The birds are dying so fast now. I find the bodies in gutters, on sidewalks, in parking lots. This is the delicate science of contagion.
On Friday, a woman called to report a rook decomposing on her lawn. The technician on duty laughed, but then relented. Said to dispose of it with gloves, and after that, to throw the gloves away. The woman wanted to know if we would record it, make note, collect the remains for study—isn’t that what we did?
He told her no.
It’s not like it was a person, and after all, everyone already knows that the virus is creeping around, getting under the skin of things. We have other problems, bigger things to worry about. Children are dying lately, and grandparents.
Yesterday, at just past noon, I took off my twill smock and went outside to eat my lunch in the heat. I sat on the curb and watched a crow flounder on the asphalt three feet away. It stared into my face, one shining eye at a time. The left, and then the right, like it was waiting for me to murder it or save it. When it flapped its wings, the sun reflected off its back in a slick, dirty rainbow. This morning, it was dead, looking smaller and blacker than it had the day before.
Every evening, I come home in the long twilight, just as the city is cooling. Tonight, my husband met me in the hall, wearing his classroom demeanor, his scholar’s face. He was holding the pied cockatiel, which lay crumpled and still in the palm of his hand. Its legs were stiff as little twigs.
He said, “What have you done?”
When what I should have said is, What difference, really, when the world will always make its own chaos?
There are wars in countries I’ve never been to, and they said on the news that a man has been breaking into girls’ bedrooms. I open my windows at night, but the air is quiet. This is the oppressive height of summer. Who’s to say those people wouldn’t have died anyway?
What have you done?
I followed instructions and procedures. The population is largely still immune.
I performed tests, studied mutation rates and polyhedral cultures, slipped needles into vials and into veins.
I bit my tongue. I sat on my hands.
Nothing is singing anymore.