I had stepped up to the library door, not paying attention to where I was going. A moment later, I was just stepping up to it, had not yet.
There was a bird on the ground, a single bird placed in front of the door with its head pointing northeast toward the San Gabriel mountains. Around its ankle was a white tag with the number 4069 written on it. It was in my aunt’s hand. She had been a math teacher in Ra-nong, fired for lashing one of her students to the point of unconsciousness.
To look at this bird, this dead thing, was a curiosity to me. I wanted to stoop down, get closer to it. But, the library was crowded. The figures moved behind the tinted glass doors, and in no time I was sure someone would exit and stumble upon me. I reached for the door but noticed that there were two birds now, the brown one and a red one, bright like a cardinal but smaller.
This time of year, the combination of sky and clouds always created a pink haze just before sunset. In this light, the red color of the bird seemed even more vibrant, almost electric. This too was a reminder. My friend Alex had lost his father, a suicide. I was the one that found him in his tool shed, shot through the throat.
These birds, then, were the final seconds. Time was falling upon me. I reached for the door. A third bird appeared, a raven. I remembered my own father, who died of alcoholism. I had been away at college, and upon rushing home I found my mother on her knees in the living room. We were not religious, but in that moment I had thought that she was praying. Instead, I stepped closer and discovered that she was shredding letters, love letters from a woman I had never heard of.
The sun was setting. The air was thickening. The people inside the library were approaching the glass, and I could make out their faces. They looked out at me, questioning me. On the ground, the fourth bird appeared, my son. Lisa had a miscarriage when we were first married. I told her I still loved her, but she knew better. She walked out in the middle of our anniversary dinner. She left the back door open, and when I finally got myself to step over to it, all I could smell was the fragrance of gardenias.
The people were at the glass now: my aunt, Alex’s father. I saw my own dad and, in his hands, the tiniest shape of the son I never let myself think of. At my feet lay the fifth bird, and this one was a warning. Because I had not yet lost the one it represented: Lisa, who I knew was still alive. She was in Michigan now, if the rumors were true. And, though I loved her, I knew that I’d never be able to see her again, not because of anything she did, but because of what I blamed her for.
I reached for the door. I pulled it open. The stench of warm rot poured out. The people were calling me, urging me forward in voices that sounded dark and murky. I stepped in around them, and a for a moment I was one of them. There were the people I knew, and the others, the strangers, who called me by name. Among them, I felt that we all shared the same knowledge, the same wisdom, and I joined in with their chant.
She arrived. Lisa, on the other side of the glass. She stepped up to the library door, and a moment later, she had not yet. In front of her, the birds appeared. The first four I did not recognize, and the fifth was our son.
“Lisa!” I pounded on the door, but by now I had come to realize that she would not hear me; she didn’t want to hear me. And, so, I lay at her feet. I took on the form of a dove, and my eyes were closed when I felt her reach down for me. To be held by her, cradled in her hands, I knew that she had forgiven me while I had not forgiven her. I was disappearing. I saw the dark world, and I was scared. I took flight. And, as I soared toward the sun, I saw my world become smaller, and within it, Lisa, who held out one hand, the hand that had released me.