And in Her Sleep, She Cooed

by T.K. Rex

In a dark, oil-stained corner of a parking garage in downtown San Francisco, where a dusty white and warm-brown pigeon had pecked at a dried glob of someone’s caramel latte only moments earlier, there now stood a naked, middle-aged woman.

Her life as a human had commenced.

Startled, she tried to fly away, but her wings had lost their feathers, and her body had grown immensely heavy.

A man approached. She recognized him as one of the tall ones, a human, an individual who sometimes kicked at her when they crossed paths on the sidewalk. Most of her flock had learned to avoid him. He made sounds at her, some of them familiar, but none she understood. She walked away, then realized she could run.

Her usual exit from the parking garage was much higher from the ground than she remembered it, and on the verge of jumping from the concrete ledge behind a row of parked cars, a sudden fear came over her.

Perhaps the ground floor opening was safer.

Bright sun fell on her pale, heavy human skin. Concrete pressed into her soft mammal feet. An unfamiliar human walked up and made human sounds at her. She ran on, looking for her flock. They were gathered in the plaza outside the building with the big metal awning that she nested under. As she ran toward them, they all flew away.

She looked up for her nest, and caught one desperate glimpse of her mate, oddly gray and only faintly iridescent through her human eyes. He cocked his head and watched with unrecognizing curiosity as three humans grabbed her arms and forced her into a car.

She’d never been inside a vehicle before, only dodged their tires. She never liked them as a bird, and as a human they were infinitely worse, cramped and dark, all the exits blocked with glass.

It took her to another part of town to which she rarely flew, and it spat her out into the grasp of humans who wrapped her in a blanket and pulled her inside a big stone building, then to a tiny room.

The room had only one small window, and it was tightly closed. The humans made sounds and fluttered papers back and forth and looked at her with their lips pressed tight, and shook their heads.

She was taken to another building, with a bigger room, and given clothes, which weren’t as good as feathers, and food, which was hard to eat without a beak, but substantial, and fresh, like the time she found an entire hot dog abandoned in the plaza, before three flocks converged on it.

It only took the thought of them to miss the company of other pigeons. Her mate must be wondering where she was. He’d be at the nest still, hungry, waiting for her to relieve him. She tried to save some of her food for him and the squeakers, who were just now being weaned off crop milk, but it got soggy in her human mouth, and she finally had to swallow it.

A woman came and talked to her, and when she said nothing in return, the woman pulled her to another room where someone poked at her and strapped things to her arm until she was so scared she made a loud noise, and then they stopped, and took her to another place, where another woman gave her a bag. Inside the bag was a sort of nest, the kind that other humans set up sometimes on the sidewalk, a thin red dome with soft material inside.

Finally, she was left outside, alone.

She wandered many hours, looking for the plaza she’d always thought of as her home.

Her feet were sore and the fog made all the air cold on her human skin when she finally found a block she recognized, and the building where her mate still waited in the awning, worrying, wondering where she was and what had happened and if she was ever coming home, their progeny still huddled with him, close against the cold, uncertain in the growing dark.

As she set up her human nest the way the woman showed her, a man approached — the kicker, the one she ran from in the garage that morning. She gave him a wide berth, as she always did, afraid of what his polished shoes would do to even this enormous body.

To her surprise, he gave her new red nest an even wider berth. He stepped into the street to keep his distance from her, and as he passed by in the gutter, he didn’t look in her direction once. As he walked away, returning to the sidewalk only after several strides away from her, she wondered if the humans ever recognized each other. Yet even with her crippled human eyes, she knew his face.

She crawled inside her nest and zipped the entrance shut. At first she felt uneasy that she couldn’t fly out at a moment’s notice, but after lying down and looking through the nest’s small window at the square lights and fading fog above, she realized she could pull the zipper any time, make her own exit when she needed it. Sleeping on the ground made her uneasy, but she was bigger than a hundred rats now. Just let them try to bite her new strong hands and armored feet.

Maybe, in the morning, she could find some food and climb up to the awning.

Her thoughts lingered on the nest above, on the two little squeakers who’d soon be ready to fly, and on the handsome gray pigeon with a missing toe, who she might never cuddle with again.

And in her sleep, she cooed.

T. K. Rex is a science fiction and fantasy author based in San Francisco, the most fantastical and science fictional of cities, trying her best to survive a mass extinction and maybe make people think or laugh a little through it all. You can find her around the internet as @tharkibo.
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