The Hummingbird's Anti-Torpor
WITH WHAT speed this little bead-size heart palpitates, so quickly it cannot even be felt or heard, so quickly it could be measured not in beats per minute but hertz. With what speed these two dream-thin wings thrash at the staleness of this air, quicker than eyesight but too slow to keep the hummingbird airborne for long. With what chaos these little eyes absorb the world and seem to understand none of it. What an anti-torpor here, the retired veterinarian thinks, his hands, barnacled by arthritis, cupping a body of such heat squatting between palm-streaked lifelines and nearing death or immortality. He mixes sugarwater and the hummingbird dives in and drinks from the inside-out until it is nothing more than a blue-gray buckshot of energy. And when that is gone, it hovers back to the veterinarian’s hand, black stop of an eye asking. He prepares another bowl and thinks there is no state opposite of hibernation—the antonym is merely the state of being awake. And the antonym of life is death, but this is a deeper state, one without ending. No longer life. He asks: How do I find that place, that changed phase? The hummingbird swallows a third bowl of sugarwater and wraps itself in its wings and nestles into the veterinarian’s hands. And then, slowly, the hummingbird leaks water out its mouth and from beneath its wings, the outflow spreading until it turns itself inside-out with a murky loch, until it drains between the veterinarian’s fingers and over the palmed bowl, until there is nothing more in the room but the damp veterinarian with his hand over his weakened heart and a vibration, a low-hertz tone that reminds him of waterfalls, makes him close his eyes and slip sugar cubes beneath his tongue.
Joel Hans has published stories in Redivider, Nashville Review, Pear Noir!, Necessary Fiction, and more.
He is currently working on a novel about a man who composes epitaphs with an algorithm
and extracted final thoughts.