Issue Thirty-Nine - Winter 2022

Twilight Loons

By John Brantingham

You and your wife are driving across Canada, along a lake you don’t know the name of with the windows down just as the sky is twilighting in the warm early autumn when you hear a bird crying. Your wife says “Pull over,” and you do. From here, you can see the wind setting up a rippling across the water, and you start to speak, but she places a palm on your chest and says, “Wait, I’ve heard this before.”

In a moment, a loon responds and then another, and being a Californian unaccustomed to waterfowl, you feel like this is magic. The moment reminds you of that time when you were a freshman in high school and out with your first girlfriend. The two of you heard a crow caw and on impulse you cawed back at it, and it responded, or it seemed that it did, and you and the crow kept at it for a minute. Your girlfriend kissed you on the cheek and told you she loved you.

When she broke up with you the next month, it felt as though you’d found some fundamental life truth and lost it. After you, she dated a couple of your friends and then went off to college to meet the man of her dreams whom she married and who died in a car accident six years later, and you know this with precise detail because after his death, she reconnected with you, and now she is your wife, standing on the edge of the lake listening to the birds speak to each other.

You think maybe the loons’ calls echoing back and forth across this unnamed lake are about loss and love. Maybe these are the only truths that matter, and the loons have all of it figured out. When you were a freshman in high school, you would have called back trying to engage them, but it’s enough now for you to stand on the edge and listen to and learn about what you can in this darkening evening light.

Copyright Brantingham 2022