Must Speak Dove
Jonah learned to speak Dove from the Mourning Dove that nested below the gable outside his kitchen window. Every morning he would open the window and poke his head out into the dawn air. He would peek at the nest to see if the Dove was home (she always was) and he would say hello in a clear and concise voice before tossing her a piece of bread. He wanted her to learn English and he hoped her first word would be hello. He had seen a documentary years ago about a man who trained Pigeons in the park to walk in a figure of eight, so naturally he thought anything was possible. He would leave the window open after he said good morning to the Dove, wide open to the world; to the endless blue sky overhead, to the sounds of the cars as they whispered along, to the chatter of thick groups of middle aged writers sipping coffee in front of the cafe across the street. He would never join the writers, although he could have (being a middle aged writer himself) but he would listen to their conversations as he ate. They would talk about the stories they were writing — often about their neighbours, husbands and wives. He would also listen to the cooing Dove, satiated by whole grains, and wonder what kind of stories she would tell if she were a writer.
Tea and toast. It was tea and toast and a morning hello every day for three years before the Dove arrived on Jonah’s window pane. Her eyes were glassy and wide, expressing that permanent, lidless shock birds were so good at. Her feathers were sleek and grey, like a still lake on an overcast day. Jonah looked down at his tea mug and back up again, just to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. He wasn’t.
Hello, she said simply in English, her voice like the flap of a wing. Jonah didn’t reply. He couldn’t reply. How could he? He stood swiftly and moved to the cupboard and the Dove registered his motion with a slight tilt of her head, nothing more. He had prepared for this moment. He dug through the cupboard; past the orange pekoe and the cinnamon, past the barley flakes and the soymilk. He dug deep and produced a bag of birdseed with a picture of an oversized Cardinal on the front. He prayed a silent prayer that his guest wouldn’t be offended by the bright, bold Cardinal and cursed himself for refusing the no name brand with the yellow letters and no picture of a bird on it. He ripped open the bag with his teeth, (another possible offence?) and plunged his hand in. He smiled nervously, trembling as he stepped across the room to place a handful of seed at the Dove’s feet. It was a small pile and a few rolled from the top, hitting the tiled floor below with a soft clack. Jonah bowed his head low and soon the rest of his body followed and he was on his knees. As he bowed at the idol of the Dove all he could do was hope that she would accept his humble offering. A few seconds passed before Jonah heard a crunch above, beak on seed. Then that voice again, slightly garbled (presumably from a full mouth).
Get up, she said.
Jonah looked up at her. She was daintily munching on the seed, a grey goddess breaking her fast.
Pardon me? he asked. Not because he hadn’t heard her but more because he wanted her to speak again.
Get up, she repeated rather languorously, lulled by the seed perhaps, or the early morning calm. Jonah got up. What else could he have done? They faced each other and he was still mute with something like wonder, more approximately reverence.
Relax, she said, polishing off the rest of her feast and fluttering lightly across the room to the kitchen table. What else have you got in those cupboards? He ran over and pulled out everything he had, presenting it all like it was grade school show and tell, giddy with an opportunity he didn’t want to pass him by. They decided on cupcakes. The kind with pink icing were Jonah’s favourite so he always had some on hand. He liked pink the best because all his favourite flavours were pink and so (even though the cupcake had no flavour save sugar) he would imagine a different flavour each time; bubble gum, strawberry, raspberry, cotton candy, cherry. Their friendship was struck over pink cupcakes and birdseed.
The Dove insisted Jonah immediately begin lessons in Dove so his neighbours didn’t eavesdrop on their conversations and write them into their books. She couldn’t abide the notion of being taken out of context.
Dove is a beautiful language, really. So many turns of phrase available that English just doesn’t possess. For example Dove has a word for the feeling of the exact moment of liftoff in flight when the wind is in your feathers and your body feels like air. It took Jonah three months to capture the essence of the language and four more to get in the groove. The Dove was impressed by his animal-lingustic prowess. Jonah had toyed with Feline before, but he didn’t share his hisses and purrs lest it stir fear in his feathered companion.
Every morning Jonah would open his window wide and the Dove would come to dine. They would speak of current events and the happenings on the streets below — she was a well informed and interesting breakfast companion. Then some time into the second year of their acquaintance the Dove (whose name is unpronounceable in English) looked at Jonah straight on and told him she was concerned for his lack of companionship. He thanked her for her concern but told her he had all the companionship he needed in her.
Love helps you fly, she said, and although we have a sort of love, it’s really not enough.
She was right, it had been so long since Jonah had the company of another person, he was beginning to think he was more Dove than man. So he agreed to start an online dating profile (he couldn’t bring himself to go speed dating) with the exception that he would add in big, bold letters to the bottom: MUST SPEAK DOVE. The Dove thought this acceptable (even a little flattering) and soon he found himself in touch with a myriad of lovely people who he dated for various lengths of time.
