Online Exclusive

The Habits of Hummingbirds
Waiting for the Mail

It is nearly one thirty, lunch is over, and I am waiting for the afternoon mail. It is what I have to look forward to, the mail, the UPS box delivered to my cubicle each day. I do not have plans once the mail has arrived.

     I should of course be writing. Because here is the thing: I am a technical writer. I am paid to compose excessively detailed repair guides for a manufacturer of personal computers. Each day their warehouse sends me a box of parts to explain, so that technicians will know what to do with them. There are ten of us here explaining parts, we each get a box or two a day. We sit side by side, row by row, in narrow cubicles four feet high.

      The others and I are more like mechanics than writers, and we are none of us cut out for the work. Which comes as no surprise to us. We doubt there are many who start out on careers expressly to become technical writers. Still, we are good enough at our jobs here. I am in fact told our guides once won us awards, although that was before I was hired. I cannot myself imagine there are people vying for repair manual medals.

     Nevertheless, my department takes pride in our output. We are on the whole hard workers. Until, that is to say, lately. Because lately our company, due to a dramatic fall in sales, does not churn out so many new products as before. Which in turn sometimes leads to little to do, and we in my group have grown concerned. Eventually, we think, someone will notice. It will occur to a director who decides such things that if there are fewer new products, there should likewise be fewer repair guides and ultimately fewer repair writers.

      As a result, the others and I now mostly just try to look busy. We spend our days, when we are not waiting for the mail, thinking up work for ourselves. We carefully disassemble each part we receive, taking purposeful, copious notes. We detail each step, double-highlighting the screws that must be removed before certain key tabs are depressed. Then we reassemble and repeat. We do not let on we wrote these same steps the day before.

     We fool no one, I am pretty sure. We are only wasting time, and I know now before we are all let go, I should stand up and leave on my own. But here is the problem in this. I am in love with Rory, who works in the company mailroom. I do not like to think of my life without him. So until they lay poor Rory off, which I tell myself could be any day, this company is slow in mail as well, I cannot find it in me to resign. This, despite that Rory does not share my affection, that he is not in the least aware of my affection. Rory, if anything, is drawn to the coffee-cart girl who makes lattés in the company’s lobby.

     There is one thing more. While I pine over Rory and wait for his afternoon delivery, I know for a fact that William, the young writer who shares my cubicle wall to the south, is pretty much in love with me. And well, there you have it. We are as misfit and unrequited a lot as you are likely to find in the workplace.


Second Floor

For years now we have worked on the second floor of this building, my little writer phalanx and I, at first in large cubicles by the windows. But two years ago last fall, when our stock was still high and the company expanding, to make room for all the new hires my group was moved to small cubes on an inside wall. It was not, we all knew, a good sign.

     Second floor, I should explain, is the power floor of the building. The director’s office is here, although it is true he is rarely in it. But for when he is, there are expensive Italian couches for people waiting to see him and on a low table in a glass bowl, cellophane-wrapped peppermint balls.

      The engineers are here as well, another reason for the prestige of our floor. They are an assured group, the engineers, young for the most part, single-minded, certain of their bright futures. A technical sort, they talk in code, complaining of firmware incompetence. They are busy people, competitive to a fault, some call out trick C++ questions over their cubicle walls. Then to let off steam at the end of the day, many stay late at their screens playing video holocaust games, honing their genocidal skills.

     And now, since our company’s unwise recent growth, second floor has taken in MBAs too, younger still than the engineers, snappy dressers and dwellers of city lofts. The MBAs are a talkative group, they are forever on their phones, making unfair demands in peeved voices. Occasionally one of them stands from his chair and sings “Girl from Ipanema.” No one seems to know why.

     The fact is, second floor has become a crowded, loud, and pushy sort of place. We, the owlish writers of repair, no longer seem to belong here.



At last at two this long afternoon, Rory brings us our mail. And in an unexpected turn of events, I manage to catch his attention. Just now as he sets two small boxes on my desk, “Why thank you, Rory,” I say, looking up. I always acknowledge Rory’s deliveries. The other writers are not so attentive, they just keep their eyes on their screens. But always “Thank you, Rory,” I make a real point of saying, sometimes searching his face with a smile, and I think somewhere in Rory’s dark angry heart he wants to thank me as well.

     All of which is not yet the turn of events that I mentioned. Today, as always, Rory responds to me in his usual fashion, which is to say not at all. Then he turns and heads for the next cube. Except, “Oh Rory,” I say, checking the mailing labels, “these boxes aren’t for me. They’re for William, next door.”

