|The culprit heron|
For years, all the years that I have lived in this house, with its garden and the fish pond in the old fountain outside its garden door, fish have disappeared from time to time, fish that we recognized and knew from their size, their color, their markings, and all the fish took to hiding from time to time. We suspected a heron visited the fish pond and flew away with our fish friends, but we never saw one. It made sense, since the Seine is just out beyond the trees in the distance, past the field.
We considered putting netting over the old fountain to protect the fish, but with all the plants growing in it and how pretty the surface of the water in the light can be, I never wanted to.
And we lost fish to something.
Today, I stood up from my work to go do something outside, and a sudden movement, a large, light-colored object lifting up off the surface of the water in the fountain caught my eye as I opened the garden door. I had already caught his, and I thought that for an instant I saw surprise, guilt and resentment glint in his dark and glassy one for the fraction of a second our gazes locked. His huge wings working, he flew over the planting bed at the far edge of the top terrace and over the old lavender and tea roses, down over the bank of Saint John's Wort and disappeared where the stone bench would be, if I could see it from where I stood, the French door handle in my hand, my mouth still wide open along with my eyes.
He was aware of me. He was measuring me and the risk of returning to the fish pond.
I turned to run back in and grab my camera and trained it on the area where he had disappeared. The battery was dead. I turned back and searched my bag for the other one, and hurried back out in time to see him winging over the bottom of the garden, the large gate and out to the middle of the field someone uses to grow hay for their horses, clicking photos before I realized I was on the wrong setting and threw the camera on automatic, while I watched him through the zoom lens. He settled to stand and turn to gaze back, at me.
It was a standoff. How long, he wondered, before the woman would leave him the opportunity to return to feed?
I returned to the fish pond, noticing the traces of white on the surface, like milky scum. I had seen those before. Did they come from the heron? Is that the signature he leaves when he feeds, taking our fish, the ones we feed and for which we care when they are sick?
There was no sign of fish. They were under the old stone sink, covered in tufts of grass and plants.
"Stay where you are, friends. Stay safe. There is a predator in our midst, and he hasn't given up. He hasn't had his meal."
In fact, he is still there, standing in the field, his back turned to the house and me, as though he doesn't care, as though he has forgotten his intention, but I know better.
The dog is out.