Pigeons, pale white pigeons, their wings tinged gray. The first time Sam found the cage, it was noon and summer and so hot that everyone else had disappeared. His first time walking so far up the road, all the trees wobbling along the empty length of baking highway. He was alone and the world was as fluid as a dream.
The birds were drowsing, their still heads bent beneath their marbled pinions, but now and then one of them sang a single liquid note while Sam stood, looking and kicking pebbles into the depths of the long grass. Sunlight trembled in the pine needles, a tide of gold and green splinters washing across the roof of the birds’ hutch. It was like a house built from air: a roof, mesh walls, nooks for sleeping bodies, raised from the ground so that Sam could just see inside. He was not very tall, nor very old. His mother still cut his hair short; its grain was clearly visible, rings circling around his head to a ruffle on the crown. I saw pigeons, he told her, two days later while they were drying the dishes, recalling the luminous avian shapes like something from a long time ago. And she said, that’s nice, Sam. Watch that plate, please. They lived far away from the city. But he hadn’t dreamed it.
Sam walked up to the cage and placed his hands on the wires, felt the dust, felt some silver energy, thrumming and singing through them into his fingers. One of the birds, the closest one to him, opened up a fierce burnished eye. And stared into him. A golden band looped its pink leg, like a wedding ring but thicker and somehow Sam knew—although he didn’t know how—that some secret was contained within it, a pearl-white paper with words folded in its heart—but who knew of what? Some hope, maybe, or an urgent confession—for a moment he had a flash of understanding—but then it eluded him.
He only returned once, months later, to look again. It was early in the morning and the cold stung his eyes. From far down the road, he thought he saw a man standing beneath the shivering pines, flinging up white shapes into the dawn sky, the sweeping curves of his outstretched arms gestures of grandeur or desperation. But by the time Sam reached the cage, it was empty and the man was gone.