     Rory stops, his back to me, then turns, and I can see the blood rise in his face. I have unwittingly caught Rory in a blunder. He is, I see, a perfectionist and not one for admitting faults graciously. “Fuck,” he explodes, grabbing the boxes from my desk.

     I briefly consider apologizing, “Oh let me not stay your swift rounds,” I could say, along with some other sly postal reference meant in good cheer to defuse him. But before I can think, I hear Rory next door, slamming the boxes at William.

     Arnette in our group, who knows things, in whom Rory apparently confides, says Rory is wounded in some deep private way. Oh yes, Arnette says, two years ago he succumbed to nervous exhaustion and had to take disability. Over a woman, he told her, although probably, Arnette thinks, there was more. Rory, she says, is just sort of lost. She knew if from the day he first delivered the mail. Now there’s a lost man, she said to herself, and there is no one who will ever find him.


Silent Layoffs

Lost or found, Rory needs to be more careful around here. It does not do to swear and throw things at work. Especially at fellow employees. Especially when your job is hourly, replaceable, and rumors of layoffs abound.

     People will be losing their jobs here, all right. There are signs, it does not take much to read them. The interdepartmental grapevine on this floor sends out periodic alerts. Employees already are leaving. But what is more disturbing than the departures, I think, and all the rumors and guessing who’s next, is the studied corporate stealth of it all.

     That is, although the world outside has yet to catch on, although the company is terribly discreet, here within we all know what they are up to. We are onto their scheme, the silent dismissals, this rolling, dead-quiet downsizing. It is a cheap corporate trick, a way of keeping the news from the press, of keeping the stock from tumbling. To throw everyone off, they dispatch just one or two workers each week, always from a different department. So far it’s been working for them.

     Always it is the same pattern. First an employee is told he’s been assigned a new cube, always it is on sixth floor. It is only a move, not a layoff, he’s assured. It is only a reorganization. Sixth floor is roomy, there is open space, it is quiet, he will like it up there.

     But everyone here knows about sixth floor. People who move there, it’s understood, do not generally return. It is just one more company ploy, a kind of purgatory for the soon-to-be-let-go, by which they are laying off people here regularly, nearly every Friday.

     Our manager of repair likes to remind us of this. Consider ourselves warned, he tells us. We should all try a lot harder at our jobs. We should think deeply about our futures.



Next door now I hear William’s voice. “Hey there, Rory. Whatcha got there?” William sounds cheerful and accommodating as ever, apparently he has not just now caught Rory’s drift.

     I hear Rory storm away, hurling boxes into cubes all down our row. “Have a nice day,” William calls.

     So here is the difference between Rory and William. Rory, my love, is as Arnette believes most likely an irredeemable soul. In some secret place he is permanently harmed and therefore frequently surly. But Rory is also handsome and muscled and in a silent, unattainable way, malefically irresistible.

     William, on the other hand, is mostly just young. Handsome as well, also tall and square shouldered and willing. But young. Maybe twenty-four, I’m not sure. It is an age that is still too eager, too ready to please. Which William is, along with vulnerable and tender-hearted. Not to mention, lately, devoted, the problem I have with him now, as these last few days it appears he has devoted himself largely to me.

     First thing every morning on his way to his seat, he now stops by my desk just to chat. Followed throughout the long day by kind little offers of help—let me get that box for you, Sarah, it looks heavy—and whenever he can manage to wedge them in, compliments on my writing. Which is usually just a handful of numbered steps involving, as I’ve said, screws and tabs, exactly what all of us here write. There is nothing that distinguishes our work. Still, keeping his voice low, William says that he thinks I’m the stylist in our group and asks if maybe I would be his mentor.

     I have no idea why William singles me out. I do not in the least encourage him. He also is wrong in his assessment of me, I am not all that good at what I do. And furthermore, as William should have picked up by now, it is Rory, the mailman, who holds tight my heart. It is for Rory that I stay here at all.

     So I cannot think what I will do about William. And for the time being I’ve decided not to try.



This building in which we work is a banker’s gray concrete cube. At its core is an open atrium, rising like a giant air shaft straight up through all six stories. To bring in some light, wide glass-paneled hallways on every floor skirt all four sides of the atrium. Which means that wherever you look from each story, you have the same dusky view, the small dank park that lies at the atrium floor.

