The morning of our tenth anniversary began like any other, with me hitting the alarm hard enough to send it sliding across the night-table as I groaned my way to a standing position. Nothing seemed off. My wife was already out of bed, her side of the mattress as crisp as if she hadn’t so much as placed a finger on it the whole night. A bundle of clean boxers and socks sat on the dresser, as they did each morning, perfectly in place for me to walk by and just snatch them up even half-asleep. Nothing was out of place, nothing was different than it should have been.
I showered and dressed, my thoughts on nothing and everything. No, not on my wife, though. Not yet. Somewhere in a swollen, overworked part of my mind was the knowledge that it was our anniversary, it pulsed like a headache. I’d pick up something on the way back from work. Some flowers from the man who sold them near the office and maybe a nice bottle of wine. That way I’d only have to make one stop during rush hour. I would have liked to have bought her something that wouldn’t die or get pissed out, but I was never any good at buying gifts and it was too late now in any case. I had no time to go shopping for anything.
A plate of toast waited for me downstairs, though the bread wasn’t buttered yet. My cup was also empty and I couldn’t smell the sharp, dark scent of coffee in the kitchen. The bottle of water wasn’t sweating but sat at room temperature on the table. I preferred it ice cold. Why had she taken it out early enough to let it warm? And where was her own mug of tea?
“Sandra?” I called.
Silence was the house’s answer. The washing machine wasn’t running, as it always was in the mornings, the dishwasher, too, was quiet. Even our dog was silent.
I walked out of the kitchen. “Sandra?”
The living room was empty. The guest room and the downstairs bathroom, too. My heart gave its first warning thump, the kind that made itself known when a car swerved into my lane or when police sirens burst to life behind me.
Could she have gone to the supermarket? She never did this early, but maybe she needed something urgently. She would have left a note, though. Carefully worded, telling me exactly what she’d gone to buy and how long it would take her so that I wouldn’t call her in the middle of her errands. Or she would have woken me up and said something.
Still, I walked to one of the windows and looked out. Her car was parked in the driveway.
A flush of irritation swept fear away. She was in the house and not answering when she knew perfectly well I had to head off to work. She was going to make me late.
“Sandra!” Nothing. “For fuck’s sake.”
I ran up the stairs and flung open every door in every room. Closet doors, shower curtains, anything that could be opened, I did.
Soft footsteps padded up the stairs.
“Sandra!” I ran out into the hallway and peered over the railing. It was our cocker spaniel, tail thumping in excitement. “Damn it.”
I smacked the railing with a hand and ran down the stairs. I yanked my phone out of my pocket and held down the number three.
“Come on,” I said.
A trickle of tinned music cut through the room’s silence. It came from Sandra’s purse. I clenched my jaw. I was going to be late now, no question about it. Whatever passive-aggressive stupidity this was, it was going to make me late for work. Who would have to deal with that? Not her here, cozy at home, puttering around.
“Pulling a disappearing act. Great way to start the day, sweetheart.” I rifled through my memories of last night, looking for signs that she had been angry at me, but she rarely was. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had an argument, a real, raw-throated scream fest that could clear the white noise of distance from our marriage. It had to have been months ago. I couldn’t even bring to mind the way her face contorted in anger. That wasn’t normal.
I opened the back door and walked out into the heat of the Miami summer. The yard was as tidy as ever, the expanse of trimmed grass even-colored, with none of the patches of bleached stalks that most of our neighborhood had. The pruned bushes were spaced mathematically against the fence, not a single flower to distract from the symmetry. It was the perfect yard.
I looked around the corner the kitchen wall made and stopped.
Amid the crisp green stood a bird. A creature taller than I was, gray and white. The name for it took a moment to rise to my mind because I’d never seen one before. Never had the need to use it.
Crane. The bird in front of me was a crane.
As if it had heard my thoughts, the animal lifted its head until its beak rose like a spire to the sky and opened its wings.
The movement drew my eyes down, to the grass on which it stood. A puddle of clothes lay at its reptilian feet. I recognized the clothes, the lime tank top, the khaki pants, the pastel pink cotton underwear. They were my wife’s.
The crane lifted a foot, toes extended like fingers in a hand and brought it back down with violence. I jerked back, a gasp catching like a fish hook at the back of my throat.
It lowered its head enough to lock its dark eyes on mine, and it was a stare I knew well, though I hadn’t seen it in a months. Rage, the kind that sizzled, was the only thing in it.
“Sandra?” I whispered, half-expecting her to leap out from behind the great bird but knowing she wouldn’t. Because my wife was in front of me.
My wife was that crane.
It surprised me how easily I accepted this. I felt no disbelief or shock, no doubt at all scratching at my brain. The crane was Sandra. How she transformed or why she did was irrelevant. My head didn’t search for the answers. My thoughts didn’t travel further than the next few seconds, though I knew everything had changed.
Those dark eyes dug into me.
“What’s going to happen now?” I asked. My voice had lost the layers of adulthood that had thickened it and darkened it and reverted to what it’d sounded like when I was eight or nine. It seemed the right voice to use now. The voice of wonder.
The great bird, the being who had once been my wife, flung open its wings. The sound of air gliding on feathers filled the morning. Bending her scaled legs, the bird lunged into the air, obscuring the sun for just an instant before rising higher.
Without another glance at me, my wife flew away.
Valentina Cano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay but now makes her home in the swampy land that is Miami and dreams of London. She is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading, writing, weaving, or spinning wool on her antique spinning wheel.
She first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and has continued on to push her own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. Her works have appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. She has two chapbooks out, Winter Myths, and Event Horizon, as well as her debut novel, The Rose Master, which was published in 2014 and was called a “strong and satisfying effort” by Publishers Weekly.