I am behind the shed picking wild garlic when I hear it. A cavity in the day left by low clouds and the absence of lawnmowers, abruptly filled with a forlorn question put to air four times in succession: Hoo hoo hoo hoo. The sound I associate with winter's end, long mornings of my youth when I was homeschooled—my siblings and I languorous on the living room carpet, workbooks in hand, trying not to fall asleep in the warm shafts of light coming in through the oblong front window. My mother bent over the kitchen counter, transferring bread fresh from the oven to cooling racks, the smell of it drifting like an embrace through the rooms of our house. Our little unhappinesses—my sister's decapitated doll, my brother's bum still sore from the beating he received after burying her head in the back yard, my own shameful, wadded-up secret hidden beneath the porch—forgotten. Soon our bellies would be full and our fingers slick from licking. Hot melted butter. Cinnamon. Hoo hoo hoo hoo.
Ah yes, I am not there in that yesterday but here. This now, this shed, these fingers long and dry and clutched. I lay the wild garlic at the threshold of the shed and walk back to the row of pines that marks the end of my yard and the beginning of an unkempt field, brown and sodden. My neighbor waves at me half-heartedly from his side of the pond that separates us. I pretend not to see him; I've learned not to encourage familiarity with neighbors. All it takes is one wave, and before you know it, someone comes knocking. I hate the sound of knocking more than any other sound. It's the worst kind of intrusion; you don't know who's on the other side of the door or what they want, only that they've come for you, that they're outside wanting in.
No one knocks at my door anymore. I do not wave at neighbors, and I built a fence around the front of my house, with a gate that locks.
Hoo hoo— I come around the corner, startle him to silence. The male mourning dove, his love call a lament. He flits to a nearby tree where he can keep an eye on me. I suspect his partner is nearby. Mourning doves, also known as rain doves or turtle doves, are monogamous, famously so: immortalized in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I wonder how they manage it. Do birds feel love? Perhaps it is the absence of love which leaves room for Duty to tie its shoes and put on its work gloves. I myself am married to my freedoms, curiosities, the plangent emergencies of wind.
I find her nestled on a branch of blue spruce at about chest height. She's near the trunk of the tree, so I only barely see her head poking out from the shadows. I lean in close. Her eyes are so round. I am only a foot from her but she makes no attempt to fly away. I know from experience that if I reach out and touch, stroke her feathers, she will not abandon her young. Even if I grasp her in my hands and gently but firmly remove her from her nest, she will not fly away. Her two freshly hatched squabs will open their mouths to me and I could feed them mother's milk or death, and she would bear witness.
But I am a grown woman. I do not reach into her home. Memory is a mouth grazing the back of my neck.