A MAN AND A WOMAN PLAN to marry. In anticipation of their union they purchase a house in the historic district of their small southern city. The house is white with lovely woodwork that has been neglected and high ceilings that have cracked over time. The man and the woman leave their condo in the suburbs and move into their newly acquired house.
The woman, who is very tall, loves the high ceilings. As the man unpacks their belongings, she drifts through rooms tracing rivers of cracks in the air. “How I ever lived without these,” she says dreamily, “I don’t know.” The man wonders if it is the cracks she loves, or the ceilings. Though it is summer, the man frets about the how the ceilings will keep in the heat. He also worries about the cracks—there are so many, they are so wide.
The front yard of the man and woman’s new house is very small and contains two boxwoods, two azaleas and one gingko tree. Since the woman works long hours as a chef and the man will be spending most of his time—when he is not working at the university library—renovating the house, the postage-stamp-sized yard seems like a good thing.
IN THE FALL, the gingko tree begins to drop its fruit—each like a dainty, miniature, spiked peach. The man so admires the fruit that he makes a centerpiece of it on their dining room table. “This,” he says to the woman, caressing a particularly small and pinkish fruit, “is one fruit that you can’t compare to a woman’s breast. It’s too round and has too many points.”
The woman smiles, showing her perfectly straight front teeth. “I know,” she says. “Why does everybody do that? ‘Tits like melons.’ If I weren’t a chef—you know, if there weren’t food involved—it would make me mad.”
The gingko continues to drop its fruit, which begins to smell like vomit. This causes the woman to worry about her sense of taste. Already, she cannot tell if her “hint” of sage is actually a hint or a sledgehammer. The man tries to keep the yard fruit-free and has long since disposed of his centerpiece, but fetid fruit keeps falling.
At night the woman stays awake smelling. “It’s like something large got sick,” she says. “An elephant . . . or a frat boy who just ate at the all-you-can eat buffet and then drank a fifth.” She worries that if the gingko keeps her up much longer she might chop off her fingers. This worrying interferes with her sleep almost as much as the vomit smell, though not quite as much.
“WE SHOULDN’T CUT IT DOWN,” the man says. “It’s too beautiful.” It is Sunday. The man and the woman sit on their front porch drinking freshly squeezed orange juice and tiny cups of milky espresso.
As the sun begins to rise, the man walks out to their tiny yard and picks up a few of the tree’s fan-shaped, now-yellow leaves. He returns to the woman, holds the leaves up to the new sun and then extends them like a bouquet. The woman does not reach out to accept the offering. Instead she puffs out her cheeks. The man feels disconcerted to see the woman suddenly change with a breath—one moment a jaguar, the next a hamster. The woman slowly exhales. “I know,” she says, finally accepting the bouquet of leaves. “They’re pretty.” She stacks the leaves into a neat pile on her lap and pulses her hands against the sides of the leaves, as if to make them neater. “So you’re going to start patching plaster today, right?” She looks up briefly at the man who is staring at the gingko. She stands, walks to the edge of the porch and drops the leaves, one by one, back onto the lawn.
After the woman goes to work, the man collects all the fallen gingko leaves in large black plastic bags. He drags the bags into the house and pulls down his reference books (three-full-sized bookshelves worth of dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases and almanacs)—all discards from the university library. He lays out the books in rows until he has covered the floors of the living room, the dining room, and the front hallway. He then meticulously presses the leaves in the books’ pages and turns up the heat. He shuts off the lights and goes to bed.
That moonless night the woman comes home at two in the morning. She lets herself in and immediately stumbles on something. She gasps. A rat? A body? She toes the object again. Hard, uniform. She sighs and presses the light switch. Books span the floor like a mosaic of tilework—tilework, another job that is not getting done while she is out working all hours of the night and day. She kicks a red Columbia Encyclopedia so hard that it flies up into the air. The pressed leaves float away from the book and fall to floor like dollar bills.
EVERY NIGHT, WHILE THE WOMAN is still at work, the man arranges the now-flattened gingko leaves in rows, pastes them to the cracked walls of the front foyer and hallway and then shellacs them. This, he thinks, will certainly eliminate the smell of vomit.
Even though the woman resists the project, she cannot deny the beauty of the leaf-papered hallway—something that approximates the combination of raw silk and gold-leaf. Still, the smell of shellac combined with the gingko vomit keeps the woman up more than ever before. “How I am going to do paella?” she asks him weepily. “You know how hard the saffron is. I can’t smell anymore. I can’t sleep.”
