You are at home, standing in front of your desk. Above your desk, you keep a cork board. Notes, sketches, and knickknacks are fastened to the board. For years, you have been meticulously pulling the pieces down, one at a time, and delivering them to their fates.
Among the pieces, there has been a feather pinned to the cork board in your room. Today, you draw a breath, take it down and put it in your shirt pocket. Naturally, you immediately forget that you have put it there.
You live in the mountains, and it’s a nice day for a drive. The road curls along the spine of the mountain range, through redwood forests and over grassy hills. The world is bright, and the sun is out to collect its bounty.
Half an hour from home, you pull over and you go into the woods. You find a big redwood tree. It has produced a gift for you in its roots. You pull the duff away with your hands and press your fingertips into the moist soil beneath.
When you take your hands from the soil, you find four downy feathers and a bit of bone clinging to your digits. The bone is a fragment of dry marrow held together by a shard of white. It is a piece of a long bone for a bird’s wing.
The sense of contentment that you had earlier is now forgotten. You wrap the bone and the feathers into a napkin, which you place in your shirt pocket. Inside your pocket, the bit of down from your office slips quietly into the napkin’s folds and joins its fellows.
In your back seat, there is a box containing a pillow. The pillow in the box is shaped to form a cushioned cavity. You open the napkin and distribute the feathers and the fragment of bone around the cavity. You replace the lid, and once again you forget about everything for a while.
Later, you drive to the humane society. When you arrive at the garage and park your car, you notice the receptionist who works at the wildlife desk has also just arrived. She gets out of her SUV and glances at you.
She passes you and pauses just beyond your parking spot. A voice gathers from the resonance of the parking structure. It gathers from the spontaneously generated vibrations in the air around you, and from the receptionist’s body—especially from her ears. She lends a meaningful form to the echo as it condenses on your lips.
The voice enters your mouth, and you swallow it down. “Don’t worry, I’m fine, thank you.”
The voice of the world comes once again, reverberating in the parking lot. This time it is the receptionist who breathes it in. “It’s always sad. Are you sure you’ll be okay?” She cocks her head and smiles sympathetically, and walks into the building ahead of you.
You linger by your car a bit. You turn away from the building and look up into the eaves of the parking structure, where the pigeons are nesting. You stand there, conscious of the eyes of the world upon you.
At this moment, a veterinarian on the second floor is using a cotton ball in a syringe case to draw an anesthetic gas from the lungs of a pigeon. This is the bird who will be your responsibility. She will be awake in moments, and then it will fall upon you to introduce her into the wild.
You and the pigeons in the garage coo at one another. The pigeons shape the world-voice into a question that sinks toward your lips. “What are you looking at?”
You retrieve the box and pillow from the car. You bring them inside with the avian bits they contain.
The wildlife rescue center is on the second floor, next to the cat adoption center.
As you come out of the elevator, you fall under the gaze of a little girl and her mother. They have just brought in a kitten for adoption. In a few minutes they are going to introduce him to his siblings. He will get to meet his own feline mother, and in a few weeks the rescue staff will relocate the whole family into a den beneath the foundation of a house in the suburbs. There, mother cat will subsume the kittens into her body, reorganize their matter into bits of mice and small birds, and finally condense their DNA into her own genetic material—as well as into the chromosomes of a couple of local toms.
You give the box to the receptionist and she steps away.
The little girl, her mother, and their kitten are standing beside you now. The woman looks to you and frowns with compassion. You are uncomfortable with the voice forming between you, the voice that the girl presses to her mother’s lips: “What a sweet man.”
The receptionist returns with the box.
A little bitterly, you feed some words of thanks to her—but on her tongue they ring sweetly.
She gives you a form to clean out. As you lean over the desk and begin scratching the text from the paper, you and the others put the world-voice to the receptionist’s mouth again. “She won’t suffer anymore.” You destroy your address, your phone number, your full name, and the approximate location where you will deposit the bird.
You give the cleaned form to the receptionist, and she removes the lid from the box. Resting in the recess in the pillow, finally, is an exhausted pigeon. One of her wings appears to be folded slightly askew of her body, and there is blood dried on her feathers. Her eyes are barely open. The receptionist leaves.
The little girl is excited to play with the kittens, and she is skipping around the waiting area. Despite your own sadness, you can’t help but to smile with her. She dances across the floor and you join with the world to fill her with laughter. She gulps it into her belly in big, silly chunks.