     The park is landscaped in mostly large primeval ferns, creeping gray moss, and rock paths that turn slippery from the sprinklers. Someone once planted a few trees there as well, odd species with great thorns covering trunk and limbs, trees meant to grow towering and ferocious. But because the building’s steep walls cast deep shadows all day, these trees have stayed small and struggle, their branches do not reach past third floor.

     It is lucky for us to be working here on second, where—and this is the point I’ve been getting to—in one of the park’s trees near the second-floor glass, each spring a hummingbird mother builds her nest. We do not know if it is the same bird every year, or one of her daughters from the year before. Still, there in the same crook in the same limb—there, the first gathering of lichen, the first tufts of plant fluff are our sign.

     Every spring we on second anxiously await the hummingbird’s return until one of us, often an engineer, finally spots her. He sends out an email alerting the rest, and soon a small crowd forms at the glass. Over the next weeks then we watch in ones and twos as the small white eggs appear, and later the tiny spikes of open beaks.

     Our hummingbird, a good mother, is wild to keep her new brood fed. Every year, all the day she dives headlong sky to nest. It is thrilling to watch. She is hell-bent, intrepid, a fierce little bird, and this spring I cannot take my eyes off her.


It Begins

On Monday at work there is news. Rory of the mailroom and the coffee-cart girl have both of them disappeared. Word of it has just reached our cubes. Evelyn, the senior writer in our group, who stopped by the mailroom at eight, was the first to learn Rory was missing. Then at ten when I walked to the lobby for coffee, I could see the latté girl was gone too. So now my group and I can imagine only two things. Either Rory and the coffee girl have run off together, following a particularly torrid weekend, or Rory and the girl have both been laid off, which is the option most of us favor.

     It is true, we say. The layoffs at last have hit home. We knew it was only a matter of time, we just did not expect it to begin quite this way. But now yes, we can see it, yet another new tactic the company has devised. They will cut off our lifelines of coffee and mail, laying off one support group, then another, and through extreme deprivation and caffeine withdrawal drive the rest of us bolting from our cubes. It will be a corporate Siege of Paris. Oh cold, calculated capitalism and cruel bottom line.



I do not know what I will do here without Rory, without the afternoon mail to look forward to. And I know then it is time for me to leave too.

     But immediately there is talk of a package. It’s a rumor throughout second floor, and the writers all counsel that we just wait and see. “It would be madness to leave on your own, Sarah,” they say. Why quit when you might get severance? “Think of your landlord, to whom you’re in debt,” Cecile in the end cube reminds me. Just stay till you’re canned, then take the package and run.

     Cecile is correct about my landlord. Due to some unusually fraught holiday shopping, I owe him a great deal of back rent. Both he and I really do need my paycheck, along with my brother, Federal Student Aid, and a few other creditors I know. For the time being, then, I’ve decided to stay. Still it will not be the same here without Rory. And what is more pressing, it leaves me solely with William.

     A word then again about William, a side of him I’ve only just noticed. William is a man of curiosities. Many things in this world are of interest to him and generally, in the end, a delight. William, that is, entertains himself well. Recently, for example, he informed our group he ate seven frozen pizzas in one week, a new brand for each of the days, and then called up three of his dead mother’s friends. The pizzas were self-explanatory, he guessed. And the friends, he said, were from Texas, the state of his mother’s birth. He wanted to find out if the sound of their voices might bring a little of her back.

     Such reports have led us in our group to wonder some about William. That he may not always be under control. Although we also cannot say we’ve seen this evident at work. Mostly William is like the rest of us here, pretending in some way to be useful, but with little regard for anything we do.

     Except that recently, as Arnette has observed on our breaks, William seems to be up to something. None of us knows just what. But now all morning and most afternoons, we can hear him hard at his keyboard, typing intently for hours. Then suddenly he will stop to leaf through some papers or disappear somewhere down the hall, only before long to return again, typing for hours more. When any of us asks him just what is up, “Research,” is all William will say.

     Martin, two cubes to the east, is suspicious. “Research?” he says. We are writers of technical procedures, with us it’s just one torx screw after another. “Research?” he asks. There’s no need for it here. What’s with that guy anyway, he wants to know.

     I think I may have an idea. The last few days I have seen William stopped at the atrium window next to our hummingbird nest. Recently he has brought paper with him, he appears to be taking notes. William is documenting the hummingbird mother, and I’m pretty sure it’s his new way here at work to stay sane.

