Broom in hand, I descend the brick steps where moss has newly sprung. The sidewalk needs sweeping and I’ve only a minute. Must get to school early, to prepare for the day; the minutiae of all that has to be done circles round and round my mind.
But I have to do this first. Oddly. Sweeping the sidewalk is not part of my morning routine.
All is still but for the light chatter of a few birds, waking. The sound of early spring. The sound of April. Of a new day. I pause, listening. How cheerful, how happy their bird voices are, even if to them it’s just regular conversation. My spirit eases, just hearing them. I note that the light is unusual. Against random trees and shrubs, the dawn gleams amber in patches. Everything else is a backdrop in half light. There’s an edge to it all, a starkness. The sky is moody. Altocumulus clouds, dark in their middles, gleaming around their rims, are gathered in bands or waves; this is what scientists call a mackerel sky, I think. Strange light.
—Time. Be aware.
Right, I must hurry.
Just as I put broom to concrete, I see it.
Over in the neighbor’s yard, in the shadows under the bushy, unpruned crape myrtle.
The brightest spot of color I’ve ever seen. Red. Rosy, electric red, brighter than any neon light, as vivid as fire, glowing, but not burning. Just being. I blink. How does such a color even exist in nature? It has to be a cardinal but I can’t see the rest of him, just his plump breast. A half-memory from childhood stirs in my mind, of pretending I had a pet cardinal and spraying pine-scented air freshener throughout the house to create his forest, where he could fly freely— but for all my attraction to the male cardinal’s plumage, I’ve never seen it to the intensity and brilliance as right now in this capricious light.
I want to see him better but I dare not move.
I think I’ve quit breathing.
Could I, maybe, get a picture? If I’m stealthy, can I make it into the house and back with my phone?
I have to try. I have to capture this image.
I watch him as I ease toward the house. He moves a little, hopping in the dappled grass.
As soon as I reach the steps, out of his field of vision, I race through the front door to the kitchen, grab my phone, turn, shoot back through the door, take the steps without making a sound, stop, and creep to where I can see the crape myrtle.
—He’s still there! I can’t believe it!
An astounding spot of color, radiating an otherworldly light.
I aim my phone and zoom in . . .
On the screen I see the thin myrtle branches up close. The grass, the shadows, the sunlit patches. —Where’s my bird?
I look away from the phone back to the scene, to get my bearings . . . don’t know how I could have missed, I aimed right where he was standing . . . .
He is gone.
In the second between my sighting him and my lifting the phone, he vanished. Without a sound or any perceptible movement. He was and then he was not. Just like that.
Nowhere to be seen at all.
I stand frozen, phone in hands, an inexplicable feeling sweeping through me.
The moment passed and nothing remains of it. Stunning, that spot of fiery color like no other, in the shadows under that tree. One glimpse of glory. He was so beautiful and I never even saw all of him. Even if I do see him again—and I’ll try, at this same time tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after—it will never happen again, not just like this. The clouds will not be the same. The position of the sun will be slightly different. It can never be again exactly as it was.
I so wanted to capture his image, the holiness of it, to keep it forever, and I could not.
But I hold it in my mind. I cling to every breathtaking detail.
I write it before it leaves me, wondering at the tears burning behind my eyes over this one bird, this one moment, why it should be so significant, to make me feel so much.
I was just there, unexpectedly, and so was he.
For one shining moment, we just were.