One Less Pigeon
Coos and visions of feathers puncture my jet-lagged, sheet-thin sleep. I drift in and out, refusing to accept it, this new invasion of pigeons. I left the house for less than two weeks, thinking it would be safe this time of year. These Toronto winters of grey sleet and freezing rain should not inspire courtship or nesting, yet they are at it again. Months of trying to scare them away from my windowsills and the neighbour’s rain gutter gone to waste.
Hours later, in a moment of lucid thought between banks of post-travel fog, I climb up on the bathtub rim to get a better look. There is no cooing now, but a small mound of grey guano and white down on the ledge in front of the window. I scan the neighbour’s side, and that’s when I see it, hanging out of the corner of the trough. The limpness and angle leave no doubt it is dead. I close my eyes, not sure what this means, and step down from the edge only when I start to feel dizzy.
Broken wing dropping
the cold gutter exposes
a still life’s angle
The death of an enemy pigeon should not feel depressing. Yet, I struggle to stem the maelstrom of melancholy, inventing house chores to keep my hands busy and my eyes away from the view of the lifeless bird. The house is quiet. Whoever was cooing during the night hasn’t been back. When I start feeling drowsy, hours before bedtime, I allow myself another look. The waning afternoon light has reduced the wing to clean lines and shadows. A stylized death, almost abstract.
I suddenly remember this silhouette from somewhere else. It is the same outline and slant of the arm of Marat, dead and dangling off the side of a bathtub in Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting. Life cut short in the middle of his revolutionary acts, stabbed by someone with whom he felt safe. A firm point in my wobbly knowledge of art history.
lines engraved on our faces
The cooing returns in the night. Live pigeons, clearly, not the ghost of their friend. They wake me up at a time that would have been right two days ago in Italy but is all wrong here. They sound incredibly close.
Homing birds always return to the place where they started, to bring messages, to breed, maybe to die. Humans spent centuries teaching them these tricks, feeding and befriending pigeons, building intricate pigeon lofts on the roofs of their houses. Eons later, unlearning it seems impossible. A few traps and sprays of cold water will not uproot the sense of being safe among humans.
I lie perfectly still in my bed, listen carefully to decide if these are mating calls or warning cries or keening. At some point, I doze off again. In the morning, a white feather has mysteriously passed through all barriers and landed on the bathroom floor.
Morning light launches
illusions of truth, meaning
hidden in feathers
Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri
Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer. She returned to writing in 2011 and had her first story published in English in J Journal in 2013. She has since been published widely in Canada and the US. Her most recent work is featured or forthcoming in The New Quarterly, Carve Literary Magazine, untethered Hobart, Agnes and True, Journal of Compressed Arts, Gone Lawn, Belletrist, Crack the Spine, Prism International, The Fiddlehead and elsewhere. You can find her on her on twitter @hegelincanada, Instagram: hege.a.j.lepri and on her website: www.hegeajlepri.ca
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