They were “rescue doves.” They lived in an ornate, antique cage for a few days as a furniture store display. When a customer inquired about the little doves, the store person said they would go into a dumpster after someone buys the cage. The customer offered to buy the cage with the doves in it.
In fact, they were diamond doves who look like midget pigeons. They resemble larger doves and pigeons, but they are smaller, sleeker, more delicate, tame and timid. In Australia, they live in the wild. In America, they live in cages as pets. Their dove-gray feathers look like someone flicked on them a small brush of white paint, their diamond specks. They walk like doves, pigeon-toed, thrusting their heads ahead, poking the ground for seed. Given freedom to fly, they fly fast, like their larger cousins.
They knew each other as Cooler and Coolee, male and female. At daybreak, Coolee listened passively as Cooler crowed, then as he cooed. Cooler could puff up and display himself to her, then bow to the ground and fan his tail, begging for copulation. Cooler mounted Coolee wherever and whenever she would allow him. As he ruffled her from behind, he called and finally huffed into her. When Cooler strutted, Coolee sometimes squeaked her appreciation, faintly, a high pitched “squeet!”
Their new spacious cage looked out sliding glass doors onto a porch and a wide backyard of trees, shrubs and lawn. Occasionally a person opened the cage door and they flew freely inside the house. On these flights, they each chose different places to sit and rest: on a chair back, on the mantelpiece, on top of their cage. One morning in autumn as they both rested on top of the cage, a hawk who had been watching from a limb outdoors dove toward them, glanced with a bang off the glass doors and flapped away. Cooler instinctively hurled himself into the glass. Coolee flew back fast to a corner of a bookshelf and hid there the rest of the day. Cooler, probably ashamed of how the glass crash had bent his small bill, joined Coolee in hiding.
Over the years, they hatched ten broods, sharing nesting and feeding duties. Eighteen chicks survived, fledged, and flew the coop. Eventually, Coolee grew weary and quit laying. Cooler pestered her often and tried feathering the nest, but Coolee had no more to give. She grew listless, gave up flying, and one day settled on the floor of the cage and flopped over dead.
Cooler took to pacing the cage floor by day, stopping to tilt his head and glance into the corners and up to the perches. He crowed mornings and roosted nights alone on the same ledge where Coolee had stayed next to him all those years.
Before long, Cooler took an interest in the wildlife he watched through the sliding glass doors: the squirrels, the flies, the birds. He called to the mourning doves who strutted and pecked the ground for seed, who streaked in the sky and listened from tree limbs, cocking their heads to hear the dove inside. They teased him by strutting the porch and looking up toward him. He himself listened to the towhee “wheet,” the wren “video video,” the chickadee chatter, the osprey squeal rising and twittering, the cardinal “chip” and “cheer,” the crow caw. He cooed out to them, and he heard their replies.