Lullaby by Darlene Eliot
There’s an owl outside the window. He hoots at 1:00 a.m. The tenants toss, turn, and fume. 3B opens the window, aims a flashlight at the leaves. 2A stomps out with a tennis ball and hurls it at the tree. He doubles back to the stained-glass door, then tempers his steps as he walks up the stairs.
There’s an owl outside the window. He chirps at 2:00 a.m. 3A stumbles from his Mustang double-parked in the street. He looks up at the tree; waiting for a divebomb or mutual screech. 3C grabs her phone, checks her alarm for the fourteenth time and glances at her interview clothes draped over the chair.
There’s an owl outside the window. He shrieks at 3:00 a.m. 2E clutches his teddy bear, afraid to call out; afraid to tell them he needs the nightlight after all. The doors slam in 2D. 3F twists her earplugs and nudges the Westie off the bed. She hugs a body pillow, wishing her fiancé would dump the graveyard shift. The Westie jumps back on the bed and rests his head at her feet. The door-slammers in 2D settle for the night; snoring in separate rooms in their dark blue sleep masks.
There’s an owl outside the window. He coos at 4:00 a.m. The wind and the trees carry the answer back. The couple in 2B smile when they hear it. They wait for such duets. They tiptoe on the hardwood floor; remembering the comfort of carpet, the silence of cushioned foot falls. They remember their first day in the restored Queen Anne. The unexpected trip over the threshold. The move to the second floor. The decision to stay and stay and stay. The years bringing things they never thought they would order. Canes and readers and lumbar support. Slower walks up the stairs. A son asking how much longer can you do this? They ignore the blinking clock on the stove; the clock marking the power outage; marking time before the buyout begins. They leave their dishes in the sink, walk arm in arm to the bedroom, listening to music in the trees.
There are two owls outside the window and two people in 2B. They listen to the hum of the streetsweeper, the front door closing, the cars ka-chunking over a metal plate in the road. 1C restarts her backfiring scooter. 3A guns his ticketed Mustang. 1A says maintenance better get those damn birds or she’ll hose them out of the trees herself. 2E runs upstairs to get his dinosaur backpack. An unexpected breeze rustles the trees and the corner of 2B’s window, then circles back to the field from where it came.
Darlene Eliot is an emerging writer who lives in California. When not writing short fiction, she enjoys time with her sweetheart and hiking anywhere near water or Redwoods. Her work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Puerto del Sol Journal, Your Impossible Voice, Lost Balloon and elsewhere.