“Come here,” he said, “I want to show you something.”
I put down the book I was reading, a book about dragons that were telepathically connected to their handlers, and I stood up to follow him. I had two favorite worlds; one of them spun from small type and imagination, the other a place of individual wonders narrated by my grandfather. I was always willing to trade one for the other.
I couldn’t always count on my grandfather’s world being less fictional than fantasy novels, however. After all, it turned out there really weren’t crabs that lived in the snow and charcoal didn’t actually grow on trees. None of this really mattered to me though, lines blurred and there was just as much magic in the symmetrical chambers of a paper wasp’s nest or a faint line of geese sounding impossibly near, heralding the way north.
“She’s up there,” he said. He pointed. The rickety rooftop antennae that normally funneled transmissions to the television below had collected a falcon. “She’s a peregrine.” He said this like she was a Cadillac, more expensive, attractive, better built than any other bird he had ever shown me. “And she’s a falconer’s bird.”
I don’t know how he recognized this after inspecting her, why he understood anklets and bells, why he also knew someone hunted ducks with her. He didn’t know any falconers. It may have been that he had just read A True Story of Friendship and Espionage by Robert Lindsey, about Christopher Boyce, the falconer who sold classified information to the Soviet Union and was convicted of spying. Boyce was local and his story captivated. Or perhaps it was 1980, Boyce fresh in my grandfather’s mind, having now escaped from Lompoc and proving that the meticulous mind of a falconer was also practical for orchestrating successful bank robberies. Seventeen of them to be exact. I can’t be sure, because my grandfather never told me about Boyce. His storyteller’s sensibilities kept him from spinning tales that were impossible to believe, even if they were true.
Instead, my grandfather told me about this bird’s falconer, how he lived, where he would hunt. He described how they worked together and the care he had to take to keep her flying and returning. He knew for a fact that she was just stopping over, on her way back to him. I believed every word.
I think there are stories that once heard, forever remain a whisper in your ear. They are always true in their own way. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re fiction.
You don’t recognize their power when you first hear them. I went back to my book after the falcon flew away. My grandfather returned to his saw, slicing pine, dovetailing wood pieces into the whole of whatever he was working on. Neither of us knowing he had shown me a fork in the road, given me a falcon to chase and that I would never be able to resist.