I hadn’t planned on sharing the 650 square feet of space I called home. Andrew and I had reached the point in our dating life where he kept a spare toothbrush at my place and I had cleared out a shelf in my closet for him. I could barely fit all my shoes in the closet, so this was a sacrifice on my part.
Dovey didn’t move into the apartment. She and her mate Lovey took over the hanging basket on the balcony. When they first showed up, they strutted around cooing at the potted plants. They reminded me of an old married couple scouting out real estate, sashaying around wing to wing, nodding their little bird heads and inspecting the soffit for dry rot.
“They’re looking for a spot to nest,” Andrew warned me as I commented on how sweet they were.
“If they’re moving in, I guess I should name them,” I replied.
When I first settled in my apartment, I decided against owning a dog or a cat. The complex required one fourth of my salary for a pet deposit. And the additional pet fee with each rent payment would mean I might have to give up bathing, since I wouldn’t be able to afford the water bill while paying for a pet. I didn’t plan on adding any animals to my household, but a pair of mourning doves decided my place fit them just fine.
I discovered my home had passed the mourning dove inspection and Dovey had moved in when I went to water my petunias the next day. Even standing on tiptoe I couldn’t see past the flowers blooming in the pot, but with the first stream of cold water she burst forth, scattering blooms and whistling bird curses.
She perched on the gutter above my landing to shake off the water droplets, then roosted there to fix me with the stink eye. I took this opportunity to peek in the basket. A single white egg lay cushioned in a mashed down mat of limp petunias. Two twigs tossed to the side of the egg and some dried grass blades stuck on the edge of the basket made up what passed for a nest.
When I described the nest to Andrew, he told me that doves are bad builders. Dove are the trailer trash of the feathered world, living in what amounts to a tornado-ravaged mobile home.
“They’ll set up anywhere, and patch together the bare minimum for a nest. Most of the eggs drop right out.”
I was horrified, and glad Dovey had chosen the hanging basket for a nursery. After I apologized to the petunias for sacrificing them, I stopped watering the flowers.
Mornings I eased open the back door and announced my presence before I stepped out, so as not to startle the little bird.
“Okay, it’s just me. No reason to get scared, I’m coming out now.”
Sometimes a neighbor would pass by walking their dog, and give me a curious look as I stood there, poking my head out the door and warning the plants of my approach. I must have made an even odder sight a few days later, standing on a chair on the back porch and talking baby talk to the dead, wilted flowers in the hanging basket.
“Oh, what’s you got there? Is you got a baby?”
I would lean forward, toward the basket but not too close to the edge of the railing, since I am not known for my sense of balance.
Dovey puffed up and glared at me while trying to stuff the hatched chick back under her wing. I could understand why she tried to hide him. Every parent is proud of their child, but Baby looked like he was missing feathers from his scrawny neck. I did what most people do when confronted by someone else’s homely offspring — I lied and told Dovey what a cute chick she had hatched.
The first hatchling grew up and left the nest while I was out of town on a business trip. My neighbor Lisa kept me informed by text message. “B is out of the nest?! OMG! Cute!”
I was sad to have missed this baby’s first steps until Andrew reminded me most likely Dovey would be back. She returned, even though by this time the basket was bare dirt, with brown, withered stalks dropping off the sides. Dovey felt this was adequate, without adding twigs or grass to the nest inside.
This time there were two eggs, and I got to watch them from hatching to when they left the nest and spent three days stumbling around on my balcony like drunken sorority sisters. I read on the internet that dove fledglings “stay around hedges and bird feeders, begging for food from adults.” Sort of like human teenagers, I thought, hanging out in front of an open refrigerator and asking “What’s there to eat in here?”
After the second set of chicks moved on, I took down the hanging basket. I thought I had had enough of running a rookery, but Dovey had other plans. She and Lovey returned and placed a few dried blades of grass on top of an empty ceramic planter balanced at the top of a rickety wooden shelf on the corner of my porch and called it their new home.
“You will need to put that basket back up,” Andrew said.
Since I had already thrown away the old pot, there was only one thing to do. I went shopping, and returned with one of those coconut husk liners and an assortment of bright orange, artificial hibiscus flowers. Andrew and I lined the new basket with trimmings from the coconut fibers, carefully arranged the large fake flowers, and transferred the new nest to the balcony. This arrangement suited the happy couple, and soon after Dovey was raising another pair of chicks in the tropical atmosphere of the new pot.
Dovey left now and then, but she always came back to my balcony. She appeared to be satisfied sharing my porch. I was content too, living in a place where the fake flowers bloomed and I had room for most of my shoes, even if I had to share my closet space. At the end of summer Dovey took off for vacation. While she was gone, I planted a tiny American flag in the basket and added a small wooden plaque to welcome her return — one that read, “Home Sweet Home.”