I first noticed the feathers three days before my mother’s death. They were dark grey, fluffy and very soft. About ten of them were strewn around her head when I opened the curtains. She seemed unsurprised to see them; she just ran one gently across her lips. ‘Larus dominicanus: seagull’, she said and smiled. I smiled too, even in her last days, exhausted by endless pain, my mother was still an ornithologist.
The next morning the feathers were all over the room: not just down but also contour feathers and the long straight flight remiges. After I had cleaned up I tried to ask what had happened but between the morphine and the pain she didn’t seem to understand me. Instead she loosely mumbled about avian dreams: endless flights in lonely clear skies; diving through the sea mists above crashing rocks; surfing the wind of a tropical storm. I knew then her death was near, such sentimental flights of fancy were most unlike her.
On the third morning I found the last feather: A single, pure white basal rectrix: a flight feather from the tail. She looked quietly happy lying in bed with the feather clasped in her right hand above the coverlet – it was some time before I realized she was dead.