The next day Alexis told her parents.
“It’s an osprey, I think,” she said at breakfast. “I looked it up online. They’re the only predatory bird that only eats fish.”
She led them upstairs, out on the balcony, where they all stood hip-to-hip.
“Look at that,” her mother said. The babies were alone again. “Aren’t they cute.”
“Good thing we found them early,” her father said. He was still holding his coffee mug—the one with Morgan Radley Real Estate written on it. “It’ll be easier to move them.”
“Look, there’s already poop on the roof,” her mother said. “And we don’t want them eating into it.”
“Roof repairs are expensive, Alexis,” her father said.
“They’re not going to eat into the roof. They eat fish.”
“But if their claws rub up against it,” her mother said.
“I’ve been doing research. I think the mate died. Usually there’s two together, and one gets to watch the chicks while the other goes hunting. But there’s only one here.”
“They’ll be better off somewhere else.”
“I can watch the chicks when the mother’s gone.”
“You’re not going to sit here all day and watch birds,” her father said.
“Or—at least they’ll be safer up on our house. It’s less likely something bad will happen to them.”
“Are you going to clean the poop off the roof?” her mother placed her hands on her hips, which she always did when she was ready to walk away, leave the conversation, move on.
“I’ll call in tomorrow,” her father said. He sipped his coffee. Both parents drifted inside. Alexis leaned against the railing, her forehead folded onto her arms.
“Oh, I almost forgot.”
Alexis twitched up from her slump. Her mother was in the doorway.
“Mary-Anne sent me a text-message. She’s going to ask about the interview. Probably Friday, she says.”
“Thanks, Mom. I guess—yeah. I guess I’ll do it.”
“Start practicing. Think of what you’re going to say.”
“You’re good at that.” Her mother smiled. “This will be a good start for you.”
“Yeah. We’ll see,” Alexis said. She returned to her slump as her mother went back inside.
The rest of the day she sat on the balcony. She spread out a beach towel and leaned a pillow against the rail. She ate lunch, read for a little while. It was overcast but not cold. Alexis didn’t want to name the birds—she knew it would be too painful—but she’d started thinking of the chicks as The Big One and The Small One, which soon became Big and Small. She thought of their parent as a mother, even though she could well be their father. Either way, Alexis thought of her simply as Osprey.
Her father announced that the pest control people would be there on Friday. Same day as her interview at the bank. That meant Alexis would have two days with them.
Osprey had chosen this spot because it was the best for her chicks. If she was knocked out, bagged, and moved to some other location—what if the new place wasn’t a good spot for her? They were vulnerable enough already. And, worst of all, this nest was probably all she had left of her mate. At first Alexis thought the mate might show up, but it had been long enough that she suspected he’d died. Maybe accidental electrocution. Maybe pesticides. Maybe a bizarre car crash or a rare bird-illness.
At one point the mated ospreys had shared this nest. They’d most likely built it together, stick by stick, gathering fallen branches after early spring storms. They’d both seen the eggs lain. Waited for them to hatch. They’d expected to follow the long, slow migration when winter came, enjoy the warmth, and fly again to this very same nest next spring when the sun was once again higher in the sky. Osprey usually mated for life. Alexis wondered if birds could feel sadness. She’d taken a class on the philosophy of animals; their rights, their similarities to humans, their varying levels of sentience. Osprey should have rights. It was more important for a living creature to raise its young in peace than for their roof not to have poop or scratches on it.
Alexis tried talking to her father again, but he didn’t understand. He saw Osprey as one would from a distance—sharp, glinting, mean. Talons and fish and soulless reptilian eyes. She asked him to come back to the balcony, look again.
“No. I’ve seen them already,” he said at dinner. “They look like birds.”
“They are cute though,” her mother said.
“What time are they coming tomorrow, Dad?”
“Sometime in the morning. I’m going in late so I’ll be here.”
“I guess I’ll say good-bye to them before I go.”
But the next morning she lingered on the balcony in jeans and a sweatshirt. Light clouds draped over the highest part of the sky, the rest, a substanceless, untouchable blue. Big and Small already seemed older. After only four days their necks seemed more stable, and their feathers looked thicker. Alexis burrowed onto her stomach again. She breathed in the hay-and-sour-wildflower-pollen scent of the nest. It suddenly occurred to her that it hadn’t rained this whole week. Not since the mist during her walk. What would Osprey do in the rain? Out in the open, with no cover? It probably didn’t make her feel young and free. Osprey flew free in the open all the time. She didn’t need rain for that. No—rain was just an accepted part of the world. Water that was sometimes there and sometimes not. A piece of the sky.
Her father and a man in a khaki uniform pushed out onto the balcony.
“Alexis? I thought you left for the interview?”
“I’m not going.” She’d had her words planned, but now they felt stiff. “I wanted to ask, one more time—”
“You skipped your interview because of these birds?”
“Dad, I’m going to fight for them. They have as much right to be here as you do. And they’ll only be here until early fall. That’s it.”
Her father shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said to the man. “She’s on a kick.”
The man leaned over the railing. “Where’s the mother?”
“Out hunting,” Alexis said. She pointed. The horizon of the Swamp Barrens.
“Not the father?”
“He’s dead,” she said. “I’m pretty sure. They’re already at a disadvantage. If you move them—”
“Alexis,” her father said in a low tone that meant enough.
“She’s right,” the man said to Alexis’s father. “It’s happened a few times. We move the single parent nests and they don’t typically recover.”
“Essentially, you’d be killing them,” Alexis said.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that. But there’s a low end-season survival rate.” He tucked his hands in his pockets. “Up to you, sir.”
“There she is,” Alexis said, and Osprey perched on the edge of the nest. She busily slopped a fish into the middle. One yellow eye tilted toward the balcony and then away. “Dad, she just looked at you.”
Her father raised his eyebrows at Alexis, then he stared at the nest.
“This is a nice set-up they have here. Great place for an osprey, with the wetland down there.”
“I guess they can stay then, Alexis,” her father said. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “And you don’t think they’ll do any damage to the roof?” he asked the man.
“No, sir. They’re fairly low impact,” the man said as he followed her father back inside.
She knelt again. Osprey fed a frayed, feathery fish to Big and then Small. Carefully, one at a time. Alexis knew her mother would be disappointed about the bank job. But she was beginning to realize that, maybe, all the greatness and smallness of the world resided here in the Swamp Barrens; the sunrise, the sunset, the fish, the osprey; everything she’d grown with and had known; everything that she’d loved. This was where her questions came from, where she would soon migrate from. All her perceptions had arisen from this place. This was her beginning. This was her Life World.