Sleep, the woman thinks, is the most intimate thing you can do with someone. This is why she loves the man. He is such a good sleeper. He smells like sleep—a mixture of mint and honey. She strokes the man’s smooth, oddly hairless hand as they lie in bed. “Please stop it!” she says. “It’s not fair. You sleep like the dead.”
This is true. Once the man falls asleep, he does not move or wake until morning. His mother used to tell him stories of how, when he was a baby and even a young boy, she would shake him awake nightly just make sure he was still alive.
“You’re going to make me lose my mind,” the woman says, letting go of the man’s hand.
“I’m almost done,” he says.
ONE DAY THE MAN RETURNS home from his job to find a tree-cutting service felling the gingko. As he climbs the stairs of the front porch, the tree falls. The man shudders and then feels a sharp pain so deep in his chest that he doubles over. A leathery, tattooed tree-cutter eyes the man. The man, acutely aware of his own pale, thin body, stands up and grins foolishly. “Just got a cramp,” he says, averting his eyes. “Got to stretch.” The leathered worker nods and lights a cigarette. The man stifles a sob and rushes into the house.
Later, when the tree-cutters are gone, the man returns to the yard with several large black plastic bags. He fills a bag with the now-brown leaves from the felled gingko, then another and another and another.
That night, while the woman is at work, the man papers their bedroom wall with the gingko leaves. This time he does not bother to press or arrange them. When he is done the walls look like they have been covered in old paper bags. This makes the man feel oddly cheerful.
When the woman comes home, the man greets her at the front door. He smiles, helps her off with her jacket and takes her parcels—two cookbooks, a plastic bag filled with frozen meat, and another tall brown bag filled with some kind of giant stalky vegetable. As the man sets the bags down, the woman wrinkles her nose and seems to flatten her tiny, slightly pointed ears. The man, who has always found the woman’s ears endearing—elfin ears on such a long-stemmed beauty—now recoils as the woman hisses, “Where is it?”
The man blinks at her like newly hatched chick.
“The shellac? What have you done?”
The man shrugs, hunches his shoulders and looks into a tall brown bag. He pulls out a stalk, “What’s this?”
“You know what it is,” she says. “You’ve seen it a million times. It’s sugar cane. Where’d you do it?”
The woman grabs up her bags, stalks to the kitchen and sets them on the counter. Then she slinks through the house looking for the source of the shellac smell. Then man follows her. Finally the woman comes to the newly rumpled brown bedroom. “My god,” she says. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
The man leans his head against the slightly tacky brown gingko paper. “You didn’t even ask about the tree,” he whispers.
“I did too. I told you it was driving me crazy.”
The man blinks, “I thought you were just talking.” The woman pushes silently past him.
In the kitchen the woman snatches hunks of frozen meat from her grocery bag and begins shoving them in the freezer. The man hovers behind her. “We can plant a maple, a saucer magnolia—something that doesn’t stink,” she says. “Why can’t you actually fix the house?”
The man says nothing.
For the first time in years, he does not brush his teeth before he goes to bed.
THAT NIGHT, THE WOMAN WAKES with a start. She sniffs the air, puts on her robe, heads down the stairs to the kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs, a draft wafts up her long, bare legs. She follows the cold air to the front door, which stands slightly ajar. She shivers. “Can’t even close the fucking door,” she says as she kicks it shut. Then she pads to the kitchen to makes herself a cup of mint tea.
Back in the bedroom, she brings the cup to steep on the bedside table, filling the room with the scent of mint. She falls asleep before the tea is ready.
THE WOMAN’S JOB, WHICH WAS already very demanding, becomes even more so. People with ridiculous fortunes are moving in droves to this quaint university town. When she has a moment to spare, the woman reads about the more famous of these people in glossy magazines. These people all want to eat at her restaurant. The woman, flattered by this, spends hours combing the markets for special mushrooms, unusual fowl, greens that have been picked at just the right moment. Early in the morning or late at night she tries out new recipes.
The man’s job, on the other hand, is very undemanding—so much so that he feels pressured. Mostly he stands or sits at the overstaffed circulation desk. He scans peoples’ books when they want to check them out, he updates the computer database and answers students’ questions about where to find books. When people aren’t frequenting his desk, the man reads esoteric magazines and journals—Needlework, Cat Talk, International Retail Design, Renal Failure, Cartographer Weekly, Chicken Monthly, Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology.
