Anna is uneasy about her long-planned vacation. She’s not been to France in over three decades. Air travel’s so complicated now.
For humans, anyway—that hummingbird in the eucalyptus outside her bedroom window could easily soar thousands of miles, she reads online. To her delight, she learns the small gray creature is called Anna’s Hummingbird.
She looks for it every morning on waking. Often the bird is two floors below, nipping into the bougainvillea in the courtyard. Sometimes, a second tiny bird with iridescent-red crown feathers hovers manically near the nest.
Anna goes downstairs to the Harmony Villa community room and tells her neighbors about the hummingbirds.
“Is your avian friend mating?” Nancy asks. Nancy is a birder. The other women at the table scoot closer.
“Sure looks like it.” Anna drops her voice. “The red-headed one does this dance in the air and sings a buzzy kind of song. So now she’s really interested. But they move so fast I can’t be sure of anything. I think maybe they got it on for five seconds.”
Nancy beams. “You’re lucky to have seen that.”
Inspired, Anna looks forward now to her flight. She’ll soar thousands of miles from San Francisco to Paris and, once she’s landed, try to contact a former lover. The friends she stays in touch with should know where Jean Paul is living now. She can’t find him anywhere on the internet.
She hasn’t thought about him in years. A long time ago he’d hurt her, or was it the other way around? She remembers only the five months when they’d aroused each other. He couldn’t dance, but he sang romantic chansons in the shower and sometimes in her ear. He was a slender redhead with a Van Dyke beard who drank too much wine and talked into the night. She learned to speak French in his bed. They had a good connection once.
A few days before her departure, Anna carefully slides the bedroom window open to look at the nest with binoculars Nancy lent her. It’s on a branch of the eucalyptus that brushes the building and at night releases its fragrance. Inside a cup of leaves and twigs wrapped in spiderwebs are two white eggs the size of jellybeans. She is overjoyed.
Nancy congratulates her. “You’ll have tiny babies when you come home.”
How wonderful to be back in the arrondissement where once she lived with Jean Paul.
Until she learns Jean Paul died three years ago, alone and ill.
She meets a friend in a café near the Seine. Chantal is plumper, though as stylish as ever, hair still blond, eyebrows arched, head held high.
“Why didn’t you let me know?” Anna asks.
Chantal frowns. “No one wishes to bear bad news. And you did break off contact with Jean Paul.”
“What happened to him?”
Chantal tells her Jean Paul had long since become an alcoholic, though one may not have guessed, as he was charming in public. Increasingly, though, he’d kept to himself. He’d enjoyed a job for many years, installing shelves in bookstores around the country, but lost the job when the chain of stores downsized. He had to move into a smaller apartment and that, too, was depressing. Chantal looked in on him from time to time. Anna suspects they had also been lovers.
“When he didn’t answer the phone, I called the landlord.” Chantal droops and looks abruptly older. “The landlord found him dead. His heart gave out, probably his liver, too.”
The women regard each other somberly.
“If only I’d tried,” Anna begins, and stops. It does little good to wish her life were other than it is. She feels numb inside.
On the flight home, she remembers what Jean Paul said when she told him she thought she’d been pregnant. Actually, her period had been delayed.
“That would’ve been a beautiful baby.”
He was serious. So for a while, they talked about creating and raising a child together. Nothing came of it. She was forty when they split up. She never had a child, nor did he.
It’s past midnight when she opens the door to her apartment. She falls into bed and sleeps till light filling the window wakes her. Why is it so bright? She doesn’t have a curtain on that window because the tree provides privacy. Something is wrong.
The tree isn’t there. She opens the window and looks wildly around. Far below in the courtyard she sees a raw stump. The empty space where once there was a tree, a branch, a nest. No Anna’s Hummingbird. No tiny baby birds.
Stunned, Anna dials the Harmony Villa office and asks what happened to the eucalyptus. The manager explains the tree was removed because its roots were burrowing under the building, and eucalyptus is a fire hazard.
“But the hummingbird nest.” Her voice quavers. “Did anyone save the nest?”
“I don’t think so, dear.”
“I’m sure the bird will have another chance at motherhood.”
“I’m not,” Anna snaps, and hangs up.
She knows Anna’s Hummingbirds breed three times at most.
If only, she thinks wearily and gets back into bed. At last she weeps—for the vanished bird and destroyed eggs—as she hadn’t for the man.