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Volunteer by Eileen Rush | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

July 29, 2017      

Volunteer by Eileen Rush

After three weeks she’d worked her way up to gutting quail. The birds came in packs of twelve, frozen. The girl (not young) would leave the bag in the sink to thaw while she cleaned the owl mews. When she was finished, covered in the white mute she’d scrubbed from the walls, bits of bone stuck to her jeans, she’d take a stiff quail from the bag and decisively cleave it in half.
     Once she made a cut and five glistening orbs fell out, translucent circles within circles, like a marble, a cat’s eye.
     “Eggs,” said the man who owned the raptor center. Unfinished eggs. “Come here,” he said. She followed him to the cage of a vulture whose nickname was Satan. He had a habit of pretending to be wounded in order to draw you closer. She’d seen the scars he’d given other volunteers.
     The man (not young) told her to hold her palm up to the bars of the cage. The bird’s black eye was a bead. Mean. The other volunteers told her a bird of prey is incapable of love. That the best you can hope for is to be tolerated.
     She’d seen this man fold a young bald eagle up in a towel like he was hugging it, a gentle scoop from behind, folding one wing in, then the other. He’d reach around the bird and hold its legs together, the bird’s head held beneath his own chin while a volunteer like her would squeeze a syringe of medicine into its gaping beak.
     A great horned owl who had imprinted on him hooted at all hours, and was only quiet near him. Don’t make eye contact, she remembered too late. The man cupped her hand in his and pulled it to the bars. The vulture’s thin beak reached out and sucked the eggs from her palm. She felt it skate along her skin, gathering the orbs. “Like caviar,” he said, releasing her.

About the author:

Eileen Rush is a writer in Gainesville, Florida. Her work appears in Stoneboat, FOLIO, Pleiades, and elsewhere.

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