It did not bother Claire so much when the dying pigeon lay still, in the middle of the sidewalk, panting, wide‑open eyes darting here and there. She could reckon with it then, keep its agony in place. There was something close to dignity about the bird—as though it could be believed that it had come to a place of acceptance of its fate. That it was doing its utmost to die a dignified, stoic death.
Two other women, random pedestrians, had stopped alongside Claire to stare down at the injured animal. Claire had to admit that if they had not stopped, she might already have left the scene. But because they had, because they were hovering over her shoulder, the bird had to be carefully considered. There was much hemming and hawing over the pigeon’s condition. It was established that the bird could not fly. It was then established that when a bird cannot fly it is probably in quite bad shape. What to do about the bird was not established. The older woman said that in cases like this it might be best to call the city of Ottawa. She did not make a move for her cell phone.
“I have to be on my way,” she said after an awkward moment of silence. “You’re going to call the city? That’s good. They’ll know what to do.”
The other woman, dark-haired, dark-eyed, stayed put a little longer.
“My sister might be able to help,” said this stranger. She squinted at her phone, tapping away here and there, as Claire pulled out her own phone to call the city. The man on the phone was helpful, which was truly shocking to Claire.
“Yes, there is a bird rescue in the area. They’ll even come to get the bird as one of their services.”
He transferred Claire’s call, connecting her right away with the bird sanctuary.
“No, we can’t come get the bird,” said the woman on the phone. “I don’t know why he told you that.”
Claire told the bird sanctuary woman that she didn’t drive, didn’t have a way of getting the bird across town. The bird sanctuary woman gave her an address, just in case, which Claire didn’t take down. She hung up.
“My sister is busy,” said the dark-haired woman. “But I’ll go get a box. I live right down the street.” She hurried off, leaving Claire to guard the pigeon. She warned an approaching pedestrian not to crush it underfoot.
“It’s just a fucking bird,” muttered the man, side-stepping slightly, carrying on his way.
Left alone, Claire lost some interest in the whole bird‑rescue project. Would the dark‑haired woman even return with her box? If Claire simply kept walking, went to her own apartment on the corner and fell into bed for a few hours (not sleeping, not even resting, but lying still, mercifully still), would the bird still be there when she walked past later, in the wee hours of the night, to meet her boyfriend after his bar shift? If the bird was no longer there then, at 3 o’clock in the morning, Claire could tell herself it had made a miraculous recovery.
She was contemplating this course of action—or inaction—when the pigeon began to revolt against its fate. It reared up, desperate, and attempted to spread its wings, contorting its body wildly, willing itself to fly off, to leave Claire and the sidewalk scene behind. It could not fly, of course. It could only throw itself here and there, flopping a few feet to each side, the weight of its useless spread wings finally tilting it back and off the curb, where it landed beneath a parked car.
It was all too much. Claire wanted it to die, to surrender, to be still. She moved away from it, where it hid beneath the parked car, and dialed the bird sanctuary again. She could hardly get the words out.
“What’s your address again?” Claire sobbed into the phone— her tears taking her by surprise.
“Oh, didn’t you just call?” said the bird sanctuary woman. “What’s wrong with the bird, exactly?”
“It keeps trying to fly but it can’t,” Claire wailed. “I don’t know what to do.”
She realized how ridiculous she must sound but couldn’t keep the plaintive tone from her voice. The woman on the phone gave her the address again, and Claire punched it into a rideshare app. It would cost 30 or so dollars to get a ride to the bird sanctuary, each way. 60 or so dollars total. Claire did the math in her head, wondering if that would leave her enough money to eat until payday. It might, just barely.
The dark-haired stranger was hurrying back now, holding a small box in front of her like a gift.
“Where did it go?” she called as she approached.
Claire hung up the phone, wiped the tears from her eyes.
“It’s under the car. It tried to get away.”
“I punched some holes in the box,” the woman said. “Apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The woman moved into the street, on the other side of the car, so the bird couldn’t throw itself into traffic. Claire took off her sweatshirt—a nice sweatshirt, too, which would now have to be thrown away—and crouched on the ground, the box between her legs.
“I don’t even like birds,” she whimpered. “They scare me.” She hated how pathetic she sounded. How had this become her responsibility? Why was she on her knees in the street trying to wrangle a dying, flea‑infested bird?
Claire reached out, the sweatshirt covering her hands, and gripped the bird from behind, pinning down its wings. She was surprised at how easily it gave in, how light it was, how little force it exerted.
She placed the dying thing in the box and the dark-haired woman helped her close the lid.
“I just called a ride to the sanctuary,” Claire said. “Thank you for your help.”
The dark‑haired woman fished in her wallet and pulled out a ten‑dollar bill.
