She collected pigeon feathers, one from every species known. She had collected pigeon feathers ever since she was a little girl, ever since that fateful January day at the bus stop. Gertrude and her mother, Sue, had been sitting on the drilled in bus benches. Pigeons pecked the ground with their little beaks, bobbing their heads as they scuttled about in that funny pigeon way. No two pigeons were the same: that was the first thing Gertrude had noticed. She noticed that not all the pigeons had purple and blue feathers that shown prettily in the sunlight. Some pigeons were not even blue. She had asked her mother why that was and her mother said because not all the pigeons had mommies and daddies with shiny purple and blue feathers.
And at that point Gertrude scooted her little butt off the drilled benches onto the pavement. The sudden motion of her feet hitting the ground startled the pigeons into flight and dozens of tiny feathers drifted in their wake. Gertrude caught one before it hit the ground. It was the size of her thumbnail and the color of lavender. She inspected it briefly before snatching another and another and in her zeal to take them all she tottered into the street.
Sue screamed and little Gertrude turned about just as the screeching car knocked her high into the air and she fell into a pool of blackness. She woke to be paralyzed from the neck down.
But that was years and years ago and Gertrude had thus dedicated her life to collecting pigeon feathers. And this day she would have the four-hundred millionth pigeon feather. It would be shipped to her. And she would have Sue fill the last little rectangular space on the wall of what the family had come to call the pigeon room.
Gertrude now sat in her wheel chair admiring her almost complete collection. There came a ringing from the front door. Sue wheeled Gertrude to the entryway, for they both knew what and who awaited, the postman with the four-hundred-millionth feather. Gertrude’s father was already at the door accepting the package. Sue and Gertrude waited patiently as Robert signed the form the postman presented and sent the fellow on his way. The front door creaked and swung heavily to a close. Robert looked at his wife and daughter briefly before hosting up a blowtorch and setting the package on fire. Sue and Gertrude screamed.
“What are you doing?” Sue croaked. She rushed towards her husband, but the crime was already committed. The package fell to the floor, and there was the sound of glass breaking as mother stomped out the flames. She dug through the mess but the feather was already among the ashes.
“Why?” Sue demanded.
“What will she seek when it is done?” Robert asked. “Order it again if you wish, but know that I will just take another from the wall and when you have replaced that one I will take another. You cannot collect them as fast as I can destroy them. You will live Gertrude. You will continue to live to search.” And with that he walked up the stairs, leaving his wife and daughter to sob quietly in the entryway.
Day by day Gertrude stared at that blank spot of wall. She read off the names of the pigeons over and over. It took her hours to read them off. She had read them so many times that her eyes hardly passed over the word it was more the act of reciting than actual reading. She could not take it. The wall would never be completed. Sue would often visit, try to comfort here, perk her interest in other things to collect. Rock perhaps? But Gertrude’s heart was set on Pigeon feathers and she would never have them all.
One day Gertrude stopped visiting the pigeon room. That one black space seemed impossibly huge to her. The room felt empty and pointless and so she did not return to it. There was nothing that interested Gertrude now that she would never finish her Pigeon collection. Using the eye tracking device specially crafted for her condition, Gertrude communicated to her mother to secretly order the last feather again, have it delivered to a friend’s mail box. And even as this thought occurred to Gertrude, she knew that it would never be enough. It was not enough to simply have the feather. She had to fill that impossible space on her wall, but she knew the moment that she did her father would take another feather and there would be another space and the wall would never be complete.
At last she came to her father, and using the eye tracking machine she spoke to him in the downloaded voice of a thirty year old woman.
“Please, father,” Gertrude communicated via downloaded voice. “There is no point to me if I cannot have the completed collection on the wall. I will not seek to fill the space if you are just going to destroy another feather. I will not seek for anything. I will not speak to you ever again. I will not look at you. I leave this house and live on the streets, amongst the pigeons. If you do not let the collection be complete, you will never see me again. But if you do, I promise I will stay, and I will live to find something else, but you must let this be done.”
And Robert sat and sat and said nothing and just as Gertrude was about to leave to make do on her promise, her father at last spoke: “Alright. You may have the last feather. I can see that you are not happy. But I will watch you, and if you do not strive for something else I will begin to destroy the feathers.”
And with that Gertrude told the news to her mother and at last returned to the Pigeon room. The last feather remained in its package. Gertrude had not been able to bring herself to have it opened. But now, that she stared at the last space, she was ready to see it, ready to have the gaping hole filled.
She heard her mother enter the room and the anticipation of the collection at last being complete tickled her brain, the most highly functioning organ of her body.
Sue knelt before Gertrude and opened the fist-sized paper package to reveal the last feather, black as midnight. It was of a feather from the English Trumpeter. Gertrude had thought she’d leave that one for last, as it was her favorite. Her mother held the glass framed feather before Gertrude’s eyes for one full minute before filling the last empty space on the wall of the pigeon room. Her footsteps echoed as she left Gertrude to admire her life’s work. And on that day Gertrude’s picky toe twitched.