The plane lifted off smoothly and Toronto began to disappear beneath the wind blown clouds. Kyrie rested her forehead against the greasy plastic window and watched the patchwork of fields, the ribbons of rivers, the buttons of moors, blur beneath the jet.
It was a quiet Christmas Eve flight with little turbulence, but for Kyrie it seemed to last forever. The desire to get quickly home surprised her, since whenever she was at home she wished to be away. Her home, the tired five-room apartment with grey walls and handful of smudged windows, only represented that time in her life when she was young and thin and fresh for the world. She had graduated, found a job, settled down, and was shocked to realize she was unfulfilled.
By now Kyrie had grown used to the unfulfilled feeling.
When she got home she checked the mail downstairs, unlocked her door, and let her suitcase and purse fall to the ground. The apartment was silent and grey, like her. Kyrie pulled her shoes off slowly. She took her jacket off slowly. In her sock feet she went to the little yellow kitchen and turned on the coffee machine. Waiting for it, she leaned against the counter and looked at the small high chair still in the corner. She closed her eyes, pressed her mouth with cold, dry fingers, and decided to have tea instead.
She turned off the coffee machine and turned on the kettle.
She felt sick to her stomach when she sat down in the living room. With a sigh she got up, murmuring unintelligibly. This happened every time she tried to sit and relax in her empty apartment. Instead she walked to the baby’s room, walls faded light pink from deep hot-pink, and sat with her aching back against the ribbed baby bed. Here, she drank her chamomile tea in peace, mourning a child who had barely lived and the life she’d neglected for mourning.
Kyrie fell asleep with her back pressed against the bars of the crib. She didn’t awake when her mug fell onto the spotted pink-and-green carpet. The afternoon went by slowly, glazing sun on the old glass windowpanes, gentle wind on the ivy plants trickling down the apartment walls. A long way away, across dark scraped moors crusted with frost and delicate pink flowers, the highway buzzed and roared, so distant it might as well not be there. People in cars tore across the velvet patchwork on their way to celebrate Christmas the next day with family, laughter, good-smelling food. All things Kyrie didn’t have.
Kyrie’s apartment was sparse and plain. The kitchen, yes, had color, and the baby’s bedroom was faded pink, but after the factory accident Kyrie had donated Daryl’s clothing and shoes, his mug and folding Blackberry, his collection of black Santas. Kyrie had set one photo of him on her nightstand, dressed in a sleek blue tuxedo for a friend’s wedding. It was faded now and dusty, barely looked at. But she had kept the baby’s clothes, all the faded ones from zero to three months, and the two three-to-six month outfits, never used. She kept the crib and the baby toys and the bottles and blankets and medicines long expired.
She jerked awake when someone knocked on the door. Kyrie sat on the floor, stiff and confused.
“Who…?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes like she’d been asleep all night. She barely knew anyone here, though she’d lived in the city many years. Just her boss, her few coworkers, and Daryl’s mother.
Kyrie stumbled up and went to the door. She opened it as slowly as she’d taken off her shoes and jacket. No one was there in the carpeted hallway. The other doors were locked and white and silent. The owners were at work, or on vacation with family. Kyrie looked down. At her feet was a small wire cage, about half the size of her small suitcase, arched at the top and square at the bottom. The metal was dark and shiny, the floor covered with clean sawdust and a shallow water bowl in the corner. A tiny brown-headed turtledove was curled tightly in a corner, its head tucked under its wing protectively, just a small brown puff of downy feathers.
Kyrie picked it up and peered inside. She looked down the hall. No one was in sight. A square white card was tied to the handle on top of the cage.
Dear Kyrie, it said. Merry Christmas. I hope with this gift you will no longer be alone. The dove doesn’t have a name yet. May you have peace on this beautiful night.
Warm wishes, a Friend.
Kyrie let out a quiet involuntary “Oh!”
Feeling indecent, Kyrie went back inside and locked the door behind her. She set the wire cage on the kitchen table and sat next to it, her chin in her hand, looking at it. She looked at it for a long time, just taking in the contours of the wire, the tiny feathers of the turtledove, the light tan curls of sawdust.