All day the man thinks about what project he might attack that night. He yearns to be home where he can mix plaster and begin patching the cracks in the ceilings. He ends each work day in anticipation.
When he gets home, the man eats something from a can—pork-n-beans, lentil soup, ravioli. The refrigerator is full of the woman’s gourmet creations. The man wishes he could eat them but he fears he will eat something she is saving or, worse, that he will eat the wrong combination and invite her scorn—like the time he poured the sea scallops with, what he later learned was a caper-raisin emulsion with caramelized cauliflower, over spicy fettuccine and calamari. “Don’t you even have tastebuds?” she had asked him.
After he eats, the man rarely gets beyond arranging his tools and making lists for his projects. Instead, the work magazines he has begun to bring home draw him into a corner of the living room. There, he sits on the floor with his legs splayed and cuts out articles and pictures, stacking them into piles around him like a nest. He pastes these articles and pictures onto cardstock, creating new magazines: Needlepoint for Cartographers, How to Mass Produce Cats, Industrial Design for Chickens. The man always carefully conceals his activities before the woman gets home from work.
One night as the man intently cuts an article about how to arrange chicken-feeding stations optimally in order to cull out runts and malformed birds, he feels he is being watched. He looks up to see the woman towering over him, her eyes narrowed.
“Hi,” the man says weakly. He rises to his knees and scuttles about the floor snatching at scraps of paper.
“This is what you do every night?” the woman says. “What is this?” She grabs at the papers in the man’s hands. He pulls back, hugging the scraps to his chest. “They’re mine.”
“Let me see,” the woman demands.
The man shakes his head and cradles the papers.
“I work 12-, 16-, 18-hour days to make enough money so you can fix this place. If you were writing poetry or something, I’d understand. . .”
“You don’t work so I can fix the house,” the man mumbles.
“You think I do it for fun?”
“Yes. You do it for fun. You always wanted to be a chef.”
“Well, then what the hell do you want to do? Start a career as a scrapbook guru?”
FOR THE FIRST TIME THAT he can remember, the man wakes in the middle of the night. He sniffs the air—cold almost empty, except that it harbors the slightest scent of fresh cut grass. He hears a faint clicking coming from downstairs—someone in the house. The hair on the back of his neck rises. He stands and dons his maroon paisley bathrobe. A gift from the woman, the robe is silk and hardly insulates from the cold. It does, however, make him look decent. He never owned a robe before he met the woman. He imagines himself naked, chasing a criminal through the streets, his testicles slapping against thighs, like the waddles on a turkey. He feels a sudden warmth toward the woman. He leans over her and kisses her. In her sleep, the woman flinches. The man cinches the belt to his robe and heads downstairs.
At the bottom of the stairs the street light filters in through the front door’s wavy etched glass windows casting a weird glow, like moonlight on water, across the gingko wallpaper. The man sees that the front door is open a crack. All is quiet. As he closes the door, the clicking sound resumes. He turns and tiptoes down the long hall toward the sound. At the kitchen door, he reaches around the corner to flip the light switch, expecting to face—bare-bottomed and empty-handed—a thief, a pervert. His heart races. He feels what might be his last breath spread and then swell inside his chest.
Light fills the room. He looks around. No perverts. Cracked ceiling. Two stoves—one stainless, one cast iron. One oversized, industrial stainless refrigerator. Sage green cabinets, with the doors removed. Inside stacks of white ceramic plates, stainless mixing bowls, towers of baking tins. Stainless shelves stocked with rows of oils and spices.
The man walks to the sink to get a glass of water—to wash away the metallic taste of fear that has risen from his throat. He turns on the tap, drinks the water and walks back to the hall. As he reaches to turn off the light, the clicking resumes. The sound is so close to the man that he feels it might be coming from his own head, like some kind of muted tell-tale heart—the tell-tale brain.
He imagines a culled chicken from one of his articles—a runty one-legged thing—twitching as a human hand wrings its neck, its feet involuntarily tapping against the trough. It is then that he looks down to see the pigeon—an unremarkable gray pigeon—leaning against the gingkoed wall, blinking at the light. Its left foot trembles and clicks against the wooden floor.
