Short story and photographs by Dominique Rolle
A gust of punchy cool wind ascends him rapidly into the sun. Like a spider sliding down an invisible silk thread, he glacially descends into the mess of a nest he first built for her last winter. She’ll be here when the red dust comes blowing in from the Sahara. When the moon rises early in the dusk, overgrown and blood orange like a pumpkin over the sea, that’s when she’ll come.
So many dead, frozen in the blizzards, struck in the monster storm, starved by the lack of fish from red tide and green algae; ospreys had perished this year. Still, she would come, as late or early as the autumn rains and summer heat, unpredictable but certain. Feverishly he refortifies their castle on the rock, their stony refuge cut off from the cliff overlooking the sea. Their kingdom on the coast would be filled this time next year with adolescents the same age as they were when they first made the great bond last mating season. This time though, they’d succeed in having hatchlings of their own.
He waits now. Long done obsessing over the engineering marvel he’s prepared for her nesting comfort – that is, if she has not done the unthinkable and eloped with another. He shivers away the dreadful thought like cold water off his feathers and refocuses. Perched stoically above endless miles of green pastures, tiny cays and the North Atlantic Ocean, he finally sees her. Approaching with exhaustion from the misty clouded sky, her single piercing call rings through his breastplate like a bell. Launched instantaneously into flight by something reflexive and emotional, he spreads his giant wings to rise vertically like a rocket before falling to the sea as if shot down by a gun. Before crashing into the ocean he catches a stream of winter air and glides gracefully beneath her circling up above. A ritual of courtship, a renewal of vows, he performs the sacred sky dance of the fish eagles. In acceptance of his pronouncement of true eternal love, she softly lands into their nest once more.
Her eggs should have hatched by now. The days grow long and scorch with heat. It’s far past time for her to gorge and fatten for the perilous journey north, but she’s emaciated. Not with hunger, given the abundance of fresh fish he lays before her daily, but depression. Their fishing expeditions reveal the lively nests of other couples whose paternal calls to their hatchlings echo across the isles. Excruciating in its torment, she ponders the unbearable; why, despite the passion of their courtship, she hasn’t conceived a single egg for the second year in a row. As if incubating phantom chicks beneath her, she sits unmoving in the nest suppressing maternal instincts to nestle, feed, and rear her nonexistent young. A pain, seeping into the very core of her reason to be, paralyzes her.
He keeps his distance, perched atop a rocky cliff far enough to spare him from her clawed outbursts of rejection, yet close enough to keep a watchful eye on her. He shares the depth of her disappointment in failure, but triumphing over his determination to become a father is the great bond he made with the partner he chose two winters ago for life. Come hurricanes or famine, barrenness or rival challenge, he will stick with her. He will fight for her. He will care for her and love her, ‘til death do them part.