You-Me by Alex Focus

Light-wing was a young male eagle. Although he did not know it yet, he was about to enter his first breeding season. He had been named Light-wing because his left wing had been injured during one of the many beatings he had received, while still a fledgling ‘at the beak’ of his bigger, stronger and just older sister.
You-Me by Alex Focus
She had tried everything to keep him from food. She always pushed him aside when their mother offered a morsel. Many times she had tried to push him right out of the nest. He was sure that she had been intent in killing him. But Light-wing was a fighter, he struggled and tried to avoid the worst of her attacks. Occasionally, with a weak body and wobbly head he managed to snatch the odd piece of meat; to nibble at any forgotten scraps and bones in the nest. In this manner he had survived, but his injured wing never healed properly. His first attempts at flight were almost disastrous as his body was all out of balance, but he could fly in circles. After great efforts and many tries he had managed to learn to fly just like any other eagle. Light-wing wasn’t a big juvenile, in fact one might have called him a bit scrawny. He wasn’t strong or beautiful like the other juveniles of his age. But what made him special was his mind. His sister had been very beneficial to his development – she had taught him determination and persistence. He was determined to fly as well or better than the rest. He hardly ever rested – always diving in his strange spiral dives, flying up again beating against the downdrafts, performing aerial acrobatics that were unmatched. Over the first few years of his adolescence he had grown strong and a great hunter. His spiral dives gave him increased speed, like a bullet from a rifled barrel. They were also very distracting to the prey, who could not predict where he was going to hit, until it was all over. As Light-wing had grown stronger and faster and he had been able to carve out for himself a large territory, which he defended with the same ferocity that his older sibling had shown him. It was a beautiful stretch of the Snowy Mountains with plenty of game, streams, tall gums and cliffs. 2 On this particular day, Light-wing floated lazily on a warm updraft. He had just eaten, and he should have felt satisfied, but still, a growing corner of his being felt empty. He did not know the cause, all he knew, was that every day, the mysterious emptiness was growing larger and more demanding. His language, which had been taught to him in the nest, included only a few verbs: fly, dive and kill. His thoughts and hence the sounds his kind made consisted mostly of nouns and a few adjectives and three or four pronouns. It was a very simple language, but it worked. When the uncomfortable feeling had first started a single word had entered his mind: “Empty!” And then: “Hungry-empty?” “Yes, hungry-empty, yes-yes” So, he had hunted and eaten. “Full, not-hungry’ not-empty? No, still empty-empty” He had concluded, but had not understood. As the emptiness had increased overtime, his lonely screeches had become louder and more urgent: “Empty-empty!” “Empty-empty, EMPTY-EMPTY!” Now he soared, screeched and he searched the ground below for a possible reason. Suddenly, his calls stopped – he had spotted one of his own kind diving for a snake, this was his territory! His emptiness turned to anger and he dropped like a bullet to banish the invader. As he got closer he noticed that the diver was indeed of his own kind, but not unlike him, it was a female. Right away the anger was replaced by a different and strange feeling – the emptiness had mushroomed into a compulsion. He eased his fall and then gently landed on the ground not far from her. 3 She had caught her snake and was just about to take off with it. But, then she had heard him land and had instead swung around to face him, while morphing into an aggressive stance, she had no intention of giving up her snake. She was beautiful. She was older than he was and in a strange way reminded him of his older sister, but he did not feel fear, he felt want. He had retreated a few steps and screeched a bit too enthusiastically: “Me-you, me-you You-me, you-me!!” Startled, she had responded: “No-no, no-no.” And then she had flown off, leaving behind a whirlwind of dust, but with the snake held firmly in her attractive talons. Immediately, without a moment’s thought, he had followed her, and followed her. Followed her every turn, dive, soar; never falling behind by more than a few feet. She could not believe that she was unable to dislodge this funny looking pursuer. She was one of the best fliers, she was older and more experienced and yet this juvenile could out fly her, out manoeuvre her. It was like he was reading her next move before she even thought of it. What a bloody pest! Finally as a last resort, she had dropped her snake, hoping that he would leave her alone. For one thing she would be faster without it. And he did drop after the snake, she was relieved. But not for long, for he was soon climbing, climbing and then he was just above her. He had managed to catch up to the snake and it now was in his talons right above her. He startled her by dropping the snake right in front of her. It almost brushed her beak and she watched her snake fall toward the ground. Then she saw him achieve an almost impossible, spirally speed, trying catch up to it. Near the ground she watched him sweep into a bone breaking turn. In no time, he was once more above her, with the snake in his strong