Every year in late November there are flocks of birds that drown along the southeast coast. Some years are worse than others. The birds are grey, but their feathers turn black in the surf where they are tumbled and battered. They wash up in the tide line, just where the soft sand gives way to the harder wet sand, and they lie there, trembling wings spread out looking too long for the small wedge of body. Once they are dead they are flamboyant in their postures, they leave their bodies spread open.
As children Elise and her brother would find the live birds along the arc of the beach. They would pick them out of the water, out of the sand and take them home. Sometimes one would live through the night, scuffling in the box, as if still trying to follow the wind and find its way to the others where they might now be resting on some rocky island to the north, pairing up, getting ready to nest. The instinct to fly never extinguished, just the ability to do so.
There was a smell to them, these birds, before they died, as they always did, with their beaks the perfect shape, their feet in order, their feathers still ruffling to the touch of the air. A musky smell, that stayed on your hands after you’d buried them in the deep sand burrows they would dig for the dead birds, even though they would both rinse their hands in the sea. It was almost like the sea magnified the scent, brought it out all the more strongly. A grey smell, even if it was only the way their feathers carried it.
Maybe it was the smell of great heights, as if the wind could settle on one scent when it got that high, and the birds soaked it up as they flew along the in the trade-wind between – well, where? It never seemed to matter too much, as they always died.