When someone buys two dozen lemons, a box of tissues, and a bottle of wine at midnight, you have to figure something is wrong. The wine is for the minute I walk in my apartment. The tissues are for my father’s funeral. The lemons mean I’m losing my job.
I’m a food stylist and photographer. One of those people who artistically arranges food and then takes pictures of it. The pictures that make it look like the best damn cheeseburger or almond crusted salmon with blanched baby asparagus that ever was. The pictures that are meant to inspire you to cook, despite the knowledge that you’ll never be able to recreate the dish the way it appears in the book—yeah, that’s what I do. I make it all seem possible.
It’s a ruse.
Right now my publishing house has me working on 32 Ways to Make Lemonade. I think my job may be in jeopardy. But right now I don’t have time to worry about that. It’s past midnight and I’m driving home from the grocery store with a bottle of wine strapped down by the seatbelt on the passenger’s side and there’s a white owl standing in the middle of the road. I get closer and closer and all the bird does is swivel its head around like that kid in the Exorcist and stare at me. I start slowing down, sure that at any moment the bird will lift off like it’s capable of doing. But it doesn’t. I fish-tale to a halt, leaning over the stirring wheel, watching as the front end of the car passes over the owl until he’s out of sight.
I sit there gripping the wheel. Alone on the highway, nearly forty years old, my marriage over, my long fought over career slipping through my fingers, and my father’s funeral two days away. But here I am panicked over the possibility that there may be a dead owl on the grill of my car. So far—so far—I’ve been holding it together. But something about a dead bird with its little hollow bird bones broken against the front of my car breaks me.
I push open the car door in a panic, like I can get there in time to give the little thing mouth to beak and he’ll be ok—he’ll be ok. It’s all my fault. I should have just kept driving and perhaps the car would have just passed over him as he stood there in the middle of the freaking road, but I slammed on breaks and that made the front end go lower, like I was aiming for him for crying out loud. Bitch, I hear him say to me, can’t a bird stand in the street anymore. What’s the world coming to?
I slam my door and wheel around to the front of the car. It’s late at night and I’m on a back road, but still a car screams past me in the other lane and I shudder. My headlights are blazing and I expect to find the owl crushed against the grill, wings spread—trying to take off in the last seconds—to no avail. But there’s nothing. I should be thrilled, but panic sets in deeper. Where did he go? Is he under a tire? Is there still time. Can I save him? I kneel down on the pavement to get a look under the car. Then whoosh—up from beneath the bumper the owl rises and zig zags off—its wings clipping the hood on the way up and off into the black sky—a fluttering white speck headed for the safety of the trees. I sit down in the wash of my own headlights and cry.