The summer before Casey drowned we walked together along the same sullied blacktop banks of the canal that would later claim her,
chucking stones through the chain link fence into the earthy brown water. The occasional miss pings against the steel links, reverberating like a muted tambourine.
The asphalt smells of acrid heat and black licorice.
Vast flocks of pigeons gather by the banks beneath the overpass; Casey loves to spook them.
She spies the feathery grey mass, dappled with undulating waves of black and white, and freezes in place. Her pale, gangly fingers fall loose.
She arches her spine low and begins to pad silently across the blacktop.
Thirty feet away and the first few grey heads jolt up from the teeming flock. Twenty feet and Casey’s pace quickens.
Her back extends upward; fists clench and arms pump as she breaks into full stride, her bare feet pounding the tar like a wet rag.
Ten feet away, her limp brown hair bouncing behind her, Casey shrieks and charges headlong into the cooing mass.
Clawed feet and oily feathers, split beaks and dark eyes erupt in all directions, fluttering up amidst the hoarse cough of hundreds of panicked wings.
Casey turns back toward me and smiles, her willowy frame alone against a blacktop canvas spattered with the crusted, ashen shit of the departed flock.
All around her, wispy clumps of matte white down flit and fall like snowflakes.
“I almost touched one.” She says.
Ten years to the day, a plump grey mass bobs toward me, high stepping across the cool sandstone as if over hot coals. A tiny, mottled head bounces side-to-side in rhythm with its gait.
Black button eyes blink with each dodge and feint as the pigeon appraises me.
Step, right, left, look.
I lean back, palms prone against the rough riser, fingers curled over the edge. My legs dangle free, the early morning breeze tickling my bare feet as it twists and wiggles through my toes.
Sixty stories below, disheveled colonies of white-collar urbanites drone back and forth like ants; oblivious avatars dwarfed by the preening pigeon resting four feet to my left.
The pigeon warbles a short coo, takes a few measured steps and pauses to ruffle piebald wings.
Puffs of matte white down flutter to the ground, the type of pale, wispy clumps you feel at the back of your throat and taste on the tip of your tongue.
One step closer, the pigeon coos and bobs, coos and bobs.
My muscles tense and it jumps to flight whipping past me in a flurry of drab brushstrokes, just beyond the reach of my fingertips, dipping below the building’s edge before fluttering up and away.
I almost touch it—then turn to face the tiny, people spotted pavement spiraling upward from below.