You cross the street. As you step up onto the curb, there’s a glint in the gutter. You almost miss it. A lost ruby ring? No. The breast of a dead hummingbird, belly-up, jewelish in the morning light. Unfortunate. A metaphor, you think, for the cruelness of the world. A beautiful, dead thing. Morbid curiosity is what compels you to take the body. Such a quick and fleeting thing; how many can say they’ve held one in their palm, known the stillness of something which never seems to be still? The excuse you’ll give later is pity: “It should be buried,” you’ll say to your husband this evening. “We should bury it.” You have your reasons to take the hummingbird, small as one of your child’s glue sticks, wrap it gently in a napkin, and place it in your purse.
You are a high school Spanish teacher. Your classroom is covered in posters: a mountain with el montaña written beneath it, a nondescript lake with el lago, a sunsoaked beach and la playa. Today, your classroom has only thirteen students. There are always a few missing. One of them asks, her accent lacking, “¿Como esta tu mañana?”
“Bien,” you say. “Encontré un”—you stop. You almost share your discovery, but then you look at your student, all of your students, all thirteen of them. The words wrong but ready to leap from your tongue: un pájaro que zumba. You don’t know the proper word, which is simpler, more elegant: colibrí. It is a hummingbird that is in your purse, not a bird that hums. But this isn’t why you hesitate. You don’t know that you’re wrong.
Though your students are new to Spanish, your fear is that even in English, they wouldn’t understand you. “A hummingbird?” one would say. “Dead?” another would ask. “And you kept it?” they would say, in their comfortable language, the language they are able to express bewilderment in. They are teenagers. They lack the curiosity that younger children have, your child has. Your daughter, this evening, will be enchanted with what you’ve found. She will think you a fairy, a princess. Powerful and wondrous. Attune to nature. Not your students. They would think you disgusting, think you vile and strange. They would research Spanish curse words on their phone to call you behind your back.
“Un dolár,” you lie to them. “Encontré un dolár.” You reach into your purse to find a crumpled bill, a pedagogical lesson: demonstrate vocabulary with images, make real the connection between object and word. You brush the bird as you dig, its body having escaped the napkin. Feathers. Skin. The velvet exchange of that.
Alec Prevett is a poet, writer, and human from Atlanta. Their most recent work is featured in or forthcoming from Hobart, Redivider, Lammergeier, The Shore, and others. They are pursuing an MFA in fiction from Georgia State University.