The oiled wings of hummingbirds, collected pair by pair, hung on wire in front of the floor to ceiling windows in his third floor apartment. A tiny quilt of ruby and emerald feathers dangled from the finial of a dusty black lamp. And in a jar full of curved beaks, one opened with a click muted by glass and a metal lid.
He studied his newest aquisition as the coffee brewed. Its eyes were closed, but in another room, something also studied him.
He drew the tip of a finger down the fragile sides, noted the stickiness where the bird had dipped its beak into poisoned honeywater before falling onto the silk pillows beneath. He thought how nothing could stir the tiny, still heart, jolt it back into its racing form, a watchmaker's aviary engine.
Another beak trembled, another; the jar like a house for bees, but he didn't notice the buzzing.
The gleaming quilt fluttered in a wind-less room.
The coffee sputtered to a stop, and he placed his treasure on a towel on the table. Poured himself a steaming cup of Chock Full O'Nuts. His nose came close to wading in.
The wire holding the wings shivered, and all at once, they engaged, Lift Off! Ping! went the little metal snaps.
Crack! went the jar as it tottered on the edge of the shelf and finally fell.
The quilt made hardly a sound as it float away from the finial.
The coffee nearly scalded his tongue. He grimaced, put the cup down, returned his attention to this newest jewel --
But where was it? Hadn't he only just set it there, on a bleached white towel? His eyes swiveled, taking in the kitchen. Could it have possibly rolled off? Was that the sound he had heard only a moment before? He bent over, looked into the shadows beneath the ancient table that had belonged to his mother, the cabaret dancer of great fame who had left his father and raised her son all by herself. No hummingbird. Something grazed his shoulder. He stood.
There, framed by the peeling doorway, was a sparkling vision, a humming, distant vision that retreated and then, with the gentlest of roars, descended upon him in a rush.
His arms flew, flapping like an ungainly seagull as he was engulfed by a swarming, bright parade of pieces of birds. A tiny tornado of pin-point beaks took aim at his eyes, into his ears, and the beating wings muffled everything, like pillows around his head. The wire, chosen for its slenderness, now sliced delicated into his neck, behind his ears, and blood ran into his shirt collar.
When at last he slumped to the floor, and his body stopped its intermittent jerking, the final hummingbird rose up from the settling swarm. Its heart beat a trillion times a minute. It waited for someone to come and open the door.