     I do not fault him for the novel approach. It is healthier than repeatedly disassembling parts. Still the hummingbird is not what our group is paid for. Besides which she is only passing through. I do not for the life of me know why William has thought to document her.

     There is simply no explaining young William. In truth, I do not in the least understand him.


Skipping Out

Free breakfast in the atrium this morning. For two weeks colored posters announcing its date have been posted all over second floor, on the staircase up, on all restroom doors, at weight-bearing posts in the halls. It is a kind of corporate thank-you sponsored by upper management, three vice presidents who sign their names June, Josh, and Kenny. They know we all know who they are, they do not need to use their last names. The posters say breakfast is for all the hard work we have put into this previous quarter, which by the way can’t begin to pull us out of our fiscal hellhole—well the posters do not say that last part. Instead, they continue, for all this hard work, June, Josh, and Kenny will be serving in the atrium, eight to ten.

     This is not the first time that we’ve been treated to breakfast. To keep up morale, and to make up for no quarterly bonuses, the vice presidents of late have been generous with their free juice and rolls. Always it is the same thing. On each breakfast day, early in the morning, administrative assistants from every floor rush off to supermarkets nearby, returning with large boxes of pastries and gallon jugs of reconstituted juice. Then they set up long tables in the atrium, add a few paper plates, and it is all pretty much ready by seven forty.

     I myself will not be attending, I will not go down to the atrium for juice. I just do not care for company group meals, what we call here our corporate force feeds. Nor is it just the feeds. Pretty much I skip out on all company events, arrive costumeless for Halloween parade day, fail consistently at the Christmas spirit. On others’ birthdays, I decline to decorate their cubes, I do not sign up for the spring corporate games. And never once have I attended a company picnic or brought brownies to a company potluck.

     They are all awful events, I’m convinced. Because always they amount to the same wretched thing—people you work all day long with, that you have worked with for maybe ten years, sit stiffly around the same table together with nothing at all to say. With nothing at all in common. Events just make everyone see it.

     So I must remember this morning not to walk by Lana’s cube. Lana is the administrative assistant on second who coordinates our floor’s company parties, specifically this morning’s free breakfast. She is a keenly gregarious person, also large and frequently operatic. She takes each force-feed defection to heart, her complaints of abandonment legion. So I know now from eight to ten today I will need to stay out of the way. I will need to skulk the back hallways, slipping from notice as I’m wont to do, avoiding camaraderie as possible.


Female of the Species

To kill a little time during breakfast, I return to the atrium glass to look in on our hummingbird.

     Two sets of small beaks peek out from the nest. The hummingbird mother, we on second agree, surely has her work cut out for her. Two insatiable little mouths she now must keep fed and still she goes it alone, no helpmate in sight, we have noticed. She exhausts herself. All day she darts and she feeds, making the best of an intolerable life and setting an example for the rest of us.

     There is in fact much to appreciate in our small bird. Things I am only just learning from William, from the hummingbird notes he’s begun leaving me. Little facts about the bird’s engineering—its incredible speed, the fact it flies backwards, how its feathers can turn to catch the light and switch from scarlet to pulsing neon green.

     I’m not sure why William shares this research with me. Perhaps he was serious about wanting a mentor and expects me to send back comments. I do not. But I have taken to reading his notes all the way through, and I must say they are educational.

     For instance, as I was about say, there is more to our hummingbird mother, her drive to raise her brood on her own, than meets the average second-floor eye. The fact is, William writes, it is the bird’s choice to go it alone. Do not weep for the hummingbird mother. The female of her species is self-contained and spectacularly unallied, heartless to some degree. After mating, invariably she chases the male away. As William notes, it is not clear exactly why. It would be more in her interest to keep her mate close, at least through the nesting and feeding. She is an odd one, that hummingbird mother.


Cinnamon Roll

At ten-thirty when I feel the coast is clear, breakfast is finally over and I can safely return to my cube, I find someone has placed a large paper plate with a cinnamon roll by my keyboard, along with a tall cup of juice.

     The roll is from today’s breakfast. I have seen similar rolls at these events before. For here is a confession. While I do not go down to the atrium breakfasts, I sometimes watch them from the windows above. I cannot seem to get over it, how people who pull in good paychecks each two weeks fall all over themselves for free breakfast. Almost everyone in our building shows up, there are long lines at the bagels and cream cheese. But always the lines at the cinnamon rolls are longer. The rolls are large, freshly baked, and sweet, and I hear that sometimes they even arrive warm. People in our building live for these rolls. Some have been known to try taking two, although this is against the rules and lately the admins have been cracking down on anyone slipping out with a spare. Still, always by nine the cinnamon rolls are gone.

