air. They were talking about ordinary things and for a moment there was the old glow of love between them. Eva was laughing at something Carlile said, Carlile was pouring a second glass of wine. Then the phone rang. Eva gave an apologetic shrug and went to answer it. Carlile sat and finished her wine and pleasure drained from the evening. She shut the window, turned off the lamp and looked out at the squares of light in other people’s houses. There was a half moon. She thought of the heron, sleeping with its head tucked under a wing. She imagined touching the moon-bright feathers on its chest.
She stood up, restless despite the wine. She pulled on a wool sweater. In the next room, Eva was finishing her phone call. She raised her eyebrows, surprised, as Carlile gave a quick wave and stepped out the door. Carlile wondered if Eva had assumed she would sit waiting. Assumed they would spend the evening watching TV in bed then fall into sex before sleep -- something that happened seldom now. She walked out the door feeling a bitter triumph.
One rainy morning, Carlile saw a couple sitting in the station. Their meager luggage was gathered around them. The woman sat slumped to one side, as though she had had a stroke. She wore cheap tennis shoes with holes cut out for corns or bunions, something painful. The man sat with his huge hands hanging between his knees, the dirt of the ages ground into the grain of his fingers. They were married, it was clear. They sat close but not touching. As Carlile passed, the woman lurched up, then leaned against the man and whispered something in his hairy ear. He laughed loudly, wiping tears from his eyes. The woman looked on, pleased with herself. Carlile envied them, at least in that moment. They were the world to each other. She was no longer Eva’s world, anyone’s world. She started to cry as she walked out of the station. She was horrified. She seldom cried, let alone in a crowded train station. Once outside, she lifted her face to the rain to hide her tears. She dodged along the crowded sidewalks hunched into her upturned collar. She thought of the heron, the way if drew up the tops of its great wings and sheltered its head between them. How it shook its feathers in the rain like a person shedding a heavy coat. She chuckled, pulled her umbrella out of her bag and snapped it open. She shook the rain out of her hair and walked to her office.
The heron was so often in Carlile’s thoughts that she felt she should explain it to Eva. Not to do so seemed like keeping an secret from her. They spoke about fewer and fewer things, the daily practical things. Carlile could not remember the last time they had talked about something that was not immediately necessary. One evening, Eva was sitting still, something rare for her. She was cutting threads off the cuff of a shirt.
"Do you ever think about something all the time?" Carlile asked. Her voice sounded loud, almost shrill.
Eva did not notice. She held the shirt up to the light.
"What sort of things?"
"That’s what I’m asking -- are there things you think about all the time?"
"No," Eva said. She continued snipping threads and cast one quick look at Carlile as though her task required her full attention.
So Carlile did not tell her about the heron, how it shadowed her through the days, its breath light and warm on the side of her neck.
One morning the heron was not there. Carlile started up out of her seat, cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed them against the window. No, it was gone. She sat back and a little groan came out of her. The man seated next to her moved his thick woolen-clad arm away from her. The train clattered on.
She felt lost all day. It was as though she had been living two lives over the past weeks. In one, she showered, ate, worked, shopped. She exchanged talk with Eva, waited for her in bed at night and fell asleep before Eva laid down on her side of the bed.
In her other life, she was in the stillness of the pond. With the heron. A wordless place. Acceptance in the lidded dark eyes of the heron. In this other life, she reached out her hand and ran her fingers through the soft pale feathers of the heron’s breast, felt the warmth underneath. Now that world was gone. There was only the gray world of the everyday.
The next morning, the heron was again standing in its place in the rushes. Her heart leapt.
She went to the library and found a shelf of bird guides. She chose a guide at random and leafed through it, looking for her heron. She felt furtive, the way she felt in middle school looking up words about sex in biology books and the dictionary. She found a picture of a heron looking blank-faced but somewhat sinister. Text underneath the picture described what was in the picture: long legs and neck, dark bluish gray above, etc. It was as disappointing as her secretive scholarship in middle school, the way the dry language of the texts never explained the power of the words. The bird guide’s description of plumage did not begin to explain how the heron had come to fill her waking life.