“Please take this,” she said. “I know it will be expensive to get out there.”
Claire wanted the ten‑dollar bill—likely needed it to survive the next five days—but she refused.
“No, no, it’s fine.” She tried to sound nonchalant. “But thank you.”
She was now looking forward, in a way, to being the sole custodian of the wounded animal. It felt like it was up to her to complete this journey on her own. She could barely remember who she had been or what she had been doing before she came across the bird.
“You’re doing a good thing,” said the dark-haired woman when Claire’s ride pulled up. “Think of it as good karma!”
The car inched slowly through rush hour traffic until it hit the highway. The sanctuary was far off, in the middle of nowhere, close to where Claire had lived, briefly, with her fiancé, before she had left him. It was not a part of town she enjoyed returning to.
Claire wanted to talk to someone, to calm her nerves. She considered texting her boyfriend but knew he was opening the bar and didn’t want to bother him. She knew he couldn’t focus on much else but work these days. Instead, she took a picture of the box on the seat next to her and sent it to her sisters and mom, along with a jokey accompanying text, turning the whole thing into a silly, goofy predicament. Can you believe I got myself into this mess? The text didn’t match the way she felt, the pounding of her heart, the churning of her stomach, like the pigeon had burrowed its way inside her and was trying to free itself, beating its wings against her rib cage, digging its beak into her guts.
The pigeon continued to fight, to rage against its doom. It beat its wings frantically within the box. Claire kept her eyes shut tight, she pleaded with it to stop.
“Please, no,” she said, out loud. “Please, don’t.”
The driver didn’t say a word.
They arrived at last at the sanctuary, off a narrow dirt road. Claire unbuckled her seatbelt and jumped out of the car. Her lips were a thin, pale, downturned line. She rang the doorbell of the building and waited.
A woman in scrubs ran to greet her, masked up. Claire fished in her purse for her own mask—an old one, all crumpled up and covered in lint, that she hadn’t touched for weeks, now that the really bad times felt almost over.
“What do we have here?” said the vet, leading Claire inside.
It was all so close to being over. The problem was so close to being out of her hands. Claire put her package on a fold-out table which stood in the lobby.
The vet stooped slightly. She gingerly opened the box.
“A little pigeon,” said the vet. She moved aside the sweater that enveloped it and reached inside. “Oh, that doesn’t look good,” she said.
Claire saw, briefly, the stiff body, the unnatural turn of the neck. She did not have to look very long.
“It’s fucking dead, isn’t it?” she wailed, turning away, holding herself back from running from the building and sprinting off down the narrow country road.
“You did everything you could,” said the meek little vet. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Claire said. “It’s not this…It’s not just this…”
“Just let it all out,” said the vet, visibly uncomfortable.
“It’s not just this,” she said again. She was doubled over at the waist. It all hurt so much, every part of it. Everything, everything.
The woman blinked, her expression almost entirely obscured by her mask and goggles.
“I don’t know what else to say,” said the vet. But then she thought of something: “The recycling here is a little messed up, so I’m going to have to ask you to bring the box back with you.”
Claire accepted mutely, took the little box in her hands, her ruined sweatshirt inside.
“You can probably wash the shirt,” said the vet. “It should be fine.”
“Yes, maybe,” Claire said, though she knew it was ruined now.
She sat outside and waited for her ride home, the box on her lap. The little makeshift pigeon coffin. It was all too morbid. She was crying as she got into the car. The driver blasted the air conditioning even though it was an unusually cold August day.
When Claire finally got home, she left the box on the front porch and stumbled up to her apartment where she ran herself a shower. She lay back in the tub, letting hot water pour down over her legs and stomach and arms until they turned bright red. She was still crying, somehow.
She heard her phone vibrate on the counter. A text. She willed herself to get out of the shower and read it. It took a few tries to get up, as it sometimes did. She said, out loud, “I have to get out of the shower now. I have to stand up now.” She felt very heavy and weak but after a few minutes she was able to hoist herself up, to stand, to dry herself off.
The message was from her boyfriend.
“Sorry I had to leave in a rush earlier,” it said. “Thinking about you.”
Claire wrapped a towel around herself and wrote a response.
“Thanks, baby! I hope your night is great!”
She considered adding a smiley face so he wouldn’t think she was mad at him or upset in any way. She worried over that smiley face, finger hovering over the emoji, her heart still pounding very fast.
Bridget Duquette is a writer-editor living in Ottawa, Canada.
Allison Liu (she/her) is an emerging writer currently studying in the Boston area. She can often be found working on her novel, photographing the unusual, and conducting bioengineering research. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Yellow Arrow Vignette, The Violet Hour Magazine, The Foredge Review, and elsewhere.