     Which is why, I suppose, someone has left me this one. So I would not have to stand in line, so I would not entirely miss out. Which means this anonymous bearer of gifts has given up his own chance at a roll. Which of course also means it was William. This is William’s cinnamon roll.

     I check. William’s cube is empty, and I think how this just will not do. I must give William back his gift. I know how much cinnamon rolls mean around here, I cannot accept his shot at one. Although I think then it’s all right if I accept the juice, and I pick up the cup he has left me.

     “Cheers,” William says from behind.

     “Oh!” I say. “William!” His voice so close now is startling. And I turn, faster than I intend to.

     William stands inclined toward me in a half bow. I should have remembered this about him, he has a way of bowing when he speaks, it is due to his height, I suppose, and we collide then, my cup and William’s chest. The juice makes a trajectory for his shirt, and from there onto the suede of his Hush Puppy shoes.

     “Oh no!” I say, and then “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I look quickly for something to sop up the spill. I reach for some papers that lie on my desk, and I am a flurry then of memos and meeting notes, shoving them into William’s orange-splattered chest, dropping to my knees to dab at his shoes.

     William stands back up at attention. “That’s all right, Sarah,” he says. “It’s all right.” I can feel him large and awkward above me. But I do not move from his shoes, so intent am I at my dabbing.

     “Please,” William says, bending low. “It’s ok, Sarah. Really.” I feel an uncertain touch at my sleeve.

     Now here is a point. It’s unusual indeed on second floor to be touched by a fellow worker, even to be merely grazed. We do not have physical contact here. There are reasons for this, they are written down somewhere in a company guide. Although we do not need written rules of course, we generally know our place. Touching each other is not an option. Our minds reel from the thought, we are mostly all business on this floor. No one wants to start anything funny. It is a complication no one needs.

     So it feels strange now to have William so close, holding me by the sleeve, lifting me up by my arm. And when I stand then, too fast, the blood rushes from my head leaving me feeling faint. It is this, my low blood pressure, nothing more, causing my head to go light. Still, I feel a little dazed.

     Wobbling a little I stand looking up at William. And William, young sweet William, looks back, long and surprisingly steady.


Team Player

On Wednesday our manager of repair, a small man with a round and balding head, although he is not yet thirty, a man of pale lashes and thick glasses, an infirm keeper of rages—this day our manager calls me into his office. The occasion, he tells me, is my inadequacy as a team player. He has noticed I do not join in. And he mentions then he saw me hang back from yesterday’s free breakfast. “A free thank-you breakfast,” he repeats. He finds it inconceivable I passed. And then he tells me he saw me up there at the glass, on the inside conspicuously looking out.

     Our manager’s look turns pained. My reserve, he says, has caused him concern and he has some advice to offer.

     Our manager is younger than I, also shorter. I do not know why he thinks he should give me advice. He’s not someone I look up to in any way. And he is also not someone I trust. He calls himself, for one thing, an old soul, a sympathetic man who understands us all well, a fellow traveler in an alien workplace. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

     So now our manager, reminding me of our uncanny rapport, says yes, he knows that I have special needs. Still, it would be advantageous to everyone all round if I could find a way to fit in. And how much better it would be for second floor if I were also to show more interest. 

     He smiles, and to be certain I have got his meaning, asks will I think about it then. “It is just an idea,” he says. And shrugs. But will I give it a little thought?

     I smile, I am amiable. I say why, sure.


More Notes

Nodding and backing out of his way, I return to my cube to think. It is not a good sign all right, this little lecture on team spirit. No, it is not a good sign and I will probably have to think hard and fast.

     But as usual I am distracted. Because there on my desk carefully aligned at one corner is a new small neat stack of paper. More hummingbird notes from William.

     I take a quick look, I’ve become a sucker for his findings—the hummingbird’s wing beats per second (200), the number of minutes it can hover (50), the calories it consumes in a day (150,000), its weight in paper clips (2.5).

     But well here’s a surprise. William’s notes today have moved on from natural science. These notes have turned metaphoric. It appears he’s begun a new chapter, “Hummingbird Signs and Symbols,” world beliefs in the little bird’s powers.

     I sit down to read every word.

     “In cultures around the world,” William writes, “the hummingbird symbolizes love, joy, and beauty.”

