Click here, then read.
It’s time for bed and I’m closing down the house: TV off, doors locked, kitties in their bedroom. I sit down at my desk one last time to check e-mail, and immediately notice that one of my paper grade-sheets for the two summer classes I’m teaching is gone. My eyes grow wide, I take a sharp breath, and look around the desk: no grade-sheet. One is here, but the other is not. I panic.
I immediately know what I’ve done: I've thrown it into the recycle bin with a bunch of other stuff. I remember picking up one single sheet of blank paper off the floor by my desk and placing it onto the recycle stack. How it got onto the floor, I don’t know. I have a new kitten now, Leo. That's all I'm saying.
The recycle bin is now sitting out on the curb in the dark. My grade sheet is somewhere in the mess of kitten food cans, tuna cans, and chocolate-smeared Snack Pack pudding containers, buried under a week’s worth of newspapers I didn’t read. I consider going outside with a flashlight to dig through the bin, but decide no: it’s too late and I’m too tired and I can do it in the morning. I leave myself a note by the coffee pot: “Grade Sheet, Dummy!”
I’m awake at 5 a.m., thinking about my grade sheet in the recycle bin. I have to learn how to post grades online. The era of hard copies is over, just like privacy is gone. I get up and dress, then hurry outside. I open the recycle bin lid and look down: there’s my grade sheet not far from the top, with all my students’ names and their very first grades smeared with chocolate pudding and soggy with diet pop. I’m elated. I fish the grade sheet out, close the lid, then turn and pick up my newspaper before heading back to the house. I gotta stop getting the newspaper, I think. I’m not even reading it anymore.
As I near my front door, I look up to see a pigeon arranging dead leaves on top of a pillar on my patio. The pigeons like these pillars, and often try to roost there, but I always shoo them off. I wave this one away with my rolled-up newspaper, then use the paper to push the leaves off as best I can, since the pillar is high and I can’t see the top.
An egg falls down and breaks. A tiny baby pigeon lies in the yolk-and-blood mess I’ve created. I bend down and see that the baby pigeon is as long as my pinky, but thinner than a pencil. It has tiny eyes and four legs, no wings yet. It’s dead.
I’m crushed. I’m guilt-ridden. I don’t know why pigeons lay their eggs on dead leaves. I go back into the house and call my brother.
“Guess what I just did,” I say when he answers.
“What?” he says.
“I just accidentally pushed a pigeon egg off my pillar and it had a baby in it.”
My brother gasps. “How big was the baby!?”
“Very tiny,” I say. “Not really a bird yet—but it had a head and four legs.”
“Oh, well then forget about it,” my brother says. “That’s the way of the world.”
“I don’t think its mother would agree,” I say, looking out the window to see Mrs. Pigeon sitting on the pillar, looking down at Humpty's remains. “I feel awful.”
“Don’t,” my brother says. “You didn’t mean any harm. You were just cleaning up your property. It was an accident.”
“I would have let it sit there until the baby bird hatched,” I say. “That’s just how I am.”
“You didn’t know, Kate,” my brother reassures me. “Why don’t you go out and bury it; then you’ll feel better.”
“Okay,” I say. We hang up and I go back outside, find a small gardening shovel, and return to the scene of my crime. I hack the dry earth until I’ve made a sharp-edged hole by the pillar, then gently scoop Humpty up and shake him off, into the hole. I scrape his egg and bloody yolk into the hole too, then replace the pieces of dirt I’ve managed to dislodge. I hack the dirt into smaller chunks so it’s flat on top of Humpty. He rests in pieces.
It’s 5:30 a.m.
I go back inside, where my grade sheet waits for more stains, and my newspaper waits for me to read it. I know my students’ grades should be out there somewhere, traveling from my brain through my fingers through the Internet and into an online grade book that will never get thrown out. I know I’ve been wasting twenty dollars a month getting the newspaper delivered to my house when I rarely read it, and when I do, it’s mostly bad news that I immediately forget.
I think of Humpty, something alive and tangible, a creature I could have held in my hand if I hadn’t killed it. My grades will soon take flight, the newspaper is already online, but Humpty’s days are over.
I would keep getting the newspaper and continue with my old-school grading sheets if I could have Humpty back, safe in his egg on my pillar. I would let Mrs. Pigeon roost all she wanted, my cats cackling at her through the window, my cats excited about Humpty, but everybody safe.
I miss the days when everything was real.