They visited Eva’s sister, Lois. Lois had made coconut macaroons, Carlile’s favorites, and built a fire in the woodstove. Eva and Carlile sat by the fire and Lois brought out mugs of hot cocoa. They murmured thanks and Lois brushed it aside, as was her way. She always seemed ashamed of her own kindness, as though tenderness was something that one practiced in private. It was something learned young, Carlile thought. Eva had the same way.
Eva and Lois exchanged family news. Carlile watched two woodpeckers at a feeder outside the window. They were black and white, the male with a dab of red on the back of his head. They flew back and forth from the feeder to a cherry tree that still had hard dry berries. Carlile was mesmerized watching them. Lois noticed Carlile watching.
"See how the male always eats first? He’s the dominant one, that’s for sure."
Eva made a crack about Lois not letting him get away with it.
"Maybe the female lets him go first," Carlile said.
"No," Lois said. "He’s tops. That how it is in the animal world. No room for nice."
But we are the animal world, Carlile wanted to say. She was thinking of the heron, thinking that its life was not all that different from her own. She became aware that Lois and Eva were waiting for her answer. But she was thinking of the heron, its days spent in the pond, as she spent her days riding between home and the city. Eva gave Lois a triumphant look, as though Carlile had just proved a point they had discussed earlier. Lois shrugged and the two sisters went on with their conversation. Carlile continued her watch out the window.
Carlile dreamed of the heron. She did not remember the dreams clearly, and sometimes could not distinguish them from her waking thoughts. But she remembered one dream in detail and knew it to be a dream: She was at a party in a mansion with large mirrored rooms and crystal chandeliers. The rooms were crowded with people in silks and furs, talking and laughing. They all tried to get Carlile’s attention as she elbowed her way through them. But she needed air. She slipped out a French door to a balcony. It was night. On the lawn below, the heron stood by a torch-lit swimming pool. She was sad to see it there, standing on the cold cement in the dark. But she was also overjoyed that it had come for her. She called out to it and the sound woke her. Eva slept soundly beside her, her arm across her eyes.
Carlile stepped inside the door and bent to remove her wet boots. Eva’s jacket hung dripping by the door. Carlile was late. She stood with her stocking feet on the cold tiles and removed her coat carefully so it would not drip on the floor. She stopped, one arm still half in its sleeve. On the small hall table, in a glass, was a sprig of white flowers. Carlile breathed their sweetness and the name floated up in her mind. Freesia. Her pleasure mixed with dismay that she had forgotten an important date. Their anniversary? No, it was an ordinary day, she was sure of it. That increased her pleasure in the sweet fragrance, the pure white petals and green stems. Eva had brought her flowers on an ordinary day.
She padded down the hall in her socks, holding the surprised smile on her face, wanting Eva to see it. Eva was sitting at her desk, her back to the door. She acknowledged Carlile with a wave, but did not turn around. She was working on her computer. Carlile stood in the doorway, moving from one foot to the other, unsure of how long to wait. Eva turned slightly and looked at her. Her eyes were distracted, her mouth slightly annoyed. It was not the face of a woman who had brought flowers to her lover. Carlile turned away, bewildered. Later, Eva came out stretching her shoulders and rubbing her wrists. It had been a long session at the keyboard. At their scanty supper, Carlile finally asked about the flowers. Eva gave a dismissive wave. Everyone in her small office had received them to celebrate a new contract. Eva did not like their cloying smell in her tiny workspace but had not wanted to throw them away. Carlile hoped that Eva had not seen the foolish delight on her face when she stood in the doorway, when she had stood ready for them to begin all over again.
The heron was stately and still. Carlile only occasionally caught it in motion as the train rushed by. Always slow dignified movements. One morning there was a problem with the train’s engine, and the conductor announced that they would be traveling at half-speed. The passengers muttered their irritation and flicked their newspapers. Carlile watched for the pond with great anticipation. She would have a long slow look.
The train chugged along and the heron came into view. It faced the slow-moving train. Carlile stared and held her breath. It stretched out its wings. Carlile was amazed at their breadth, like a huge cloak. It drew up one leg, lightly, then touched down and drew up the other, touched down and lifted again. It arched its neck, lifted its head, its wide wings still outstretched. The heron danced. The train made its slow way past the pond and Carlile watched, transfixed, as the heron danced for her.
