I am of interest to an owl.
His first arrival was inelegant. I stared at the ceiling beneath a mound of blankets and counted the last few seconds of peace. My alarm is triggered at 6am, and it has become a habit to wake a few moments early. I usually lie in the darkness for those hanging minutes, listening carefully for hints of wind or rain on the skylights.
A gentle bump of bone on glass.
I turned my head to see a dull figure flaring off-balance against the glass. A moment’s panic subsided, and the shape settled on the gutter below the window frame. Without my glasses, I narrowed my eyes in the gloom. A grey, headless silhouette bobbed against the darkness, shoulders hunched up to a sawn-off neck.
My slightest movement caused panic – the shape was off again. Grey wings blurred behind the glass, but instead of reeling away across the moss, the owl had simply moved over to the skylight on the landing – two cracked panes of old glass in a cast-iron frame. This window bleeds rust down the plaster and leaks our precious warmth like a chimney – it is a relic of bygone years, and the bird made it a frame.
I lay back and listened to him land on the glass, skidding down the sloping surface like a clumsy child. Talons caught here and there on the cracked surface, and the contact produced a sharp, mousey squeal.
I crept from the bed and peered out of my bedroom door. Viewed from an angle, the window was a navy blue oblong of darkness against a black ceiling. The owl found some purchase in this space. Judging by his silhouette, he was comfortable – he began to preen his undercarriage. He was almost within arm’s reach – I could almost have touched him. I had woken from a feather bed, and the owl’s quiet softness seemed to offer similar comfort. I began to raise my hand towards the glass.
With blasting horror, my alarm exploded and the illusion was lost. I rushed to my bedside table to shut off the noise, but the moment was as dead as a dream. When I returned to the landing a few seconds later, the electric light was on and the glass seemed much further away than it had been. The staircase had been gentle and smooth in the natural dullness, but now it was hard and angular. The bannister vanished mysteriously down into the hall.
The scene was so profoundly changed that I began to wonder if it had all been a dream. After all, why would an owl land on the roof of an occupied house? What business did a bird have to walk on a pane of glass? And yet the narrow, reedy squeak of those talons was oddly vivid.
The day soon intervened, and these half-seen images paled beneath the glare of daylight. I forgot my dream.
But the memory returned as the clock approached 6am the following morning. I tested reality beneath the covers and found the scene had been immaculately reset. With a minute or two to spare before my alarm, I heard small, clattering footsteps on the slates above the window. The dull shape returned to peer in the bedroom window.
I slipped my hand out and crushed the alarm before it had a chance to say its piece. I found my glasses and returned the observer’s gaze. The headless form had eyes and a dark, inscrutable glare. My skin crawled and my hackles rose, but the exchange was strangely hypnotic. He swirled his cloak and vanished back to the slates. For ten minutes, the bird clambered all over my house as if it were merely a large, curiously formed boulder. I lay beneath the covers and followed his exploratory paces with my ears, submitting my belongings to inspection.
When silence returned, I got up and peered out through the glass. This building stands alone in the midst of a landscape dominated by rough grass, marshland and scrub. It is an obvious focal point for a curious bird on his way home to roost. From where I stood between carpet and curtain, I had a view of the moss rambling away beneath a layer of frost. Stars prickled down to the dark horizon, and I shivered. I turned the sense of intrusion on its head. I call this my land, but cornered by the cold and held captive indoors during the hours of darkness, I would soon die here without heavy clothes and burning stoves. I pulled on my dressing gown and decided that if anyone was out of place here, it was me.