She couldn’t keep the bird, Kyrie knew. She had no time, no resources, nothing to spare. Not even a corner of her heart. It hadn’t even looked up at her. And she didn’t know what it would need. She could take care of a baby. Milk, chopped banana, a few hugs and smiles and songs at night. Soft words in the morning, rub the back when the baby cries. And love. You spend so much love on a baby. Internally Kyrie knew it was wasteful, completely wasteful, the amount of love needed to care for a child. Yet twenty years ago she’d entered into that waste, that expense freely.
But there is nothing instinctive about caring for a bird, as there is something instinctive about caring for a baby. At least, she knew, caring for a bird would be less waste. Birds die soon.
But her baby had died early, as birds do.
She tried not to think about that. Slowly, Kyrie set her tea mug down on the table next to the cage and poked one finger through the bars, trying not to disturb it. She stroked the downy chocolate feathers, soft as baby hair.
“Do you drink water?” she asked it, her voice low. “What do you eat, little one?”
Babies were easier. She still didn’t know whether she ought to keep it or not. It was like adopting a very small child without having the proper clothes, food, or supplies for it.
The cage sat on her kitchen table all evening, as silent as Kyrie herself. The bird didn’t move as Kyrie made dinner and ate it, washed the dish, took a shower, and watched thirty minutes of Blue Bloods. She began to wonder if it were sick or dead, but the body stayed warm the whole time, trembling almost imperceptibly when she drew near.
It fell dark outside and the heater kicked on automatically. The moon shone metallically, as white and perfect as forever, glinting on the wire cage. The image caught at Kyrie as she filled a glass with water, and she sat at the table instead of walking to bed. Her sock feet padded quietly and the bird, unaware of her presence, lifted its head.
Kyrie rested her chin on her forearm, her forehead almost touching the wires. She could feel her heart beating faintly through her skin, through her thin pajamas. The bird could feel it too but it seemed to calm, rather than frighten, it.
She said nothing, just watched it. Slowly the dove stood, tottered over to the shallow water bowl, and drew beads of water into its beak. It was like watching a baby nurse from a bottle.
She was overcome by a feeling of anxiety. Was it hungry? Was it dying? She stood as quietly as possible and rifled through her cupboards. She found some sesame seeds, some pecan nuts, some walnuts long stale. She broke the pecans into small pieces and fed them through the bars. The dove fluttered back to its corner, afraid, but when Kyrie walked away, pretending not to care though caring intensely, it hopped forward and pecked shyly at the pieces.
It ate a few and she sighed in relief.
“Worrisome thing,” she mumbled in an irritated tone, but she couldn’t have been happier. She could at least feed it pecans.
Then she was overcome by doubt in place of the anxiety. Hadn’t she read something about not feeding birds nuts which humans would eat? Or was that squirrels? Or zoo animals? She linked her cold hands together and squeezed tightly as the dove ate delicately. Was it dying this minute?
It would be better to find someone to take it in. Find the person who gave it to her. Or take it to a pet shop where someone could pin instructions on the wire cage and a child could take it home and feed it the proper things and stroke its back…
But she didn’t want to, not yet. And she didn’t want to keep it, not yet. She was a busy woman, much busier than when she’d had the baby. She had meetings, trips, appointments, and she couldn’t leave the bird at home.
Kyrie sat down at the table again and fell into the familiar bent-over position, chin on forearm, heart beating through skin, through fabric. The bird did not shy away when she came closer.
She opened her lips and whispered to it, “I like you, little thing. But you are inconvenient. More than a baby. And you will not last as long as a baby.”
Then the dove nestled its head over its wing, not under, and closed its eyes. It reminded her powerfully of the baby resting its warm, downy head on her shoulder as she rocked her or patted her rounded back. She was almost overwhelmed by the memory of many rainy nights rocking the baby asleep in her now-empty room.
Kyrie squeezed her eyes closed but couldn’t push away the memory. Then she stroked the bird’s head with a single finger, folded back into the familiar slouch, and watched the turtledove sleep. The kitchen glowed from a single bulb surrounded by cold, starry darkness. She had planned to sleep in the baby’s room or in her own this night, Christmas Eve night, but did not want the dove to be alone. Finally Kyrie fell asleep like the bird, with the bird, her head resting on the table, sleeping deeply for the first time in years.