She sat motionless on the concrete.
I stood in awe for some minutes, and then with increasing dread. Aloud I asked the bird why she was there alone and unmoving. Are you hurt, little one? Oh, why are you here? Tears welled. I panicked at the thought of picking her up, of moving her from this spot, because baby birds can sometimes become ground-logged couldn't they, and how could I live with myself if I spoiled her with my scent, ruining her chance at flight?
At once she fell to one side. The right. My stomach lurched; she used a wing to regain her footing but her legs splayed. Stop, stop, it's okay, I told her, the panic in my throat a cold and heavy stone. With both eyes screwed shut her head began to jerk and wind in a repeated motion: a death coda.
Crying, I pleaded her to stop. Be okay. It's okay, little one. Oh, I'm so sorry, why are you alone? She would go still for a moment only to resume the fits once more, and with increasing tremors. Her wings extended outward but did not flit or pulse. Paper bird. Iron cast. Not dead but dying.
I wished her head would quit its half-circle clockwork, like a toy that won't unwind, and in that horrible helplessness an image from early childhood asserted itself: Misty, my father's sixteen-year-old cat, perched on the end of a couch-arm in the dark. He sat like he always did, his front legs straight as pins and the rest of him flowing forth in blue and white hairs as thick and long as my own. Pre-dawn light - yellow and gray and commingling with the withering dark of the night before - had just begun to glow in the front window, in front of which was the couch where Misty sat, all of him stiff and rigid except for his head: it turned. Slowly, cricking half upward and then down, it turned.
In my pause I whispered his name, Misty, Misty, what's the matter buddy?, and took little note that I had begun to cry. No noise or movement came from him except for the glitch of his head and I grew to hate not knowing him anymore - I recoiled at this new form, not Misty anymore, not even a cat, or a cat turned owl (as I had begun to suspect). He was changed. Unrecognizable.
Misty had a stroke, my father later explained. He was just old. This is what happens when we get old. He told me this in the cool of his workshop. His face and hands were covered in dust, excelsior from the wood he cut as he made a cat-sized coffin.
I knew the bird would die, and soon. Two women on a morning walk stopped and hunched, cooing when they saw her outstretched wings, when they heard the choke in my voice. Do you have anything? A paper, or something, to pick her up? She can't die alone on the concrete. One handed me a card and helped to nudge the bird upon it; this was perhaps the most difficult thing, moving her without her permission, touching her feathers, taking her to the drying hillside to seizure. To die alone.
Afterward I continued on my run and sobbed in strident gasps. I thought more of Misty, of the dying bee that I had placed in the soil of a kalanchoe on my front steps - of myself, alone, unfeeling, my body electric with pain. What an utter lack of difference between our deaths.
How shall you name the mother of that orphaned bird?