The Gash

 ~The Gash~


An aerial view of Magic Valley in southern Idaho will reveal a huge gash that cuts through it about fifty miles long. The gash looks like it could have been gouged out with a large skinning knife wielded by the giant hunter of yore, Orion, whose starry ghost haunts the winter night sky above it. The gash, known as the Snake River Canyon, plunges down to five-hundred feet deep in places, and is ideal habitat for birds of prey, including owls. Frank likes the owls, especially barn owls, which he refers to as "money owls." 

Barn owls nest in cavities within the basalt canyon walls. Some of the nests are located where Frank can get near them without climbing up and down hundreds of feet of loose boulders risking a tumble to his demise. He locates these nests by looking for the owl's "splash," which is a white smear of owl poop that streaks down the wall from the barn owl's nook of stone. On and around the rocks below the splash, Frank finds dozens of barn owl pellets, which are oblong shaped regurgitation of fur-covered bones that held rodent frames together before the owls digested their flesh and guts after swallowing them whole. Frank takes the pellets home, sorts them by size, then sells them online to schools for students to dissect and reconstruct skeletons of mostly mice and voles, and to crafters who use the bones for various projects. Hence the monicker "money owl."

Frank's owl pellet activity is a side-line and hobby he enjoys while making a little cash. His full-time job is working for a produce company in the small town of Kimberly, Idaho in the Magic Valley. Employed there for nearly twenty years, Frank loves the job, and has no intention of retiring, even though he's seventy four years old. He can't imagine not having a job to go to five days a week, and is sure he would feel unimportant and useless as a retired man. 

Most of Frank's workday consists of moving pallets stacked with boxes and large sacks full of locally farmed produce with the forklift he has used since he took the job. He likes to think of the forklift as his workplace partner, and takes care to check its oil, coolant, hydraulic fluid, and tires, every morning, while keeping the forklift clean. In the nineteen and a half years of operating the forklift he has had only one minor accident, in which he smashed a crate of carrots as he was backing out of the way of another forklift going by. 

Barn owls rely heavily on their exceptional hearing to find and capture prey. They are far-sighted, and have very poor vision when it comes to objects close at hand. (Or talon, in their case). Frank has this in common with the owls, and realizes as he gets older his ability to see nearby objects is becoming weaker and weaker. He wears reading glasses he buys at dollar stores, and as time progresses he needs stronger glasses. He finds it very irritating and inconvenient that he has to wear glasses to see things that are close to him, but must take them off in order to see clearly as he drives the forklift. This causes him to become impatient at times because he prides himself on how efficiently he works, and having to pause to take glasses on and off all day is a real pain. 

It was just after lunch break on a Wednesday when Frank, in a hurry, left his glasses on as he drove the forklift with its load to a waiting truck. After he lifted the pallet to what he thought was the level of the truck bed he proceeded to drive forward and crushed the lowered tailgate. It was completely ruined, and there was no way it could be raised back in place. Frank's heart beat rapidly. He was devastated by what he had done. Frank and the truck's owner contacted the warehouse manager and showed him what happened. Frank was sent home for the rest of the day.

When Frank arrived at work the following morning the manager was waiting for him at the time clock. 

"Let's go to the office, Frank." 

Frank began to sweat as he followed the manager.

"Frank, it seems to me at your age you would want to retire and take it easy. You're a great worker, and we appreciate you, but due to the fact that you are a visually impaired senior citizen causes concern about safety and liability issues. I'm sure you understand. I'm sorry, but we're going to have to let you go."

Frank felt his sense of self worth and spirit leave his body. He left the office and went home caring about nothing.

Thursday morning Frank awoke to get ready for work, then remembered he no longer had a job. He stayed in bed and looked at the ceiling and thought about what to do. It took him about five minutes to reach a decision. 

That night, Frank headed to the warehouse. He was able to enter it without a problem because no one thought to get his key before he left. Inside, Frank made sure the forklift had fuel, then, without checking the oil and other fluids, he started the forklift and drove out the door. As he gained the quiet country road Frank didn't see the barn owl as it flew overhead in the darkness, but clearly heard its fearless screech as he steered towards the wide, deep gash that keeps the bones of ages past and everything it took today.

D. B. Tompsett






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