g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
Photograph by Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Histories I do not Belong to, VI.
In Vienna the bellhop shows me how to open the electric blinds in my room overlooking the Oper, and when I tell him I’m not impressed by technology, he asks me if I want to see where they keep the dead hummingbirds. He takes me to room 703, and it looks like any other room in the hotel, striped wall paper in cream and gold, crisp king size bed, all ordered, except for the bathroom.
The floor is littered with tiny jewels, overflowing out of the bathtub and sink. Each a jester’s miniature body: whole and full, mocking our confusion with their deaths. I ask him why they don’t rot, fall apart, and he says he doesn’t know. He says, every so often when it rains the birds fall from the sky like hollow stones onto the roof, unbroken. That the hummingbirds are too beautiful to wrap in plastic and throw away, even if it’s done slowly and with wonder. He picks one up, palm cupping the small body, and unfolds its wings.
A hummingbird’s heart beats 1,260 times a minute. There are nights when I lay my head on your chest and feel a struggle. You say my heart beats fast; your heart beats hard. Sometimes I imagine your heart is a bird, beating its wings against cage bars, and I am waiting for it to give up. I say you’re too young to die, but your body swallows more years than is fair.
The bellhop holds the wings between his thumb and pointer finger, its falcate body arced perfectly for feeding. Its chest and throat are the shade of purple irises, its wings streaks of moss green. He holds it out, and when it collapses into my hand, it feels like cold velvet. I place it back into the sink with the others, try not to discern all their many shapes, try not to decide which black-eyed beauty will bust from your chest one night while I sleep.