– Don’t touch that. Stop it.
– It’s dirty.
I was stroking a dead bird with one extended forefinger. The forefinger of my right hand. My left hand was tucked between my legs as I crouched down, careful not to let the knees of my lilac leggings with yellow flowers touch the damp, brown mulch of the forest floor.
– Isn’t. He’s clean – he feels clean. And soft.
– No, birds are very dirty. Especially dead ones you’ve found on the ground. Leave it alone.
– Why are they, Mum? Why are they dirty?
She sighed a deep sigh that shook her scarf and her earrings amongst all her hair.
– Birds go places we would never go. We don’t know the places they go. That’s why.
I withdrew my finger but continued to peer. And marvel. The dead bird was the most beautiful and terrifying thing I had ever encountered. My mother had begun to walk away from me; I bit my lip as I watched her but I remained where I was. I wanted to open up his wings, turn him over to see his tail. Rooted like a tree amongst so many other trees, I could and would not move, could and would not tear myself away from the soft stillness, the thin curled feet, the closed eyes. Which would be black beneath, and shining.