talons. “Me-you.” He screeched and dropped the snake again, right in front of her. She watched it go past, waited a few seconds, and when she saw that he was about to dive after it. She beat him to it by a fraction of a second. The two were as if joined in their fall by an invisible thread a few feet apart as they dived toward the mangled snake. They looked like a small plane with a detached rear propeller falling from the sky. She reached it first and showed him that she could pull out of a dive just as fast. Soon they were both soaring thousands of feet in the air. He followed her, flying under her, hoping that she would continue the game. “Me-you, you-me?” He almost pleaded. This time she did not say ‘No,’ but instead she dropped the snake for him. And then he dropped it for her. And then she dropped it for him. The game continued. With each drop, their flying got closer and closer; with each drop he had screeched: “Me-you, you-me?” She had remained silent throughout, but the game went on. And then, he had surprised once more – on her next drop he had flipped over and had caught the snake while flying upside down: not allowing it to go past him. She had been very impressed; he was sure strong and an exquisite flyer! “You-me.” She had been unable to stop herself from murmuring. “You-me, me-You?!” He had answered immediately, while still flying upside-down and moving to her “You-me, me-You?” He had repeated. Their wonderful eyes had met for the first time, and then their talons had touched, it was like an electric shock. “You-me, me-You!” She had screeched in final agreement. Their talons had touched once more but this time he had gripped hers and she had gripped his. The now completely forgotten snake dropped toward the ground. They clenched each other’s talons and had started revolving around and around, while falling toward the ground and spinning faster and faster. Both screeching with an unknown kind of joy: “You-me me-you, you-me me-you.” At the last possible moment, a few tens of feet from total disaster, they had separated and soared upward in opposite directions. Only, to meet up thousands of feet above, and to repeat the crazy cart-wheeling many more times. The whole valley could hear the intense cry as it grew louder and more prolonged: “You-me me-you, you-me me-you, you-me me-you, you-me me-you…” 4 Finally, exhausted they had landed on a tall Red Gum. He had waddled close to her and she had allowed him to preen her. He murmured: “You-me.” “Me-you.” She answered. “Light-wing – me.” He had told her. “Sharp-eye – me.” She had answered. And for the first time he had noticed that her right eye was injured – she’d had a bully sister too. He realised why they had called her Sharp-eye: with just one eye, her flying had been almost as good as his – her left eye must be indeed be very sharp. As they both regained some of their strength, the preening slowly changed to more intense caresses. Their cries were once more in unison. “You-me me-you, you-me me-you.” And then it happened, she had adopted the pose and he had mounted her and they were one. Again the loud cry was heard in the valley: “You-me me-you, you-me me-you, you-me me-you, you-me me-you …” It was heard many times, to be interrupted by soft keening noises that became longer and longer until they had fallen asleep perched on that branch side by side, spent. 5 The morning sun woke both to a new session of preening. But it was short lived: “Food?” She had cried out, remembering the now lost snake. “Food-food, yes-yes” He had agreed at once. All that second day’s morning they hunted together and shared their catches. They rested and then they joined and then preened. In the early afternoon she had suddenly taken of and for a moment he had been startled and then afraid that she would leave him. But she was soon back, and in her beak she held a small stick. “Stick? Stick-stick?” He had asked in the uncomprehending manner of all males of any species. “Nest. Nest-nest.” She had answered. “Nest? Yes! Nests-nest, sticks-nest, yes-yes.” He had answered enthusiastically, small flaps of his enormous wings lifting him clear of the branch. “Place-safe, place-nest.” She had answered. “Place-safe, place-nest.” He had repeated. Soon they were airborne, searching for just the right place. All the while he carried her first stick. They searched for hours, but were finally rewarded with just the right spot – high up on a cliff ledge, with a small overhang to keep out most of the rain. It was a bit tricky to land there. On approach, they had to dive below its level to pick up speed so that they could just stall right into it, at the right moment. On his first few tries he slid right across the ledge and crashed into the back wall; she circled and observed. Soon he had it down to perfection and then she had imitated his movements and had landed just right, on her first go. He placed her first stick was carefully on the ledge, she moved it a touch, and then they seemed to stop and admire their handiwork. Soon they were both once more aloft and searching for suitable sticks. Slowly and painstakingly the nest grew into what appeared to be a chaotic circle of sticks; but each had been positioned and woven into the whole with many adjustments; a few millimetres here and a few degrees there. She was the main architect, she was older and had nested before. He was inexperienced but a fast learner. He carefully observed how she inserted a stick here and one there and slowly weaved their nest. She showed him the best grass and leaves and soft downy feathers to