“It’s not an omen,” she said. She said it out of principle. Omens were inconsistent with the world view she was trying to impart to her daughters, who would face enough obstacles to their own agency without divine messages portending predetermined outcomes.
“Mommy, look!” her daughter had shrieked. Her daughter was always shrieking when it wasn’t necessary. But as she took a breath to say, “You don’t have to yell, my ear is inches away from you,” she saw it. A pigeon, lying on its side in the road they were waiting to cross. The upper wing was flapping, driving the bird in circles on the ground like a breakdancer spinning on his ear.
“Mommy, we have to, somebody has to,”
A semi truck drove right over the bird, cutting her daughter off. Miraculously, all eighteen wheels passed on either side of the bird, which was still flapping in circles when the truck passed. But the truck had crushed her daughter’s impulse to rush across three lanes of morning traffic to rescue the bird.
“Honey, it’s going to die. I think it’s already been hit or else it would get out of the way,” she said. “Birds don’t lay in the middle of the road on purpose.”
Resigned as they were to its death, they tried to look away, but tensed anyway as an SUV passed over the bird. Like the semi, the SUV missed it, dragging out the scenario for maximum queasiness. But the pickup truck that followed hit the bird directly with a sound somewhere between a pop and a squish. They had a glimpse of dead bird before another car hit it with more squish and less pop, leaving only a shapeless mound of feathers surrounded by a spray of red.
The light finally changed. As they crossed the road they tried not to stare at the bird’s remains.
“Well, that was a bad omen for our day,” her daughter said quietly.
“It’s not an omen,” she said.
But it might as well have been. Or if not an omen, it was at least a literary device. A real-life literary device. One of those – what were they called, those prologue vignettes that precede a story and seem to be unrelated to the plot but actually tell the reader everything they are about to spend hundreds of pages finding out?
Omen or not, she still had to live through the next few hundred calamitous pages. And as she did, she couldn’t help but wonder, would it all have gone better if they had crossed the street somewhere else?