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Kestrel in Waiting

Art Inspired Story

By Cathy SchieffelinPublished 8 months ago Updated 6 months ago 5 min read
Water color by Terence James Bond (Sept 1946-April 2023)


Perched on the woodpile, resting or waiting? I’m not sure. She’s there most afternoons as I haul firewood for the coming winter. She eyes me before flapping away. Disgust? Those wings tell me I’m an interloper, not a friend. Each night the pile shrinks as I struggle to heat the cabin. Thick bark on the trees and early squirrelin’ of forest critters tells me we’re headed into deep winter. Need to chop another cord soon.

Back door opens. Hazel, heavy with twins totters out, sweeping pine needles and coal dirt from inside. I feel the ache in her lower back, as she moves slowly, favoring her left side. Naked arms, despite the chill, sinewy from long hours scrubbing pans and punching down mounds of bread dough. A hint of yeast follows her. She glances to me, smile lighting the forest around her, at the edge of dark. She leans against the rough-hewed beams of the porch, resting work tired hands atop her belly. Hard to imagine the changes we’ve seen this past year… and more to come as her time gets closer.

Seems like only yesterday I worked the mines – stinkdamp and crow black. No place a man to be. Done what my daddy did and his daddy done before him. Money was good but left me hollow. Drove me to the lightnin’ at JG’s. Thanks to Hazel, pulled myself outta that rut before it could bury me. Seen too many folks sunk in the red clay, no hope of escapin’. Now I work the bakery with her. She learnt me the art of breadmaking. Don’t matter that some consider it woman’s work. Keeps me from the rank darkness and killin’ mines. We make do. Just fret that bitty twins might force me back to the abyss.

I help Hazel load fresh loaves into the wagon. I encourage her to stay behind and rest while she can. I can tend the store on my own. She insists on coming. Think she prefers the cozy confines of the bakery to being alone out here, with a suspicious kestrel for company.

“Think I forgot the last loaves cooling in the back room. Would you mind grabbing them?” she asks, kindly.

I hop out and follow the trail of flour to the back sunroom where we keep extra loaves waiting to be loaded. I wrap them in parchment and find Hazel atop the wagon, holding the reins to keep Rusty quiet.

“You sure you wanna come in today? You look mighty tired. Know you’re not sleeping well.” I lay a hand across her belly feeling the squirming motion of babies wrestlin’. She smiles, placing her hands over mine.

“I’ll be fine. These two prefer the commotion of the shop to the quiet out here.” I take her hand and kiss it.

“Take it easy today. When’s the midwife come next?” Her eyes narrow, shaking her head.

She don’t like my fussin’ but can’t help it. We lost our last one. Her pressure went too high. Devastated us. Took months before she wanted to try again. Now twins. Anna May, the midwife wants her to deliver at the clinic instead of at home. Hazel don’t like that idea. She’s afeared of hospitals – says it makes her pressure swing. Nearly lost her that time – couldn’t stop the bleeding. I prayed like I never prayed before. When she came through it, I started back to church, sure God heard my pleas.

“Wyatt, I’s fine. I ‘preciate your concern. I’ll be careful and won’t overdo it. Just like being at the shop, seeing the customers. Pretty soon I’ll be stuck home with babies. Want to be out while I can.” I hold her warm hand, not wanting to let it go, but release it to take the reins from her.

Part II.

Anna May

I dig my heels into Penny’s flank, riding the Upper Creek, saddlebags flapping. Hazel had a rough delivery two nights ago. Twins. Bitty things. They were sucklin’ when I left. Not any more. Wyatt sent a neighbor’s boy to find me.

He grabs Penny as I rush inside, to caterwauling. The babies fuss, screamin’ themselves purple. Lucy’s soaked. I change nappies, then glance at Hazel. Pale, eyes droopin’, metallic tang... scarlet bleeds through the sheet.

“Wyatt, get that wagon hitched!” He stands, staring at her. Blood drains from his face.

“Come on Wyatt. Gotta get her to Hyden.” I fear it’s too late, from the blueish tint of her lips, but need to try.

We gallop to the clinic. I’ve swaddled the babies and tucked them into my saddlebags to keep them from bouncing too much in the back of the wagon. I keep pressure on Hazel’s lower belly, trying to staunch the bleeding. Wyatt drives the old horse near to breaking. He glances back, terror carved in his eyes, as he takes in his wife’s lifeless form.


I return to the farm weeks later, babies in tow. They’s thriving and tolerate formula. Sorry Hazel ain’t here to see ‘em.

The cabin sags, forsaken.

Just a kestrel sitting atop a woodpile. I call out for Wyatt.

Part III.


My fists sink into the warm dough, kneading, like a prayer.

A shimmer of white, floats in the dusty rays of morning sun. Lucy, skipping from the henhouse, night clothes mud spattered with a basket of eggs. Looks just like her mama – golden haired and lithe. A flash of rust and deep blue wings follow her to the woodpile.

I watch as Lucy chatters to the bird, like a friend. I’m too far to hear her words. The bird flits from branch to branch in the jack pines, seeming to listen. It comes to rest just outside the window where I’m standing, unnerving gaze on me. I have to look away.

Heart heavy, I pummel the gooey mass, craving a salve to numb the nettles pricking my memories.

Wish Hazel were here. She loved my sourdough. We’d sit on the porch watching fireflies dance in the dying light, taking bites, butter dripping down our chins.

Kestrel’s at the window, pecks the sill.

Oh Hazel…


About the Creator

Cathy Schieffelin

Writing is breath for me. Travel and curiosity contribute to my daily writing life. I've had pieces published in Adanna Lit Jour. and Halfway Down the Stairs. My first novel, The Call, comes out in 2024. I live in New Orleans.

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