“There’s a dead pigeon ahead,” my mom points. We stop when we reach it and huddle around the corpse.
“Why is the pigeon dead?” H asks.
“His body stopped working, sweets. That’s what happens when a person or animal dies,” I explain.
“How did the pigeon die?” H asks.
“I’m not sure, my love. I didn’t see it happen. I could guess,” I tell him.
“Guess,” he says.
“Maybe he was injured somehow. And it looks like he got run over by a car. Maybe he was injured by a hawk, and then a car ran over him. I’m not sure though.”
The pigeon’s entrails spill onto cracked grey asphalt. Bloody tire tracks begin three feet from the dead body and quickly fade away.
“He was injured by a hawk. A car ran him over,” H repeats, solidifying the story.
“Poor guy,” my mom says. “So sad.”
“Why is the pigeon sad?” H asks.
“I don’t know if the pigeon is sad or not, sweets. I don’t know how animals feel after they die. But I know that people who are still alive usually feel sad after someone they love dies.”
I contemplate the pigeon viscera spilled out of the gash in its chest. The feathers around its shut eye are dirty and matted, and although its head is not obviously smashed, it seems misshapen. The pigeon is lying on its side, one wing draped over its body as it would have been in life, the other at an awkward angle, obviously broken.
I point out the organs to H, wondering aloud what each of them might be. I can see clearly its intestines, and also maybe a heart or a kidney. We talk about how the pigeon’s insides have come out, how that can make a body stop working. After we have talked for a while, H becomes interested in his original target, a gate at the far end of the parking lot we are standing in. He tugs my hand in that direction.
“H opens the gate!” he informs us. “Grandma, don’t open the gate!”
“I will not open the gate,” my mom assures him.
H opens and closes the gate several times, maybe studying the mechanics of the thing, maybe enjoying the labor involved. He insists on locking the gate after awhile, and I anticipate going home.
“See the dead pigeon again,” H requests instead.
We walk back across the parking lot hand in hand and stand over the pigeon.
“Why is the pigeon dead?” H asks.
“His body stopped working, sweets. That’s what happens when someone dies. Now the pigeon will become part of the earth in a different way.”
“Will he fly again?”
“No, sweets, he won’t fly again. His body stopped working and his wings, too. He won’t be able to fly anymore,” I say gently.
“Why is the pigeon sad?” H asks again.
“I’m not sure if the pigeon is sad or not. But I would be sad if someone I knew died. People who are alive can experience sadness when someone dies. I’m not sure about the person or animal who died though. I don’t know what they feel.”
We turn to walk home.
Later, in bed, H takes a book we have just read and pushes the spine up and down on my chest.
“What are you doing, sweets?” I ask.
“I am cutting mama,” he tells me matter of factly.
“You are cutting mama,” I repeat to him. Something about this makes me think of the dead pigeon. I am not exactly sure why.
“I am cutting mama. Then I will sew you back up,” he informs me.
“Then what happens?” I ask.
He answers my question with one of his own: “Why is the pigeon dead?”
“Oh. The pigeon is dead because something happened. Either he was killed by a hawk or by a car. Something happened that caused his body to stop working.”
H accepts this without comment. We read another book.
When I am done, he asks, “Will someone fix the pigeon?”
“Oh, sweets. No. No one can fix the pigeon. When a body is so broken like that it is dead, and it cannot be fixed anymore. Sometimes when things or people or animals break, they can be fixed. Sometimes they can’t be fixed, but they still live. And sometimes they are broken so badly they die. The pigeon was already dead when we saw him. Nobody would have been able to fix him anymore.”
“Why not?” H is curious.
“That is a very good question,” I tell him.
We are both silent.
“Would you like to sing a song for the pigeon?” I ask.
“Yeah,” H says quietly and requests that we sing the pigeon’s name.
“Pih, pih, pih, pigeon. Pigeon, pigeon, pigeon,” I sing softly. “Pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pih, pigeon.
The tune is Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
I begin humming after several rounds, watching an LED light lying on the floor loop continuously from red to green to blue to white to pink to teal to yellow and around again, throwing color on an abstract painting composed of blues and oranges hanging on the wall opposite the bed. The orange parts of the painting are obliterated by the light when it casts cool greens and blues, and I can see the beginnings of everything in the dark, murky rectangle that is left. In the next moment, the orange parts of the painting are set ablaze, hotter and more alive than in the natural light of day. They glow when the light on them turns red or yellow, heat and warmth seemingly generated from within the painting itself, the orange parts dancing like the kind of fire that mesmerizes, like the kind that would turn on you if it were not contained, destroying and purifying as it devoured what it could. From a distance, it is beautiful. From a distance, it is safe. H drifts off to sleep.