Now Eva and Carlile seldom touched. It was awkward when they did, as though their hands had grown huge and heavy. When Eva touched Carlile, it was with an athlete’s rough affection, an arm across the shoulders or a back-handed nudge. Carlile touched Eva by necessity. She touched a shoulder with her fingertips to get Eva’s attention. She placed her hand in the center of Eva’s back as she moved past her in the narrow hall.
Carlile could not summon her body’s memory of Eva’s touch when they had touched with passion. She remembered calling Eva’s name in the dark, remembered her breath coming deeper and deeper, the electric touch of Eva’s lips on her throat. She remembered all this like someone remembering a childhood language spoken in a country far away.
One night Carlile reached out in the dark and ran her fingers down Eva’s back. She heard Eva swallow, knew she was awake. She moved her hand to Eva’s waist. When Eva did not move away, Carlile reached around and cupped her breast. Eva rolled over onto her back. Carlile traced her profile, dark against the faint light of the window. Eva pushed her hand away.
"Don’t do that." Her voice was flat and irritated.
"What do you want me to do?"
Eva sat up and leaned over her. "I want you to quit asking me what to do." She said it loudly, as though they were in a noisy and crowded place instead of their empty bedroom. She said it as though she had said it many times, as though Carlile knew the entire history of that statement. But she did not. All tenderness drained out of her. She pulled her hand back. She waited for Eva to get up and sleep somewhere else. But Eva rolled over and breathed deeply. Carlile could not tell if she pretended sleep or had truly fallen into the relieved sleep of one who has finally had her say.
From her distanced vantage point on the train, Carlile admired the supple strength of the heron. Its long neck, the soft pale feathers spilling down to the belly, its back and wings all shades of blue and even pink, like clouds at twilight. Its legs were straight and strong and she imagined, as she looked out the train window, the tight bulges of its knees like branches on an apple tree in some remembered orchard. Carlile’s elbow rested on the sill of the train window, her head rested in her palm. She pushed her fingers through her hair, felt the soft springiness where it grew from her scalp. She imagined her hair as feathers, that softness and resilience. To be covered in feathers. She looked at her hands. Blunt yellow ends of bones pressed under chapped red skin. Her knuckles were full of tiny fissures and wrinkles, the backs covered with freckles, moles and scars. Her fingernails were thick and rounded like they were working their way into claws. She probed the sharp edge of a chipped tooth with her tongue. She imagined her narrow body under its heavy clothes, the sallow skin stretched over the joints, the slack muscles and bristly scatters of dark hair. Only her wrists: slender, delicate. Lovely in their symmetry of small bones, each with its three veins running neatly alongside each other, electric as snakes.
The woman sitting next to her wore an open-necked blouse and open-toed shoes with thin straps. So much skin exposed on such a raw day. She had fine-textured skin the color of coffee with cream. Her toenails were painted deep plum. Carlile looked again at her wrists. If she thought her body was as lovely as her wrists, would she show it to the world, the way this woman showed the soft skin of her throat, her perfect feet? What was it, to reveal and be desired? She had taken it for granted once. Carlile pulled the cuffs of her sleeves down. What did Eva see when she looked at her now?
Carlile was in a checkout line, leafing through a magazine, and came upon a poem called "The Heron." Her heart jumped. At last, an expression of what she had been feeling these past weeks. She read very few poems and had the idea that all poems were love poems. But this poem was about a heron killing and eating a frog, about the grim necessities of living. Where she had expected sweetness she found a mouthful of sand.
She knew enough of the grim necessities of living, everyone did. Surely that was not the stuff of poetry in a world full of backs bent to their tasks. She returned the magazine to its place and looked out at the wide parking lot. A single black-bottomed cloud dropped snowflakes so gently they seemed to materialize out of the air. The end of November. Winter was coming. She felt something well up in her chest and, just as quickly, she swallowed it down.
