Enterprising Egrets Eye Elegant Eels
by James Henry Taylor
Easy, easy, step, slowly, ever so slowly, touch the water with the tips of my toes, pause, sneak them through the surface, slow, slow, mustn't make a ripple, mustn't disturb the water, mustn't disturb the mud. The back leg now, pull it up slowly, pull it out gently, take my time, don't let it drip. Patient, that's right, patient; not like those showy fools who try to scare things up. There's no hurry......
At last a fine one, small, no longer than two spans of my own foot, slender, graceful. How he sinuates his way through the water, lithe like a snake, but not dangerous like one. A pleasure to observe. Mustn't give him any warning, step slowly, there's no rush. Pause, plant one leg firmly down, bring one leg almost to my breast then lower it gently till I stand on both feet again. Extend my wings to make a sheltering shade,
an offer of a place to safely hide. Wait until he turns his face away again, till he turns his tail toward me. How he slithers just above the mud, how he darkly glides. That's it......
Dart my beak through the water, sharp like a quick thorn, like a nestling's cries. Snatch him by the middle, stand erect, drag him into the air. Water pours from my mouth, drips from my face; ripples splash around my knees.
I have him tightly, he can't escape, but he wriggles, slaps the sides of my barely parted bill, tries to wrap himself around it. I give him a shake to make him calm, toss my head up, release him, snap him immediately from the air. One-two-three backward jerks of the head, now he's in the right position, ready to slide down my throat. He shivers on my tongue.
Four great gulps and he's disappeared; he won't be getting away now. He's lively still inside my stomach, trying to find the way outside, but he'll quiet soon, he'll forget to be alive, what it's like to be alive: forget the weeds, forget the water, forget the mud, forget the sprinkles of sun, forget me.
There's a bit of old leaf in my mouth—rotted, bitter, I don't like it. Scrape my tongue across the edge of my beak, clack the halves together till the flake falls loose, return to watching the water, see what else might be there for dinner. Easy, easy. Step, slowly, ever so slowly, touch the water with just my toes...
James Henry Taylor is the author of Honeysuckle and Other Stories. He lives in Warrensburg.
Copyright © 2006. Do not reproduce without permission.