The way to freedom is seldom clear
She is silent and still. An almond-sized heart flutters under layers of downy brown feathers, as delicate as lace, paper wings tucked into a rib cage made of air. Holding this tiny creature makes you realize just how powerful you are. One shift of pressure would end her life—the macabre vision flashes for a strange, primal moment—but you kiss her little head and tell her she is safe and hold her ever so gently in your hands, hoping she can feel your good intentions. It is rare to find a dove flying in your kitchen. A pigeon, maybe, but a kind, gentle dove seemed like an omen. She was frantic, careening into walls, until finally lodging herself behind a soup pot. Now she is in your hands. What now?
Humans in expensive laboratories send out radio signals looking for alien life forms. Yet little brown birds are passed by without notice every day. She could not be more different, more utterly miraculous, a feat of beauty and divine design. You love her. Those pinprick eyes see an entirely foreign world, and that mind, you are sure, is not capable of a malevolent thought.
You release her through the open window into the courtyard from where she came. She flies, but not high enough to clear the two-story brick wall. She is in your hands again, missing feathers. After much deliberation, you walk her ten blocks to a tree-lined playground, the least perilous place you can think of for a dazed dove to recover. It is dark. She flies into the fence, falls into the grass, and there she stays, regaining her strength. You wish her well with all your might.
There is another dove cooing in the courtyard. Two mourning doves. Of course. He must be looking for his mate. Thanks to your interference, they may never see each other again. You tell yourself you’re projecting heartache and making up stories. You put in earplugs and go to bed.
The next night, walking home, you hear rustling in an abandoned warehouse window next door. They are big windows, covered by metal grating, with a six-inch gap between the layers. Thirty feet up, a dove paces the gap, completely and utterly trapped. You watch him for a while, trying to envision a rescue. But there is none. No ladder will reach, and even if it did, it’s not clear how he even got there in the first place. A portion of the window seems to open to the inside. Did the dove from the courtyard looking for his lost love manage to fly into the warehouse? Disturbed, you go to bed.
The next morning, there are two doves trapped behind the metal grating, agitated and pacing.
It is clear, in daylight, that the animals likely got into the space through a small separation between the grating and the brick, just big enough to squeeze their bodies through. It is unbearable to watch them pace—you’re the only one doing so; the rest of Brooklyn passes without looking up—and you’re sending them telepathic messages. There is a way out! Remember how you got in! But they are too consumed by their confinement to see the opening. If the doves are an omen, they are mirroring your own self-made confinement, symbols of peace imprisoned by a tumultuous mind.
You can’t save the doves. Maybe they don’t need saving. Maybe it’s not for this “higher intelligence” to know. Maybe the actual higher intelligence is telling you to save yourself and the rest will be taken care of. It has been twenty-four hours, at least. In human existence, more than a year.
The dawn breaks on a day that has relinquished its fight for freedom. There is a single-sized dent in the bed, a spoon sitting in a bowl of coagulating milk. Memories roil in a deep boundless sea, but you take a breath and brush your teeth anyway.
It is June, and in this moment, it cannot be any other way.
The warehouse window sits empty. In newfound stillness, a single feather falls, catching sunlight as it reaches the ground.