“Hey,” he says, “hey.” He waves at the bird. The pigeon’s eyes follow his arms as they flap. The bird leans, it seems, more heavily against the door. A faint wheeze escapes its beak. The man crouches and stares. Its feathers are smooth, not ruffled like those of a sick bird. Maybe the pigeon is just old or cold. Maybe it lost its daughter, son, wife.
The man fills a small bowl with water and another with crumbled bread. “Here’s a snack,” he says, placing the bowls next to the bird. “Go to sleep, fella,” he says and touches the pigeon’s surprisingly soft head. The pigeon blinks and then closes its eyes.
On the way back to the bedroom, the man opens the front door just a crack.
IN THE MORNING THE WOMAN wakes to a chill. As she sighs, her breath is made visible in little clouds before her. She shakes the man. “It’s freezing,” she says. The man grunts but does not move. Wind lifts and billows the gauzy bedroom curtains. “Wind is whipping through our bedroom!” She shouts this time. The man’s eyes pop open. “Oh no!” he says, jumping from the bed and racing down the stairs. The woman rushes after him.
The man looks out the open door. A cold front has blown in. Frost glitters on the grass. The man closes the door and brushes past the woman. “The bird,” he says.
The woman spins around and follows him to the kitchen door. “What bird?”
The man looks at his feet and then at the woman. “The pigeon,” he says sheepishly. “I didn’t want to wake you up.”
The woman, whose manly height has always intimidated the man, seems to grow taller. “A pigeon?”
The man whispers, “It was here last night. It wouldn’t leave, so I left the door open.”
“Well there’s a bit of brilliance on your part. Let’s leave our house open to criminals so your hallucination can find its way out.”
“Honestly,” the man begins to raise his voice, but then as they near the food bowl he quiets back to a whisper. “It ate all the bread.”
The man and the woman both walk through the house separately—him silently and her softly hissing, “Here birdie, birdie.”
The man and the woman meet in the front hallway. The gingko paper shimmers in the morning light. The woman glares at him and then smooths back her glossy dark hair. “We can talk about this tonight when I’m off,” she says flatly. “I have to meet the fish man now.”
The man toes the floor. “It was here. Maybe it lived in the tree.”
“Pigeons don’t live in trees. They roost in abandoned buildings. They break into peoples’ attics. They’re nothing more than winged rats.
“Still, maybe we killed his family—“
“—or hers,” the woman says quietly.
THAT DAY WHEN THE MAN comes home from work, he cleans the house. He clears away his nests of paper and shelves his magazine creations. He vacuums and dusts. He even scours the insides of the woman’s beloved stoves.
When the woman comes home she is so tired she doesn’t even notice the man’s work. He sighs at this, but says nothing. Instead he offers to order Chinese food and rent a video. The woman sinks into the couch and agrees that this is a good idea.
When the man returns, the woman is curled on the couch, sleeping. The man gently shakes her awake. He runs his fingers through her hair and massages her temples. The woman stretches and smiles faintly. “You know,” the man says, “I can serve you supper in bed.”
The woman nods and climbs the stairs.
They sit in bed propped up on pillows and eat lo mein and crispy squid in a pungent sweet sauce. Before she is done with her meal, the woman’s eyes begin to slowly close, like a cat in the sun. The man slides the plate from the woman’s hands and places it on the bedside table. He kisses her forehead and tucks her in as she slumps into sleep. He brushes his teeth and climbs into bed. He drapes his arm around the woman’s head. They fall asleep with their knees touching.
FOR THE SECOND TIME IN his life, the man wakes up in the middle of the night. This time to a scream. At first he thinks the scream is part of a dream in which the gingko tree is falling. As the tree falls, thousands of tiny fruits fall with it. But they are not fruit, they are miniature flightless pigeons. He rushes about, trying to catch them. But when he reaches up, his hands become transparent and the birds fall through them. The pigeons scream as they hit the ground.
He sits up, shaking the dream from him. The scream is coming from downstairs. It is the woman. He has never heard her scream before, but he knows it is her.
The man does not put on his robe. Instead he grabs the half-full carafe of water from the bedside table. He runs down stairs and raises the carafe like a weapon, spilling water down his front, causing his testicles to shrivel like withered fruit.
He skids to a stop in the hallway where the woman stands over the pigeon, glowering. The pigeon cowers against the gingko-covered wall. The woman looks at the man accusingly. “Did you let it in?”
“No, I went to sleep with you.”