She skips into the visiting room where you can’t see her. There, she will play with her kitten one last time and try to forget the animal who was her best friend during her torturous teenage years. Though you can no longer lay your gaze over the girl and her mother, you join with the pair and with the unseen cats. You and the wounded bird project happy meows into the kittens’ throats, and delighted coos into the mouths of the woman and her daughter. The girl will reminisce about this moment for days. After that, the desire for a cat will become mythical for her, a motivation for obedience to her parents.
In the parking lot, you place the box in the back seat of your car. Through the windows afforded to her by the handles, the pigeon casts a glance at you. Inside the box, she captures a whisper from the world-voice and crowns your tongue with the lie, “You’re going to be okay soon.”
A better beginning for this bird would have been a rude but instantaneous awakening on the road. Why a sterile clinic, why bounce her around in a dark box for an hour? A predator would have been better yet. A gray fox could piece her together from raw material in his belly. He could jerk her into life with a few quick snaps, and then leave her to sleep quietly in her very own nest. How nice. You think that foxes are much better suited to this kind of work than you are.
Along the road’s forested lengths, the duff and the asphalt gather the ambient light into thick shafts that reach sunward through the dark redwood canopies. In the open spaces, big sky communicates the diffuse gold and green hues of the hills directly into space.
You park the car on the shoulder, get out, and go around to the back of the car. You open the box.
The pigeon cocks her head. She paints you with light from her eyes. Briefly, you are manifest in a way that you will never be again.
The pigeon is flapping and shuffling in the box as she gathers feathers to her wings. Soon she will forget everything too.
You reach onto the floor of your car and pick up a napkin, which you wipe over your fingers until they are stained with blood. The napkin smooths out in your hands, and you put it into the glove compartment.
You return to the back seat on the passenger side, where the pigeon is resting. You open the box and she flaps her wing. It must hurt very much to move, but it doesn’t stop her.
She and the world about her feed you a measure of sadness: “Nobody’s going to put that back in.” Instantly the forgotten piece of bone leaps from its hiding place in the creases of the pillow. It flies into, nearly, its right position in the pigeon’s wing.
Now you capture her again. You cup her in your hands and pin her wings. Her feathers sop the blood from your fingertips, and it seeps into her wounds. You lift her from the box and hold her against you as you shut the car door.
You walk into the road. Quickly, gently, you set her down in the lane, where she begins again to stretch her wings.
You run back to the car. You stuff the box and the pillow into the trunk separately, then you take your seat behind the wheel and start the engine.
The pigeon is hopping around on the pavement. You drive around her, and pull into the opposite lane where you can lean out of the driver’s window and look upon her. By the time she hops into place on the yellow line you have forgotten exactly what kind of animal she is.
You slowly begin to drive away.
She is almost gone now, but you can see her in your mirror. You are already thinking about work, about time and the speed of its passage. In your mind’s eye, the pigeon is a smallish crow, a cocky jay, a feather boa someone discarded in the woods.
You are concerned, so you circle back to where she is. Now you are moving much faster.
The bird is dazed. Momentarily, she will find the right current, and she will begin to roll down the road. She will rise into the air just as you appear from around the bend. The wind will drag her over your car, and she will tumble over the windshield until the open wound in her wing connects to a minute pit in the glass.
Wing to glass, the two objects will exchange photons. Microscopic crystals of glass will align, and bones will seal shut. As they do, they will pull closed the open blood vessels and parted muscles in the pigeon’s wing.
She will fly from the windshield, and the car will continue along its path. You will find your destination in good time, but the pigeon will find hers immediately. Drawn along a low pressure stream, she will land on the shoulder of the road, whole and without pain.
Two of her kind will join her there. One of them puffs his chest. The new member of the flock pursues him until his chest deflates and he folds his tail away.
Settled, the birds feed each other coos and lay bits of gravel along the pavement. Together, the pigeons draw stones up from their gullets and add them to the steadily, slowly hardening mountain road.Daniel Solomon is an ethnographer and natural historian of settler descent who lives in the occupied Ohlone lands known as the San Francisco Peninsula. Some of his recent work can be found in Shirley Magazine, Cladesong, Dream Pop, and The Chamber. His fiction, poetry, scholarship, and experiments with time are available at: danielallensolomon.com.