In her waking dreams, Carlile began to talk to the heron. A silent commentary. The way the sun cast shadows of fence pickets along the sidewalk, like something alive and rippling. The music made by the tines of a rake clattering in the gutter. The late autumn constellations that rose above the houses as she walked home from the train at night. She offered these glimpses of her world as small gifts to the heron. Then she began to tell the heron things about herself. Thoughts. Hopeful thoughts and what she loved. She could say these things, in these imagined conversations, without fear of ridicule or dismissal. She had a sense that the heron could tell her things about herself that she did not know, things shot through with sunlight, rimed with frost. The heron, in these waking dreams, knew her as more than she imagined herself to be. More than the Carlile whose mind drilled down the days one-quarter hour at a time, making small choices, worrying petty worries. Was that not what she wanted from her beloved? To have her quirks and grace mined from her everyday dirt? Carlile listened hard, but the heron’s voice was a breeze through a feather, a slender foot lightly breaking the surface of calm water.
Carlile lay on her back in bed sobbing, her face wet with tears, tears running down her temples and soaking her hair, filling her throat with thin salty mucous. She was crying like she had as a child, long and hard, past knowing why. Crying as a mere physical act, like swallowing or skipping, her thick, wet, suffocating sobs unconnected to emotion or injury. She woke in the dark, in silence, and touched her face. It was dry. She took a breath and her throat was clear. But before the surprise of all that, the heron’s face flickered for a moment, and she was soothed and washed by the kindness in its look. She touched Eva’s side of the bed and found it smooth and empty. The surprise of that was that she was not surprised.
Carlile and Eva had met under a set of circumstances so star-crossed, by such ordered chance, that it seemed they were meant to meet and fall in love forever.
They met at the airport. Carlile was arriving home, struggling with her carry-on luggage. A large shopping bag had ripped and she was trying to hold it together while carrying a tote bag and small suitcase. A young woman moved through the crowd with an athlete’s grace and walked up to Carlile with a welcoming smile. It was like a dream.
"I’m Eva," was all she said, and she reached for Carlile’s suitcase. The shopping bag slid out of Carlile’s hand and they both scrambled to pick up its contents. Someone called Eva’s name and they stood and looked at each other.
A woman approached them. A woman who fit Carlile’s description but did not look like her. Carlile thought she saw a look of regret cross Eva’s face. In the ensuing confusion and laughter, Eva ended up with several of Carlile’s books from the ripped shopping bag. She tracked Carlile through a business card tucked in one of them. They met in the city so Eva could return the books. Neither Eva nor Carlile mentioned the possibility of mailing them. Carlile had delighted in Eva -- her crooked front tooth, her loping walk, the pale down along her jawbone. The little notch in her left ear from a dog bite when she was five. And Eva, for some time, delighted in Carlile. A brief amount of time, considering the efforts on the part of fate to bring them together.
Now Carlile wondered if there are points in time when people are open to falling in love, like those moments when an overcast sky rips open to reveal the blue beyond. And whatsoever presents itself at that moment becomes the beloved.
The sun dragged itself up later each morning into the short gray days of December. Carlile walked to the train depot in the half-light of early winter. The heron, curled against the early morning cold, was a dark question mark against the gunmetal surface of the pond. It drew in its neck, took its great length into its body, yet its body gained no size. Rather, it seemed diminished, almost weightless on its thin sticks of legs, lost in the fragile shelter of its wings. Wind turned aside its feathers and Carlile imagined its tender skin exposed to the raw chill. She wished she could reach out from the warmth of the crowded train and hold the heron against her body. But the heron was never so distant as on these early winter mornings. Carlile allowed herself to wonder how much longer it could stay.
Carlile tugged the collar of her bathrobe under her chin and stepped out the door to retrieve the Sunday paper. On Sundays, she and Eva drank sweet milky tea and ate cinnamon-sugar toast in bed with the paper. These slow, sticky mornings were a carryover from Eva’s childhood and the only one of their traditions as a couple that remained. Cold air stung Carlile’s nostrils when she stepped outside. The geranium on the doorstep was collapsed into black slime. A white furze outlined the wrought iron railing. Carlile thought of the heron, the pond icing over. She walked into the bedroom with the paper.
"What’s wrong?" Eva asked. She was sitting in bed with her knees drawn up. She looked concerned. Her eyes sought out Carlile’s. "What is it?"
Carlile felt like she might weep with the relief of being seen again by Eva. She fumbled for an answer, one that Eva might understand.