     A little farther down, “Known for its speed, the hummingbird was thought in ancient times to be a messenger of the gods.”

     And farther down still, “Because the hummingbird can fly both forward and backward, then hang motionless in midair, it is believed to have conquered time.”



The next day it rains, and I stop at the atrium glass to check on the hummingbird mother. She is away, and so I linger a while staring out at the shower, steady, comforting, disarming. A rumble of thunder and the rain comes in harder, drenching our park two floors down. I watch and for a moment the sight turns magical. The park’s moss and rocky paths glisten, at the center a pond-size puddle forms, radiating in concentric rings.

     But then the wind picks up and rain splatters the glass, blurring the view below. More thunder still and the wind turns to gusts, thrashing against the park’s trees. I look up, search again for the hummingbird nest, catch there the desperate wet beaks. The tree limb swings wildly, I scan for the hummingbird mother. I worry the nest will not hold.

     And it’s then I feel William, his large warm bulk, hesitating close behind me.


     William steps to the glass beside me. He does not say a word, he only stands and watches the nest sway. I feel a need to explain myself. “I was just wondering if they were all right.”

     William turns and looks at me, nods. “I know.” It’s clear it’s why he’s here too.

     He returns to his watch. For a long while we stand side by side at the glass. The sky grows darker, lightning rips through the clouds. And still no mother bird. We stay where we are, William and I. But I am certain now something is wrong.

     Then suddenly looking excited, moving close to the glass, William calls out “There!” He raises his arm and points. And together we watch as the hummingbird mother makes a steep dive for the tree. For a moment she hovers, blown by the wind, then lowers herself over the nest.

     I look at William. “She’s back,” he says. “She’s come back.” He is grinning with all of his heart. And without wanting it, unbidden, the thought comes to me: Here is a man to love.

     A startling thought, I do not know what to do with this thought. I turn back to the glass. “Well, good. That’s good, William,” I say. 

     I make my excuses then. I say I should probably be getting back to my desk, I still have procedures to finish.

     And I smile and start down the hall. But at the corner I stop and look back. William remains at the window and has out his notebook and pen.



Friday morning when I come into work, it has happened. In my cube, a memo lies on my chair. Packing instructions, actually, along with a set of ready-to-make boxes and preprinted labels for sixth floor.

     I cannot say I am surprised. And in some ways, although I do not say this aloud, it will be a relief, moving. I have already checked, and sixth floor is indeed the serene escape I’d imagined. There are windows and sun and hardly anyone up there. Desks go empty, desk chairs too. The cubicles all look roomy.

     I won’t miss the power of second floor, the association with greatness it affords, its easy access to our manager. Nor will I regret its convenience to first floor with its exits to out-of-doors. But I will miss all the years with my repair writer squad, I will miss dear William especially. And I will miss the hummingbird and her daily derring-do, I will miss her return next spring.

     Still, we are all of us making the best of it. When others stop by and stare at the boxes, I say “Well yes, I am moving to sixth. It is quiet up there, I will get a lot of work done.” I do not mean this, the part about work, and the writers suspect as much. They say only “So, moving to sixth. Look at you.” But they know well enough what is what.

     I turn and begin packing and notice a large, thick folder at the side of my desk. “For Sarah” is written on the front. William again. He has left me his latest hummingbird notes, and judging from the heft of this package, he has outdone himself this time. I stop where I am. There is still the whole morning for packing.

     I pull out the sheets, and I see then they are more than just the usual notes. William has finished his work, he has left me his full report. “The Habits of Hummingbirds” appears on the first page, “Final Draft,” typed a few spaces below.

     I leaf through the sections I already know, the early notes William has left me, then stop when I come to his chapter on signs and symbols. He has added a few points I see, under the subhead “Lessons for the Human Among Us”:

     “Because the hummingbird is tireless, flying all day and into the night, it teaches steadiness of purpose.

     “Because it fiercely defends all that it owns and fights for what really matters—food, nest, its young—it demonstrates principle and courage.

     “Because it searches out nectar, stealing sips from the gods, it warns us to savor the moment.”

     And then William ends with one last point, which I think he must have ad-libbed. It is conspicuously missing its footnote.

     “Little known fact: The pattern in flight of the hummingbird’s wings is a sideways figure eight, the mathematical sign for infinity. It reminds us this is not all.”

Elizabeth Collison is the author of the novel Some Other Town (Harper Perennial) and has published short fiction in North American Review, The Barcelona Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.