I didn’t think that I would ever know the end of your story, but I do, and I want to share it.
In the evening dusk, hours after your flight, I looked for you on the steps and in the trees around the driveway. I went to bed, and when I got up in the morning, you were nowhere in sight. I gave you up, and smiled at the thought of you. I imagined you in a green light, glittering like your bright eyes.
The truth is that, huddled flat-footed on the linoleum, you looked up at me with those bright eyes when I found you, even though your wing sagged and your feathers were bent. Perhaps the cat thought he was bringing you back to me, and that’s why he didn’t make your soft, featherweight body into a toy as he’s done with so many birds. I imagine he tried to be gentle, but your beak was broken and you had a deep gash in your breast.
I picked you up from the floor and you relaxed in my palms like you had done so many times before, and your eyes were bright circles. I cleaned and bandaged the wound, and looked for superglue to splint the beak. When you tried to eat with the cockeyed bill, it was comical. You chased seeds across the floor, slapping your feet with each clumsy, sturdy step. I thought surely you’d get better, like you’d done before. I thought of how your will to live astonished me: all that heart in such a little breast. All that desire from a creature that couldn’t have any idea what there was out there to desire.
When I came home tonight, you were collapsed and panting under the light, liquid oozing from your bill. You opened your eyes to look at me when I picked you up, and, as I watched, you blinked matte black eyes and dribbled a clear bubble and my palm was wet. You heaved and gurgled in the tiny world of my hands, a lost cause, and my cheeks were wet.
I asked Sean to put you down, and he did. I trust his hands to kill with compassion. I asked him to leave your body in a tree and he did. Little one, you’re a bigger meal for the woods than you would have been if I’d never picked you up. In the little world of my hands, I said goodbye to your eyes, glad that they had seen what was out there to desire, and goodbye to your wings, glad that they had known what it is to fly. It’s not enough, but it’s something.
Ultimately, I am responsible for the life and death of the dove. I fed him when he would have died, and when he might have lived, my cat dragged him in. Keeping cats is a small hypocrisy that this event crystallizes: I know that domestic cats are responsible for diminishing songbird populations, yet I keep two indoor-outdoor cats and refuse to declaw or bell them. Coyotes prey on housecats in this area, and I want my pets to have all of their stealth and weaponry intact when they are outside. I let them go outside because I’m too lazy to clean a litterbox and I don’t want to confine a creature that doesn’t like to be confined. They are happy cats.
Stray and feral cats are a problem in our area, and we often find ourselves caring for unwanted kittens that have been dumped out here in the country. My cats are both neutered, but that’s unusual in this region. From now on, I commit to see to it that every kitten that passes through my care, however briefly, is neutered before it leaves me. It’s not enough, but it’s something.