* * *
And I wish for a moment, a moment to breathe. There is my teenage son, his knee bouncing under the kitchen table; my father, calling voicelessly for me from his mechanized death bed; the world, spinning as billions try to hang on with only their toes; and you.
Last week, a hummingbird flew into our house through our open door. My son was the first to notice it. The bird banged repeatedly against the ceiling, perhaps doing what it had done in the past to escape danger: fly up. It flitted ceaselessly around the room, wings whirring, searching for an opening, some crack that it might slip through. My son and I each took a broom and tried to herd it back out the door. The bird dodged us and flew in the wrong direction. It bumped into walls, skittered from corner to corner, banged again into the ceiling—fifteen minutes of this, maybe more, without pause, its wings a light brown blur of speed, its motions more panicked and desperate. Finally, it found a perch—the top of the doorframe of the open door to the outside. It landed there, only three inches away from freedom, and stopped all movement other than its deep breathing. I approached it, standing less than a foot away. Its talons held on to the edge of the doorframe, its head rested against the wall, its needle beak still. I moved closer. It took no notice of me. Not knowing what else to do, I reached up slowly and put my hand around it. It didn’t move at all. Cupping its body as softly as I could, I lifted it up, a cotton ball in my palm. I took a few steps outside and laid it on the ground. It stayed there, on its side, one wing flopped a little further from its body than the other. The sun caught the pearly green iridescence of its heaving chest. Not wanting to scare it, I went inside and closed the door behind me. A minute later I peeked out and it was gone. You cheered, then coughed lightly.
Some days after, standing by the door, it hit me that the bird must have just gone to sleep. When it woke up a moment later, it was outside. Having had some rest, it could fly. So it did.
Every night you and I lay together and grasp at sleep. Over these last months, I wake up too soon and can’t find it again. I lay in the predawn, exhausted, listening to you breathe—ragged and halting—and the panic returns. My cupping hand is too small.
* * *
Tom Stock-Hendel has had work published in Existere, Superstition Review, the
Scribes Valley Publishing Anthology, and elsewhere. He has received an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles and lives in the Southern California area with his wife. They have just recently become empty nesters.