After the car accident, my daughter Anna starts bringing home dead things that she finds on the ground. Dandelions. Bugs. At first I don't mind so much, in fact, I display the death proudly. Fasten colored leaves to the refrigerator with magnets and place limp flowers in vases around the house. Anna pins a wooly moth on to my bulletin board, next to a baby picture of her in front of fake clouds.
"Looks like he's flying," I say.
And she flaps her arms around the kitchen.
Then a few days later, Anna carries home a dead bird. Finds him on the sidewalk with his beak pointing to the sky.
"I couldn't just leave him there," she says to me as the animal tumbles out from her t-shirt onto the kitchen floor. She plops down on her knees to get a closer look and I quickly tug her back by her sleeve. There are two empty eye sockets in the bird's head. His legs are rigid and matted with dirt. Reminds me of one of Anna's toys. A stuffed animal left outside in the rain.
"Sweetheart, he's dead," I say to Anna as I calm the static in her hair, raking through the tangles with my hand. "You can't be doing this no more, okay?" I scoop the bird up with a dustpan and set it out on the porch.
Anna nods and scrapes at an ankle with her nail.
We are the only two at the bird's funeral. I tell Anna to pick out a spot in the back yard to bury the bird, and she points to an area next to our garage. Everything in the yard looks abandoned. Bed sheets dangle from the clothesline. A beach toy sits deflated on the grass. A collection of perfectly matching lawn chairs are arranged in a circle, but nobody is sitting in them.
"Have you thought about what you're going to say?" Anna asks as we walk towards the garage. "When we bury the bird, you have to say something nice about him." She grabs my hand with her tiny fingers and they wrap between mine. I feel the softness of her child skin.
It hadn't occurred to me. I didn't even know the bird. Didn't know his likes, dislikes. Where he spent most of his time. The only observation I could make from the sight of him is that the bird had reached the end. That he was born, had experienced his short bird life and then died. Similar to people.
"I think his family will miss him," I say.
"Like the boy from the car accident?" she says.
"Yeah," I say, "I suppose so."
For two weeks I had been trying to forget the boy and the way his body twisted after he was thrown from his bike. I wanted to bury the scene in the back of my head like I wanted to bury the bird in the earth, where the world is permeable. Where objects tend to disappear, like garbage or gum or small pieces of animal. But in my mind, I can't dispose of a thing. Thoughts can sit for days and days until they fade away for a bit, then come back to me when I don't expect them.
"It's possible the bird didn't have a family," I say. "Maybe he never knew his parents. Maybe he was an orphan bird, or an only child."
We both claw at the ground until we make a hole big enough for something small and dead. It takes us two attempts to get the size right. We try our best to keep the hole as tiny as possible.
When I'm upstairs washing the dirt off my hands, I hear Anna in her room trying to describe death to her doll Juliet. I bought Juliet at an estate sale two years ago for Anna's fourth birthday. She came with a white lace hat, wooden clogs and an embroidered blue dress that looked too small for her hollow ceramic body. And according to Anna, Juliet is claustrophobic, which she pronounces clustobic. "Being in the closet makes her nervous," she always tells me. "She doesn't like car rides either."
The only time I had held Juliet was during the walk home from the sale. For seven blocks I held her in one arm like I had cradled Anna for the first time in the hospital. A person so delicate and fresh. And in the doll's case, a thing once old and now new. Aging, from that moment on. Unintentionally.
I listen to Anna through her bedroom door, talking to Juliet in a gentle voice.
"Death is when something stops working," she says and claps her hands together to make a loud slap. "Just like that. With no warning!"
Juliet is at the table when I bring dinner out from the kitchen. Anna has positioned her in her own chair, on top of some couch pillows so she can see over her own plate.
Anna likes how Juliet's eyes rattle when she flips her upside down and right side up again.
She picks her up while she's chewing and does this repeatedly to annoy me.
"I think that chair is too big for Juliet," I say. "We should probably buy her a smaller one. With a table and tea set that's more her size, don't you think?"
All the windows are open in the dining room. It's humid. The grease around Anna's nose is shiny, almost runny. I reach across the table to try and wipe it off with my napkin, but instead I spread the glow to her cheeks.
"No, she likes this chair," Anna says as she places Juliet back on the pillows. She fixes the bottom of her dress to create a steady ruffle. "Other chairs are too small. She won't even sit in other chairs, only this one."
I think about the morning of the accident and how Anna placed Juliet on the recliner before leaving for school. She left the television on for her, claiming that Juliet loves watching cartoons. I argued. Dolls don't understand TV, I said, you're wasting electricity. As we pulled out of the driveway, I imagined Juliet sitting legs-crossed, lifeless, in front of a blinking screen that was trying to speak to her about life. Unable to sigh or laugh, with her perfectly drawn-on doll face, at the infomercials or the Spanish soap opera about a woman who falls in love with her gardener.
I squint and take a bite of my potato.
In the kitchen a magnet slides off the refrigerator and hits the floor. It is the only sound that the house makes at that moment. I look in the direction of the noise to find a dried leaf torn in half, jagged, as if two collarbones were lying side by side together on the tile.
That night I find Anna sprawled on her back with Juliet in the road outside our house. Her arms and legs are flat against the pavement, and Juliet's eyelids are flipped shut. The neighborhood is quite and the sky is starless. The light from a single streetlamp creates a rectangular shape around their bodies.
I stand over Anna. I ask her if this is how she found the dead bird, lying on its back like this. My hand is out in front of me, hoping that she will grab it. I put it there without thinking, instead of scooping her up or yelling at her or telling her that it's sometimes okay to do things without thinking.
But Anna just lies there. From this angle I notice how her hair swelled upon the pavement.
"This is how the boy was lying," she says, "after the car hit him. Except his arms were bent all funny, remember?" She demonstrates by coiling an arm into a hip. Her hands curl into distorted fists.
I want to tell her to stop, but instead I say her name. "Anna," I say.
She stares up at me. Her eyes are big and fluttering. She tells me that Juliet is feeling claustrophobic. That the outside is getting too dark to see how big it really is.
I try to look further into the neighborhood. Into the houses of families who live on our block. But all I can see is the curb and the street and parts of our selves within this outline of light. An impermanent small room of heads and feet.