Monday, May 14, 2007

The Two Pigeons of Cortez

There is a skywalk above Division, just south of where I live. Division runs east and west, to and from Lake Michigan, and the wind tears along the road’s retail-minded girth with greater audacity than on the residential roads to the north and south. The lake-informed air of Division – channeled beneath the skywalk – forms a sort of wind tunnel. And when walking west or east on more blustery days, like the day in question, this tunnel effect causes me to walk a few streets south, on Cortez.

Walking westward, coming home from an unremarkable lunch, I turned the corner onto Cortez and noticed, only peripherally, a pigeon flapping in the crosswalk orthogonal to me. I thought the bird was injured, looking at it more directly then, and I started to walk over to it, unsure even as I approached it what I could do to help an injured anything, let alone something as delicate as a bird.

When I was still several steps away, the pigeon lifted slightly from its spot and put itself back down inches away from its origin. Its situation became more and less clear instantly.

The bird, which, in the moment just preceding its nominal flight, I had thought to look increasingly oddly shaped, had been on top of another bird. Another pigeon. This second pigeon was dead.

From the glint of magenta buckling through the apex of its compacted frame, it was simple enough to read this second bird as very recently dead. I surveyed the second pigeon as the first watched me, still resolute on the white line of the crosswalk, opposite the white line where this second pigeon had met what appeared to be its car-dealt end. Although I was closer to the first pigeon than I had been thus far, it gave no indication of relocating. It just stared, noiseless.

Knowing there was nothing I could do for the dead bird and being too cripplingly paranoid about disease to pick it up and save it the indignity of further abuse, I walked away. As I walked away the first pigeon stared after me, turning its neck to follow my progress. I left the two birds unsure if the first had been lamenting over the body – flapping futilely out of some primal grief – or devouring its perch, or somehow both. The dichotomy of grief versus cannibalism provided me with no clear way to process what I’d seen. Are pigeons even capable of grief? What was this first pigeon to this deceased second: a mate, or a friend, or an opportunistic passerby with an empty stomach? The possibility that the first pigeon was some amalgamation of all these things only confused things further. I looked back once more, met the pigeon’s uninformative glare, then walked further down the sidewalk and turned the corner.

I had some laundry to pick up later that day and, perhaps out of my own macabre leanings or simply out of avoidance of the wind tunnel, I found myself shuffling eastward down Cortez. When I came upon the intersection where I’d been confused hours earlier by two pigeons, I was once again confused by two pigeons. There were now two dead pigeons, side by side.

To be empirically fair, I have no way of knowing if the second dead pigeon was the first fluttering pigeon I had left staring earlier in the day. I had not noted or even thought to note any special markings on the then living bird. But it was nearly impossible to think this was not the same pigeon, now with its head burst just beside the graying white of the crosswalk line.

I stared at the newest dead, and saw there was some sort of corn and seed scattered just beneath its body. Had someone scattered feed in the middle of the road? Was this the fate of the first demised bird? Had its friend (mate? nemesis?) wisely flown away after I’d left, only to have another bird meet the same end? I stupidly surveyed the intersection’s surrounding porches, half expecting to find some malicious schoolboy, feed in hand, looking with satisfaction on his afternoon’s slaughter.

The porches were empty.

Perhaps the corn feed had been eaten earlier, and this radial pattern had been forced from the stomach upon impact? While the head was the most graphically affected, the whole body had clearly felt the force. But my germ fears swelled up, both precluding me from lifting the bird for any forensics and telling me it was time to move on and to cleaner laundry.

On the way back, laundry in tow, I walked west on Division. I walked through the wind tunnel, the air and cars pulsing through, carrying birds and people wherever they would end up next.


James said...

I'm not sure why, but for some reason my first thought when I read "dead pigeon" was, Duck Necrophilia. Now it's time to go have some pigeon-related nightmares.

Paul Hornschemeier said...

Sadly, I knew which story you were talking about before clicking on your link... it's such a strange report that it was an exercise in futility trying to forget it once I had read it. Strangely enough, the duck necrophilia story found its way into David Heatley's great and somewhat hallucinatory story "Overpeck" in Mome, issue 1.

Sorry to give you pigeon dreams.