gather to line the walls and the bowl of the nest. Their preparations came to a sudden stop one morning when she stopped adjusting a small stick and screeched: “Egg-egg.” “Egg-egg?” “Egg-egg, you-me-me you.” “Egg-egg, you-me me-you, Egg-egg, you-me me-you.” He had agreed readily. That night, a brand new egg was in the nest. She stood up and showed it to him. “Egg-egg, you-me me-you.” Startled by its absolute beauty, he had murmured: “You-me, me-you … egg-egg …” 6 Over the next many weeks they took turns at keeping the egg warm and safe; and hunting for food and protecting their territory. They always took turns at roosting, about an hour or so each. Their taloned feet would get very cramped as they had to keep them clenched at all times when nearing the fragile egg. One thoughtless move and the shell would be pierced in a second. As one would slowly rise and waddle off the egg, the other would carefully waddle in place. The egg was never alone and never allowed get cold. Cold was death to the new life. And there were always crows and other slithery things that would go to any lengths to make of the egg-egg a nutritious meal. Late one morning he had been sitting on the egg for almost an hour and was dozing in the pleasant warmth of the late summer’s sun when he felt movement right underneath his feathered belly. He’d jumped up in alarm, ready to slay whatever had dared to slide under him. But there was nothing there except for a tiny hole in the egg-egg. He had cried out in alarm: “Egg-egg, egg-egg…!” Fortunately she had just returned and had witnessed his panic. “Egg-egg, good. Baby-baby, good-good” She had reassured him. “Baby-baby? Good-good?” He had answered relieved and mesmerized by the tiny beak that was now struggling to break the tough shell. “Food-food, baby-baby.” She had instructed. 7 He had lingered a moment longer to witness the second birth of his chick. But she had pushed him aside and he had toppled over the ledge. For a second he was in free fall, confused. Then he had remembered her instructions and the hunt was really on, this one was for his baby, this one really mattered. By the time he had returned to the nest with a still warm rabbit in his claws, the chick was fully out and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He’d nudged the rabbit toward the mother and had watched intensely as she tore the smallest piece of tender meat and offered it toward the unsteady bundle of snow white downy feathers. It took a while for the newborn to find the morsel and to actually open its beak. “Food-food.” The mother had whispered. “Food-food.” It had squeaked back in an uncertain murmur, as it tasted that first morsel. That was the last time it would whisper – from then on, whenever not sleeping, it would shout its need urgently: “FOOD-FOOD!” The days, weeks, months were like a blur for the couple as they hunted, ate, fed, cleaned, hunted, fed, hunted, fed... Their lives had changed completely, but they did not resent the change, but basked in it. She did most of the feeding, he never tired of watching the delicacy she used when feeding their baby the best tid-bits. They watched with pride and joy as the little bundle of down grew steadily into a beautiful and strong and healthy female eagle, a future mother of eagles. She grew fast. Too soon, she had the full set of juvenile feathers and was impatient to try them out. She hopped on the side of the nest, lifting herself two or three feet in the air but lacking the courage of taking that final leap into the abyss below. They watched her with pride at first, then with concern as she was just not willing to leap and test those huge wings. “Fly-fly, jump-jump!” They encouraged her, but to no result. Finally he had lost some of his usual cool and had accidentally bumped her off. “No-no!” Both her and Sharp-eye had cried out as she plummeted like a rock toward the ground below. He was now more than a little worried at his rash move. “NO-NO!” The mother cried once more as she dived after her daughter, but she was too late! The girl just spread her wings and in an instant she was soaring upward like she had been doing it all her life. “Yes-yes!” He cried in triumph. And then had joined the two ladies in their ascent. Naming was always done after the first flight. They named her Brave-wing. 8 All that summer, autumn and winter the three hunted together. They taught Brave-wing how to spot updrafts by their dilute-wine colour and down drafts by their icy lilac hue. They taught her how to hunt for snakes, always making sure that the killing hit was right behind the head. How to spot rabbits and foxes in the early morning and at dusk by their reddish glow. How to knock sheep or goats or kangaroos off the edges of cliffs and let the fall do the hard killing work. They showed her the black strips that veined their land. They were always a good source of ready dead food. As Spring approached they noticed that Brave-wing was spending less and less time with them, they knew that it would soon be time for her to leave and make a life of her own. They did not feel sadness as this is how things went, in any case they were turning more and more to each other – that empty need was once again making them feel the need for closeness. One day, Brave-wing did not return to the nest. And, then they were young again, chasing each other, cartwheeling and preening each other. Soon they were one. One morning she announced: “Egg-egg, egg-egg!” He had jumped up, excited. “Egg-egg!” He had repeated and waddled over to look at it. Once again the roosting had been done in turns. That late spring had been different. Somehow the weather was changing. Some days were very hot, others were mild and yet others cold. One night a terrible storm hit their land, the temperature dived and all was icy cold. He was minding the egg, she had gone hunting. He waited for her return, but the storm passed and he did not see her. He screeched for many days: “You-me, me-you Egg-egg!!” “SHARP-EYE, YOU-ME, EGG-EGG!” But she did not hear him and he did not hear her. Soon he had to go hunt or starve. As he jumped of that ledge his sorrowful screech echoed for all to feel his loss: “Me…me... no-you…no-egg…no-me ...” 