They Had Looked Like a Heart

Once, I saw a pair of pigeon wings on asphalt in a parking lot. They were bodiless, as if a tire had struck the pigeon so perfectly and with such a steady force it had taken the body along with it so that it was now circling in a wheel well somewhere, head and beak stuck in undercarriage. As if the car itself had become the bird’s new wings, for wasn’t that how I had always felt when driving fast down an open road? As if I was flying? As if, at any moment, I might achieve lift off? Wasn’t that how I imagined my brother had felt that last night, driving his motorcycle around the curve, his hair streaming out behind him, fluttering like a bird gliding on updrafts?

On the asphalt, the wings folded outward like two halves of a child’s clumsily drawn paper heart; only the smallest trace of blood to mark where the body had been. Only the smallest trace of blood too for him, my brother, when I came to see him that night wrapped in white at the medical examiner’s office. It might not have seemed real, if not for that spot below his skull where the red still cradled him. So bright against all that white.

I’ve been having dreams again, ones that I can’t call nightmares exactly. They don’t scare me. The things I’m afraid of have already happened. What’s there to be scared of now, except letting another person get close enough to miss? They aren’t even unhappy dreams either, for in them he’s laughing. I can’t call them nightmares precisely, so instead I call them wishful thinking, call them what cannot be, call them just ache. In them he is laughing, and if he were here maybe tomorrow I’d pull on my boots and go to that bar, watch him flirt with women and laugh, full of whiskey and bad pick-up lines, his big, beautiful heart making everything light. Watch the way that, after stumbling, he’d always keep trying.

What was it the dreams had wished to teach me? How to keep seeking air, that moment of breathless wonder when gravity gives way and you are caught in someone’s updraft? How to keep trying for flight?

On the asphalt, the wings had looked like a broken heart.

Was it his?

Or is it mine?

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