When I was nine I moved to a small village in the Borders of Scotland where I knew no one besides my elderly parents. In my loneliness I discovered a nearby farm and loitered outside the gates until Chrissie, the farmer, invited me in. I began to help her feed the hens, tend the sheep. Soon, too, I took care of the pigeons. Carrier and racing pigeons, tired or lost, would land on the low slate roof of the barn. These birds were recognisable because of their plump, handsome plumage and their ringed legs. They were tame and, in their fatigue, easy to catch, both for me and the farmyard cats.
I kept them in a hut, theoretically until they were well enough to continue their journey but sometimes they stayed longer. I came to think of them as pets and believed that they reciprocated my affection, an attitude reinforced by my weekly visits to church where, in the stained glass window, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove.
But one day I arrived at the hut to find that my favourite pigeon had no eyes; the other birds had pecked them out. A few months later I took home a fledgling I was rearing and kept it in a cage in the garage. The young bird-it still had yellow down mixed with its feathers-soon learned to recognise my step and come to my call. One morning on my way to school I discovered it headless. A cat had passed by.
In Jesseca Ferguson’s eerie birds I recognised at once the pigeons of my youth, not the dove of peace benignly descending but something cruel, shifty, and utterly nonhuman.
Margot Livesey is the author of a collection of stories and four novels, the most recent of which is Eva Moves the Furniture (Henry Holt, 2001). She is a Writer in Residence at Emerson College and has also taught at Boston University, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the University of California at Irvine. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. (updated 2003)