There is a click as the knife locks open and even this is enough to raise the hackles on my red-tailed hawk’s neck. Her talons tighten on the already stilled rabbit and I know she’s thinking of my hands pulling her prize away, preparing to reposition her talons between my finger bones to make her painful point. I turn my head and watch her from the corner of my eye so that we aren’t two predators competing through a stare. I don’t want the rabbit and I wouldn’t win anyway. I only want to help, but I have no way to explain other than showing her.
She’s earned her meal, but I can’t let her eat the whole thing. I’m hoping to fly her tomorrow. So she needs to have some appetite. Two front legs, the heart and lungs will hold her until then. The heart and lungs are the most rewarding part, but I have to break in for her, guide her choice of meal. I ruffle the rabbit’s fur with my left hand, easing my way to the hawk’s feet, hoping she doesn’t grab me while the knife waits in my right hand. I think while I wait that I’ve carried this knife a long time and yet this will be the first time I’ve ever used it, but then, this isn’t the purpose I had in mind for it.
I paid $150 for my Spyderco, smooth silver, heavy and cold, with a round hole in the arch of the blade. The hole is a place for traction so that the knife will open smoothly and quickly. The clip on the outside is ideal for hanging off a belt, but tight enough to hook on my Doc Martens. It fits comfortably behind my ankle bone, snug between sock and leather, but it’s never comfortable enough to forget. I tell myself this is good, to remember the knife, but when I get into trouble it’s always the first thing I forget. Once there was a fistfight with an angry soon-to-be-ex-wife when I served her divorce papers. I didn’t know the pale and anxious blonde woman, but I guess sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the process server from the home-wrecker. She punched me, a weak blow to my chin. I swung back with a right cross, its strength more from training than anger. Her family dragged me out of the house before I could even consider the knife in my boot.
They were kinder though than the smoldering tower of a man I served an eviction to a month later. The resonance of his silence immobilized me as his dark hands lifted me at my waist, holding me away from his body and discarding me on the street. He turned back for his house and I scrambled away. I held the folded knife to my lips while I sat locked in my truck, waiting for my legs to stop shaking enough to work the clutch.
Once I felt the wiz of a stray bullet chipping bark off the tree in front of me in the dark. It was a bad neighborhood in East Riverside and the bullet wasn’t aimed for me, but that wouldn’t have made a difference had it found me. The sound of the bullet brought me to my knees, but none of these things ever brought out my knife.
An attorney friend of mine asked why I don’t have a gun. He said he would help me get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, that it would be easy for a 21 year-old process server to lower her eyes before a judge and be granted permission. I shook my head though and patted my boot. I bought my boyfriend a Ruger for Christmas, but every time we went to the shooting range I left shaking. My aim was excellent, but it hadn’t made me feel comfortable with a gun in my hand. The silence of a resting Ruger feels similar to that man carrying me to the curb. I trust my knife, but I stopped keeping it in my boot. It found a new home in my hawking vest, assistance for the first hunts in my new passion of falconry.
The redtail bows her head and warns me with her eyes that I’m pushing my luck, but I leave my hand in position and look away. I brace for the pain, but it doesn’t come and my hawk returns to her meal. I brush a finger across her yellow toes, feeling the dip of a missing scale, the ridges where the others come together. She stops looking up, stops worrying about me, so I slip the knife through the rabbit’s chest, opening a hole to the cavity beneath the skin. I put the bloody knife behind me, beneath a grapevine in the sandy soil. I reach over to stretch the rabbit’s skin and show her the opening. She drinks the blood and then eats the heart and lungs, her eyes narrowed into raptorial bliss.
When she’s eaten enough, I slip her off the carcass for a leg I hold in my glove, quickly hiding the rest of today’s meal in the game pouch at the back of my vest. She rests easy on my fist and I stand to look over the dying vineyard. Another jackrabbit jumps up two rows over and gallops away from us, he’s moving fast, but his ears are up so I know he could be moving faster, ears flattened at full speed. I want to watch him disappear, dissolve into a speck of wild, but the sun is setting and I have a paper that I need to serve a few blocks away.
I turn to leave, but then turn back, deciding to watch anyway as he makes his way to the road line on the south side of the field. He can’t disappear without crossing the busy street and is smart enough not to try. He stops, fading in his stillness from my view. Heading back to the truck, I relive the hunt in my head, the hawk’s powerful flight and the wingover into the equally powerful hare. I remember the desperate battle concealed in a cloud of sand. Then I smile over the fact that my redtail has finally allowed me to reach between her legs, assist her with her meal. I’m not thinking about the knife. I don’t realize that I’ve left the Spyderco in the field and that it’s lost to me forever.