The day the bird died, I found myself gathering the soft feathers. Wet, like flower petals after a funeral. They slowly piled up in my hands. We bought the dog to keep my daughter company, to give her a friend. I suppose we all grew to love it. And now I’m at a loss of what I’ll say. Birds come and sit on the windowsills, pecking at the panes of glass, flapping tiny wings in muddy puddles in the lawn. We see them, they see us. We watch their movements, watch as they dig golden beaks into black earth. And as I bend to pick up the feathers, I wonder how I’ll tell her. Death spoils innocence. Ends the logic of fairytales and gives life a grim sheen. There are no birds today. None tapping at the windows or eating from the feeders. They’re all off at a distance, mourning in a glossolalia of sorrow. I put the feathers in my coat pocket and stand over the small creature. Its neck twisted and bent, teeth holes punctured through its paper skin. Tiny wings stretched out like an animal Jesus, sacrificed for a friend. How will I tell her? I crouch low and think of putting on gloves, but we’re past that. I’ve seen where these birds go, where they eat and sleep. I wonder, for a moment, if they know everything about me, too. As I pick up the small, broken body, I hear the back door slide open. Tiny footsteps align beside mine and my daughter stares at my hands.
“Is he dead?” she asks, her voice still not fully awake.
I nod, and we step off the deck and into the yard.
“Did he do it?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “But he was only trying to help.”
“But he couldn’t have,” she says. “He’s a good dog. Because he’s good, he can’t kill anything, daddy.”
I walk slowly through the yard and hear her tiny feet scrape over the blades of grass beside me.
“Just because he’s good, it doesn’t mean he can’t,” I say. “He might be a good dog, but he’s still an animal. Animals have instincts.”
We walk to the edge of the yard in silence. I find myself the pallbearer of this tiny creature, of my daughter’s innocence.
“If he doesn’t do it again, then we can keep him,” she says. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t.”
“I know, sweetie. It’ll be alright.”
On the edge of the trees that line the yard, I push a pile of dirt aside with my feet, laying the tiny bird down as gently as I can. She bends and pushes the dirt over, covering the once colorful creature, now gray and sallow. We stand in silence for a moment, staring at the tiny grave. Her tiny fingerprints molded into the soft dirt.
“You’re good, Dad. Does that mean you’d do that, too?” she says suddenly.
“No, sweetie. See, animals have instincts to hunt and to kill. We don’t have that.”
“But we’re animals. That’s what Mrs. Bellow said at school.”
“Yes, we are,” I say. “And good people can make mistakes, too. The same as good pets can.”
“Like when he knocked over Mom’s plants?”
I nod, looking down at her. Her eyes fixed on the tiny grave.
“If people are animals, then they have instincts and can kill,” she says. “And Mrs. Bellow says we are
animals. Does that mean we all kill, dad?”
“No, sweetie. It just means that we are creatures, too. We don’t have to kill anything.”
“But some people do.”
“Yes, some people do.”
“But we don’t have to, do we?”
I shake my head, leading her back to the house.
“Where do people go if they die, dad?”
I smile for a moment, amazed at the questions. Amazed that some questions are inescapable, that some can only ever be asked. Some can never be answered.
“Well, you know how we see all the stars at night?” I say. She nods her head as I slide the door open.
“Well, my dad used to tell me that’s where. And so no one’s ever missing, they just go somewhere else. And we’ll always remember them.”
“If you’re good, then you go up to the sky?” she asks. I nod my head again, unsure if I even believe it.
She stands in the doorway for a moment, silently looking out at the back yard, at the few feathers that are still on the porch by my feet.
“He’s a good dog, Dad, he didn’t mean to.”
“I know, sweetie.”
“If he doesn’t do it again, then we can keep him, right?”
“We can keep him,” I say.
“I’m good, too,” she says softly.
“I know you are,” I say and smile at her.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” she says, smiling up at me. “The bird’s not gone. We can see him tonight.”