Friday, May 12, 2017
The squirrel had died the day before, run down by one of the machines. Nobody did anything about her little corpse, mostly because the neighborhood animals had forgotten, over the years, how to deal with Death. They'd become nervous around it, numb to it, unlike their woodsy counterparts who knew to take it apart, piece by piece, and feed it back into the whole. In the woods, Death is another manifestation of life. It feeds life, becomes many new lives, becomes a hundred little resurrections for ants and birds and beetles and trees; it becomes the soil and the sunlight, meat for wasps and bees.
But not in the city. The body of the squirrel lay useless in the middle of the street, was hit by another machine so that its guts billowed from its mouth. And the birds of the neighborhood chattered to one another about how, soon, one of the humans would come like they always did and get the ugly thing and put it in a bag and take it away.
That, however, is not what happened. What happened instead is that an ancient priest, one of the old ones, looked down from on high and heeded the call of Death. He circled down the path of the wind, lower and lower, landed in the street, and stretched the shroud of his wings over the remains of the squirrel. And then he bowed his ancient, wrinkled head, as if in prayer, and began to eat.
Well! there goes the neighborhood! Jays and grackles and mockingbirds gathered in the trees. They just--could--not believe! Cries of pious rage came from the right-wingers: This is sacrilege! This is unholy! And quavering calls of outrage from the left-wingers: This is unsanitary! A violation of animal rights! And they all began to dive, one after another, at the priest as he stood, solid and huge and dark, performing the ancient rites with unhurried demeanor. He did not address their chattering; he did not fly away; he did not betray any irritation. He merely went about the sacred ritual of the Sky-Burial as if surrounded by serene, wide-open desert instead of a crowded, hostile city street.
There was nothing any of them could do. Death, despite all their chatter and politics and modern conveniences, could not be reversed. They had to watch as the corpse was transformed, bite by deliberate bite, into a solid mass of bone and blackness and leathered skin and feathered wing. And when it was done, the priest wiped his hooked beak and flexed his massive talons. He looked around him as if noticing the crowd for the first time.
"Someday I will come back for you," he said, and they all hushed, and pulled their heads into their downy little breasts where their hearts beat fast, fast. And with a mighty beating rush he shook the dust and blood from his wings and mounted the wind up, up, past the trees, past the roofs and power lines and still, up, past the thunderheads that boiled in the sun.
And he buried Death in the sky.