9 His loss momentarily forgotten by his hunger, he sought for prey, any would do, even … a cat. But what he saw first was not prey it was her, she was on the ground, a thousand feet below, but she was not standing. In a flood of joy he dived screaming. “Sharp-eye, you-me, me-you, you-me, me-you …” As he landed she did not move. She laid there still, stiff. He approached with dread filling his fast beating chest. “You-me, me-You … Sharp-eye?” He tried to nudge her up with a push from his beak. But she did not move, just rocked a little from side to side. “You-you, but not-you, not-you, not you, not … not … Sharp-eye …” He stayed with her for hours, ignoring hunger pains, ignoring the approaching night and cold. Then as if on sudden impulse, his powerful wings took him aloft, higher and higher, toward their nest. He landed and carefully gripped the now very cold egg and almost fell out of the ledge toward where she lay. Tenderly he placed the egg-egg beside her. “You-me, me-you, egg-egg …” He murmured and remained beside them the rest of the freezing night. 10 In the morning hunger was king. He could not stay any longer, with one final glance he was airborne. “HUNGRY-hungry…sad-sad…angry-angry!” He soon spotted a cold, slow moving goanna. He dived onto it with the force and the mindless hunger and anger of a cannon ball. The reptile was dead from just the impact. He did not bother to lift it to a safer place but tore at its carcass with violence and greed and his need to hit back at the universe. It had been a large lizard but was reduced to a few bones in minutes. His ascent was slow and lumbering as he was full in the crop but empty in his heart. He perched on the high branches of their Red Gum and remained there the rest of the day. Over the next weeks he repeated the hunt and the lonely rest many times. The only interruptions were to chase away any transgressor into his territory. Once in a while he would visit the nest and fix any twigs that had moved a fraction of an inch, he kept the grass lining fresh. He also kept vigil on her body, discouraging all hungry scavengers that he could see, but the smallest ones he could not stop – slowly the flies, bacteria and fungi took care of her and she was soon, once again, one with the land. 11 One day, in the early spring of the next year, on his way to one of his many re-visits to the nest he spotted an intruder. This one was different. It wasn’t flying around – it was right inside his nest! Anger and outrage bubbled inside him like lava. He dived straight for the alien thing in his, their nest. The force of the dive would have killed a bull, but at the last moment he had pulled up short as the intruder was a young female … and she wasn’t all that ugly. Never the less she needed to be taught a lesson. He bumped he heavily aside as he landed in the nest. She had not noticed his arrival as she had been busy rearranging some of the foliage at the bottom of the nest. “Mine!” He had shouted at her and bumped her again. She had turned around and had assumed a submissive pose. “Slender-tail- me.” She had said, as if it explained everything. “Go! Mine, you-go, go go!” He had ignored her attempted introduction and bumped even more forcibly. She had got the message and had gone off in a whirlwind of beating wings. He had looked around and rearranged all that she had done. He could not get over her impertinence… he should have killed her. But that now she was gone and he wasn’t sure whether he was happy about it or not. She wasn’t gone completely – he caught sight of her circling high above and still in his territory. Should he chase her away? He was unsure, and so he just sat in the nest and watched her circle. At one point, he noticed that her circling had suddenly changed: she was now heading in a definite direction. Then he saw where she was going – there was another intruder in his territory. He was just about to take off in pursuit when he saw her dive bomb the intruder and almost knock it out of the sky. She continued her attack until the intruder thought better of it and finally left. He was impressed. And then she was gone, he could no longer see her. This time he knew for sure that he regretted her going. The need, the emptiness had been with him for a few weeks now, but he had ignored it. He did not want a new mate – no one could replace Sharp-eye … but Slender-tail … was brave … and not so ugly. Suddenly, she was back. She arrived from below the ledge and stalled neatly onto the edge of the nest, in her talons was a dead rabbit and her beak was a stick. She placed the stick in the side of the nest where there seemed to be an obvious hole. “You-me, me-you?” She said. He looked at her for a long time. He then waddled over to the new stick and repositioned it a few millimetres and a few degrees. Then he looked up at her and agreed: “You-me, me-you …”


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