Genevieve was a performance artist. She stood around on street corners in various states of undress and accepted any proposition that was offered her. Sometimes she was only asked for directions, but other times she would be taken away to exotic lands or paid lavishly for sexual services, it was all art to her. She spoke three languages, English, German and Goat. She had worked with a Goat for many years in London; he had been her partner and they would take turns sitting on each other’s backs in a public fountain, she said it had something to do with role reversal and subverting traditions. She didn’t want to learn Dove, she wasn’t interested in birds because they were too prone to flights of fancy. Jonah dated her for one month.
Julie was a businesswoman. She wore a suit as sleek as the Dove’s feathers and talked in sentences that resembled news headlines. She carried a briefcase and ate a Snickers bar every day — her one ‘vice’. She worked out at a gym every night. Her preference was for the treadmill and Jonah wondered how that could ever fulfill her — running to nowhere every night of her life. She loved Jonah’s ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and said she was envious of his writerly lifestyle. She insisted that she would give up the rat race one day and join him but she never sounded convinced. She spoke fluent Feline and they bonded over that. They lasted three months, but Jonah had to break it off because Julie insisted on speaking Feline at the breakfast table, which was not only rude to the Dove, but disturbing to her as well.
Jonah met Mike at a workshop on non-fiction writing. Mike asked Jonah out and he didn’t want to close his mind to the possibilities so he agreed (telling Mike he was on the fence about his sexuality of course in the spirit of full disclosure). Mike was an avid gambler, not the the point of problematic, but very close. Their first date was at the racetrack where Jonah learned Mike had a penchant for Equestrian languages. He cheered on the Horses in their native tongue and Jonah thought this made quite a difference as the Horses seemed to run faster. Mike had two children from a previous marriage before he ‘discovered his true sexual identity’ and he was very kind to them, showering them with gifts and constantly considering them. He was a great kisser and Jonah liked that he held hands firmly but it turned out Jonah wasn’t bisexual, so he had to end it.
Samantha taught English at a high school. She had a small white Dog named Toto and she adored fairytales and Shakespeare. She was an amateur writer, having been published in the local paper for rewriting Beauty and the Beast in a modern setting. She was excitable and delightful, she rolled her R’s dramatically and talked about language as though it were the most fascinating subject on earth. She wanted to learn Dove, she really did, but she got offered a university position across the country (in the west) and sorrowfully took her leave. She asked Jonah to go with her but he wouldn’t leave his house and more specifically his breakfasts with the Dove behind. They dated for nine wonderful weeks.
After Samantha, Jonah was morose. He sulked in the evenings and refused to look at the messages on his profile. His only comfort, his one solace, was the Dove. She would watch him over breakfast with her keen eyes as he wished for wings upon which to fly.
If I could only be like you, he would say, looking wistfully at the sky.
The Dove tried to convince him to follow Samantha but it wasn’t about that, not really. Samantha was perfect but Jonah was sure he couldn’t be satisfied with her, even if he did follow her to the west and make a nest with her there. The Dove would watch Jonah and shake her head and coo empathetically but none of that made it better, so one day she decided to reach out her wing. Delicate as a single sheet of paper, she reached out and Jonah reached back. He had never touched her before (they had always kept their distance) but now when the opportunity arose he wanted nothing more than to hold her small wing in his hand. It was soft as flesh and heavy with the weight of a thousand flights. When he touched those grey feathers he felt the whole sky in her.
That night Jonah woke to a horrible feeling; like small blades slicing through his back, arms and legs, opening him from within. It was so painful, and itchy — he had never felt anything so itchy. When he went to scratch he felt rows of bloody protuberances rising from his flesh. Row upon row, upon row. Sticks, he thought, that was the fact of it. His mother had lied, he wasn’t born from a womb, but made by hands. Made of a million sticks that were bound like a doll and covered in skin. Those sticks were breaking through now and revealing his true nature. The sticks continued to grow and once the blood had dried they became soft; soft as hair, soft as fluff, soft as down. No, that was the truth of it. He was no more than a pillow, stuffed too full and bleeding his downy innards out into the world. The down continued to grow and soon became coarse, then fine, until a sleek coat of feathers covered him. By that point Jonah wasn’t scared, he wasn’t in pain, he wasn’t confused, he was just content. He fell back to sleep in a bed of his own feathers.
Come morning Jonah wandered from his room into the kitchen. He was shorter by then and he basked in his ability to see things from a different angle. Nothing felt wrong anymore, it just felt. He gave a flap of his wings and fluttered onto the kitchen table where he was greeted by the sight of a perfectly stunning (and naked) woman. Her hair was so blonde it looked grey and her eyes had a shocked sort of expression, although the smile that curled her lips told a different story. She looked at Jonah, then down at her own hands. She wiggled her fingers and laughed, a deep throaty rumble that sounded like it was the very first laugh in the world. Jonah would have smiled, if his beak was more malleable.
Thank you, he said instead, his voice like the flap of a wing.
The woman bent low over the table, her breasts brushing against the grain of the wood. She kissed Jonah on his soft, sleek, feathery head.
You’re welcome sweet Dove, she replied, her voice like the step of a foot. She stroked Jonah’s beak, then rose and went over to the cupboard. She pulled out the Cardinal seed and a carton of pink cupcakes. As she settled back down and arranged the seed and cupcakes on a plate she spoke.
I think I’ll be a writer, she said, I have a wonderful story to tell.