“Then how did it . . .? The front door was open.”
“I locked it.”
“You couldn’t have.” She pauses and eyes the man. “My god, what happened to you? What are you doing with that carafe?”
“You were screaming—“
“The door was wide open. You had to have opened it. It’s not like the bird has a key.” The woman begins to walk down the hall. The bird shrinks against the wall to let her pass. She turns to the man. “I’m getting a broom. It probably has lice.”
The man remains in the hall. He crouches down to look at the bird. “We shouldn’t,” he calls out. “We should leave it alone.”
The woman returns with the broom and tentatively touches the bird. It blinks, but does not budge. She presses the broom harder against the bird and begins to push. The bird bobs as she slowly sweeps it across the floor, reminding the man of a Weeble—the famed egg-shaped toy that would wobble but wouldn’t fall down.
The man, still crouching, tries to wrest the broom from the woman. He feels as if he might weep. “Leave it alone,” he moans.
The woman tugs back at the broom. Then, when she sees the man’s face growing pink as he strains against her, she abruptly releases the broom. The man falls back onto the floor. Clutching the broom, he stares at the huge cracks in the yellowed ceiling. The woman marches past him. The man sits up. The bird returns to its place against the wall where it stares dolefully. The bedroom door slams shut.
The man rises and goes to the kitchen. He fills a bowl with cornmeal and bread crumbs and another with water. He places the bowls in front of the bird, cracks the front door and goes to sleep on the couch.
THIS NEW ARRANGEMENT CONTINUES for a month. The woman works all day and most of the night. When she comes home the front door is always cracked, she sees the man asleep on the couch and the pigeon standing in the front hall—staring its pathetic stare. Some nights she tries to shoo the bird away, others she insults it and then taunts it by removing the bowls of food and water. One night she is so angry that she throws the bird’s food on it. The bird, covered in a shroud of cornmeal and breadcrumbs, blinks at her like some kind of dumb ghost.
Still other nights the woman actually feeds the bird, supplementing its meager diet with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. One night, for reasons unknown to herself, she fixes bread pudding for the pigeon.
No matter what she does, the pigeon is always gone in the morning.
THEN SOMETHING HAPPENS. THE SNAP in the air, the occasional frost, turns into a pervasive, bone-chilling cold. The heating bill, previously a not-outrageous-$150-a-month comes in at $490. The bird starts showing up earlier and leaving later. The woman catches it now when she rises in the early morning dark—though, by the time she has showered and is ready to run the bird off, it has disappeared.
It is January and one the woman’s wealthiest customers offers to bankroll a new restaurant for the woman. At the same time, the man loses his job due to state budget cuts.
The woman is ecstatic about the idea of her own restaurant. She immediately decides to host a dinner bash to announce her good fortune to her friends. The man is crushed by this. Why celebrate? He just lost his job.
It is a bitterly cold Monday, the woman’s day off from her current job, the man’s first day of unemployment. The couple stands in the kitchen. The woman is scouring her new, already immaculate, stainless stove. “Why do you have to be such a spoil-sport?” she asks rubbing vigorous little circles. “Maybe this is a blessing.” She does not look at the man or wait for his response. “It wasn’t like you liked that job anyhow.”
The woman begins to hum a tuneless, throaty, purring hum. She crouches and scours.
“Stop it!” the man shouts.
“What?” The woman looks up at him innocently.
“It’s not even a song, what you’re doing. It’s like some kind of growl.”
The woman stops and stands. She flicks the scouring pad at the man. “Grow up! You hardly made any money. You stood around reading magazines all day.”
The man picks up the scouring pad. He thinks for a moment, with relish so great that it takes his breath away, about knocking the smug, self-righteous look off of her perfect face. He drops the scouring pad and leaves the house.
The man drives around town in his beat up grey car, looking for a gingko tree. After visiting nine nurseries, he is still empty-handed. Finally he remembers the woman talking about a very expensive nursery on the outskirts of town. He goes to the nursery. They don’t have the tree either, but the old man who runs the place can order him one. How big does he want it? The man thinks for a moment and asks how big can he get it. The proprietor chuckles, “You can get anything in any size if you got the money.”
“What about 30 feet tall?” the man asks the proprietor.
“That will cost you some,” the old man says.
“What about 20 feet tall?”
“That will cost you some, but less than a 30-footer. You want me to look it up?”
