Two birds landed on the steel rail of a concrete terrace garden. “That empty pot might do nicely,” the cock said to the hen.
A big jade plant with plump, green and red leaves gave shade to a ceramic dish of water that sat on an overturned bucket. Beyond the garden, a glass wall reflected back at them. The birds hopped down to the dish to drink.
An orange pot crowned an iron plant-stand beside the bath. Shapely green and purple succulents curled out of the other pots on the stand, but whatever had once grown in the orange pot had died. A dry, golden branch hung down from it, dangling just above their heads.
The cock clipped at the branch, and it wafted to the concrete floor.
“It would not do nicely,” the hen said. “Besides, it’s too late. I need to go now.”
“Fine. Do it there.” He cocked his head to look up. The terrace fit into the side of an enormous concrete building, and the garden had a shiny, young fichus tree and a gypsophila, abundant with round, white buds. “This terrace is covered. And this garden is pleasant.”
“It’s too late.”
“Why do you keep saying that? We can do it here.”
“No, we can’t.”
The cock flapped up and settled, his claws dancing to balance on the fuchsia-colored spines of a cactus. “You could just lay it down right here in this orange pot.”
“Sure, I could, but I don’t think you understand,” the hen said. She dipped her beak for more water.
“What’s to understand? Put it down. Build it. Hatch it.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. That’s not the right order. You have to build first, and it’s already too late.”
“I’m doing it now.” He caught a stem of gypsophila in his beak and with a jerk of his head, yanked at it.
“No. We’re here now. It’s decided.”
“Good,” he said. “What a relief.” He pushed his hard-won stem into the curve of the pot.
“You don’t understand. This will be the end of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is not a nice place for a nest. Because of that glass.”
They both watched their silhouettes and the garden’s dark shapes in the glass. The little fichus tree and the cactus and the rail all stood perfectly still, but something moved in the glass.
“She will take care of it. And that will be the end of it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s why I brought us here. All the hens know about it.”
The cock lowered his head and puffed up his iridescent lavender breast. “Then we won’t do it here.”
“You brought us here on purpose. How could you?”
“I want to go to college.”
“So do I, but—”
“Then we have to do this.”
The cock flew away, out into the open sky, above the alley and between the crows’ nests, toward the highway. Then he swung around, flew past the crows again, their calls mocking him, and zipped down low through the alley, around the magnolia, and back up to the terrace.
“Why did you tell me?” the cock asked the hen.
“Doves mate for life.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
She swayed a little on the rail. “I have to do this now.”
“No, don’t. I don’t want you to.”
“It’s too late for that.”
She hopped down onto the dry dirt in the orange pot. She felt so heavy and fat, she just wanted this thing out of her. She closed her eyes and relaxed. It burned, like sunshine in your eyes but in her cloaca. It stung, and then it hurt more, and then it was a relief, a great relief. And the egg was out of her. She launched into the air and flew in a tall loop, the cock screeching at her from the terrace far below. She landed on the steel railing and shook her feathers.
“We can’t leave it here,” the cock said, flapping in a panic above the orange pot.
“It’s too late,” said the hen. “It’s laid.”
“I’ll stay here and protect it.”
“She’s bigger than you.”
“I’ll build a nest around it, keep it warm, hatch it.”
“You’ll only get your heart broken. Let’s go. There will be other eggs. I promise.” She hopped down from the railing, joining him on the edge of the orange pot. She snuggled him.
The two birds flew over the alley, out toward the billboard that flashed over the highway. A woman stepped out into the garden and put both hands on her hips with a shrug.
“Those pigeons,” she said and got her trowel.
The sun shined hard, so that everything was pale, and she could almost see all the way across the bay to Oakland. She dug a hole in the dry soil of a dead plant and rolled the little egg into the hole. She crushed it and covered it with dirt. Then she wiped the trowel’s blade and went back inside.