For weeks a pair of mourning doves traded off tending a nest haphazardly constructed above the door to our balcony. You felt a closeness to them, you said; it was a good omen. There had been a scare at the beginning of your pregnancy, but now the sonograms showed a boy who the doctor assured us looked healthy. If the doves were afraid of us, they didn’t show it. Mornings, you would step out on the balcony and say hello while you had your coffee; and once a week I built a fire on the small grill we kept there and cooked burgers or sausages, one eye on the doves all the while, worried at first that my presence might drive them away. One day you called me out to show me the doves, together in their nest, warming the awkward bodies of two newborn squabs: small, alien things, skulls too apparent beneath the heads, feathers in disarray. We thought of them as neighbors. Then, two days after the squabs appeared, a thumping and beating outside our backdoor: I looked out to see a blue jay near the edge of the balcony and a small body flapping ineffectually beside him. He had pulled down one of the squabs; a dove stood several feet away, looking on dumbly, while the blue jay attacked his child, pecking at its neck. We watched all this from the window. When the jay carried the small corpse off with him, you said, “At least we won’t have to clean it up.”

            Afterwards, we found all three of them—the two adult doves and the remaining squab—in the place where the blue jay had butchered the squab. The remaining squab, too young to have flown down himself (and who, we concluded, must have been knocked down during the attack), perched between the adults, who pecked at the feathers on each other’s necks—perhaps grooming each other, perhaps comforting. I could not helping seeing a bloodless reenactment of the violence that had occurred in this same place less than a hour before. We left them alone. When we next came out to the porch, we found the tattered twigs of the nest, knocked from its place above the door; but no signs of the doves themselves, or the squab who was almost certainly too young to have flown away.


James Tadd Adcox