“It doesn’t matter,” says the man. He pulls out the woman’s platinum credit card. The proprietor fills out some papers and runs the card. The man signs the receipt without looking.
ON THE EVE OF THE BIG dinner party, the man sequesters himself in a corner of the living room and begins cutting up some of his old magazines. At first he organizes his clippings but then, as the woman runs the food processor and chops and blends and bangs pots in the kitchen, he feels himself losing focus. He cannot remember what new magazine he was going to create. He feels himself clench his teeth and tries to relax, but his teeth seem to clench back on their own. His clippings get smaller and smaller until he simply cuts out single words, and then only letters. He arranges them in rows like some kind of cryptic ransom note. “HoW pEsTiciDes COmB. dRoUght FreE, MUSt ExeRcISe CatS. anTibiOdics.”
The woman emerges from the kitchen to see the man still his pajamas. “What are you doing? We only have two hours.” Her dark hair hangs in her face, her eyes tight. The man continues cutting. The woman grabs the scissors from his hand. “Please don’t do this to me. We have twenty people coming.” She begins to cry—with real tears.
The man feels his jaw relax. “I’ll take a shower,” he says. “I’ll help.”
AS THE MAN EMERGES FROM the shower, his skin tingling from the hot water, he hears the woman scream. He tucks his towel around his waist and rushes downstairs.
“Get ready for the pot!” the woman shrieks. The man scurries down the hall. There, at the end, he sees the woman waving a butcher’s knife at the pigeon. “Leave now!” She stalks closer to the bird. “What’s the point?” she says to it. “Don’t you have any ambition? Stop blinking like an idiot.” The woman plunges toward the bird.
The pigeon remains perfectly still as the woman advances. The man feels the muscles in his neck tighten as the woman changes her grip on the knife—holding it like some masked character in a horror film.
The man jumps forward, blocking the woman’s access to the pigeon. He presses against her and wrests the knife from her hand. As the knife clatters to the floor, the man’s towel drops.
The woman goes limp with laughter. “What’s with you always getting naked for the bird?” she asks.
The man looks down. He has an erection. “I didn’t even know it was happening,” he says. “I didn’t even feel it.”
The couple disintegrates into laughter, then hysterical lust. They make love on the kitchen floor.
When they are done, they rush upstairs to dress for the impending guests. The man zips the woman into a form-fitting black velvet dress. When the zipper reaches the top of its course, he touches the tiny hairs on the nape of her neck. As he bends toward her and presses his lips to her skin, the woman says breathlessly, “Let’s stop it. After tonight, let’s lock the door and not let it in.” She pauses a moment and stares at the mirror. The man looks up and catches her glinty green eyes in the reflection. The doorbell rings.
The woman looks away and sighs. “Ready?” she asks.
The man nods.
THE DINNER GOES WELL. The guests all toast the woman’s success. No one mentions the man’s lack of it. In fact, no one seems to pay much attention to the man at all, except for a tiny young woman—a woman so small and pale and freckled that she almost seems a sprite—who asks the table of guests, “Do you think this is going to put a damper on your wedding plans?” The sprite looks meaningfully at the man with her watery blue eyes. The man looks away from the sprite and at the woman who does not return his gaze but instead smiles at the guests. She pushes her shiny dark hair away from her eyes and says, “We can wait. We’re solid.” She lifts her sharp shoulders and then lets them drop; she smiles broadly, showing her straight white teeth. She slowly surveys her guests, who have all turned back to their plates. The woman licks her lips and smiles slightly.
The man stares at the remnants of his own dinner. He spreads the small pile of porcini risotto around, trying to make it look larger. He wishes he could put some of the food that he so greedily, so happily, ate back onto the plate. The woman gazes at her guests, their piles of Cornish game hen bones, their licked plates, with cat-like satisfaction.
THAT NIGHT, THE MAN WAKES to a tickling sensation of his face, on his lips. He rubs his mouth and thinks of feathers. This feathered feeling leaves him simultaneously giddy and empty. He sits up and looks at the woman sleeping her long-stemmed sleep. A mixture of streetlight and moonlight seeps through the open blinds, casting lines of light and dark on the woman’s face. “Whiskers,” the man whispers.
The man heads down the stairs, turns on the hall light. The pigeon stands in its spot and blinks. The man fills the food bowls and, despite the bitter cold, he knows what he must do. He cracks the front door. He knows what must come in. He knows what must go out.