"There was a hard frost last night. The geranium’s dead."
"It’s December. What do you expect?" Eva made an impatient gesture with her hand, wanting the paper. Carlile set it on the bed and Eva began pulling out her favorite sections. Then she began reading intently, bringing her toast to her mouth without looking at it. Buttery crumbs fell and she absently shook them off the paper onto the sheets.
"I’m going out," Carlile said.
"Out?" Eva looked up over the paper, a corner of toast halfway to her mouth. Carlile did not answer. Eva shrugged and bent her head to the paper again. But not before Carlile saw the look of vindication on her face. It was Carlile leaving this time -- it was not going to be all her fault, after all. Eva drew her fine golden brows into a look of fierce concentration that Carlile remembered loving, very absorbed in the Arts & Leisure section. Carlile turned her back to the bed, dressed then grabbed her car keys. Eva glanced up as she left the room and shrugged again.
Outside, a thin layer of frost lay over everything like a scattering of white stars. Carlile scraped frost off the windshield. A winter task, a winter day. Winter, and the heron would be gone. She had forgotten gloves but did not want to go back inside for them. Eva might decide, after all, to demand answers. Carlile might tell her about the heron. Like all secrets, it would lose its power once told. She would be left with nothing.
She sat in the car and looked at a map. There was the train track, there was a road. There, next to the train track, was a tiny circle of blue. She moved her finger from the blue dot to the road -- where the road took a sharp left turn after a golf course.
She drove. It was still early, Sunday, and there was no traffic. Dead leaves along the curbstones were white with frost. A girl rode by on a bike, leaving a black line on the frosted asphalt. She had never considered going to the pond. It had appeared so suddenly that one morning that she was not certain it was real. There was a chance that she was the only person on the train who saw it. Carlile found the road that roughly paralleled the train’s route. At times she glimpsed the tracks behind a warehouse or on a high berm above a drainage ditch. She found the golf course and parked the car on the side of the road just before the sharp bend. She crossed the road and slid down an embankment into a scraggly bit of woods littered with beer cans and broken glass.
There were no paths, but she could see clearly through the stunted leafless saplings. Frost coated the crisp brown leaves underfoot. She walked past bushes with smoke-gray bark and hard red berries. She bent down and pushed low branches out of her way, trying to keep to a straight course. The woods sloped upward and she breathed heavily, the moist air from the bottom of her lungs fogging in the cold air. She could not remember the last time she walked in woods alone. The sky was white, as though the low clouds were full of snow. Her foot broke through a patch of brittle ice to black frozen mud below. She felt like she had been walking a long time. This was perhaps foolish, a mistake. The heron had come as a gift, seen from the train. In demanding more, she might lose even that.
Then she saw the pond through the trees, reflecting the pearl-white of the sky. She moved quickly, quietly, feeling light and graceful as she dodged heavy tangles of briars and fallen tree limbs. The heron was standing in the middle of the pond in the rushes near the rock. The pond seemed larger than it looked from the train, and the heron seemed no closer. Carlile stood watching. She breathed and the heron breathed, its feathers ruffling gently along its sides. She remembered the dreams, the warmth under her hand.
For a long while she and the heron stood, without motion or sound.
"I’m here," she said. Her voice came out in a low raspy whisper, but the heron shied away from the sound. It opened its huge wings and flapped awkwardly, then stood and shook its feathers. It looked at her, then it seemed to gather into itself and draw its body downward. Its neck whipped back and it flexed its legs as it brought its great wings out and down. It strained for a moment, then lifted its wings and brought them down again. Carlile heard a sharp bright sound and saw that the heron had broken free from a thin layer of ice. It rose above the pale glow of the pond, its legs trailing behind. Each leg had an anklet of broken shards of ice.
The heron circled over the pond, neck and legs outstretched, like a dinosaur become bird. Then it tucked in its neck and flew over the trees, south.
Open water shone black where the heron had broken away from the ice. It was not truly a pond, just a wide pool of stagnant water. Close up, Carlile noticed the dark scummy shoreline and two car tires mired in the mud. The cinderblock walls of a factory were visible through the trees.
It began to snow. She bent and picked up a feather, as long as her hand and violet blue.
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