In a sheltered glade surrounded by tall oak trees, there lived a small red cardinal. He was a young bird, inexperienced to the hardships of the wild. He spent his mornings stuck in a revelry, thinking of what could be, what has been, and what might change.
And so, he spent his days flitting from tree to tree, branch to branch, morning sun rise to night fall moon. One day, the butter yellow sun heaved its way to midday. The cardinal awoke on the branch of a linden tree, having traveled almost more than a fortnight in a panic. He was weary of his journey, and now, was at peace knowing the invisible wolves, forest fires, and eagles were behind him.
He was determined to rest and prepare his strength for the next journey, as he deemed to never stay idle in one place for long. The cardinal did a lazy circle over a nearby pond, his auburn wings a rusted color with the markings of life. But then, what it this? The cardinal chirruped in surprise! His wings seem to weaken, and with a sudden pause in flight, they faltered. He circled down with a crash before the striking figure below.
A young, almost steel brown cardinal sat at the edge of the veridian green pond. She lay idle, peering closely at the koi and fairies that danced and flickered just below the surface. Her gaze never seemed to leave that pond, even as the male cardinal approached timidly.
He spent hours creeping to her side, until finally with a great release, he sat a mere inch from her. He was overcome with intense love and adoration for this mysterious companion.
For the next four months, he reveled in her company. By morning he brought fresh, plump earthworms, by midday shining bejeweled beetles, and by night a succulent blueberry. All these gifts he left by her side, to which they disappeared by from the time of his return, after his nightly departure.
She remained still, unable to communicate to him her gratitude with chirps of happiness. However much this bothered him, the male cardinal would forgive her as the comforting warmth of her feathers in the sun pressed into his own. This would change too soon in the coming winter.
The red cardinal, in a slow turn of events, noticed the coldness settle in his young lover. Her complexion no longer glowed under downcast clouds, her black eyes seemed glazed over with ice, and the warmth he once felt, now bit him with a sharpness too great to bear. His love waned, not absent, but weaker than before. Truly, the coming of a harsh winter brought out an even harsher side to the steel brown cardinal.
He spent those mornings instead eating dried tree bark, midday dead leaves, and by nightfall the fallen husks of pinecones. He no longer left her presents, as she did not seem to need or ask for them. His visits, once hours or all of the time, now became checkups, amounting to minutes a day. One day, these minutes ceased to exist.
The male cardinal mourned, until the coming of spring awakened in him a notion of fresh beginnings. He missed the young lover and vowed to renew his love and rest by her side once more. He adorned his feathers with insulating tree sap, in order to brave the coldness of her body in preparation for any winters to come. Flying to the pond, the gales of his heart soared seeing her once more.
This temporary feeling soon came to a sinking dread. Peering at the female cardinal, his eyes rested on a large crack on her side. Why, she was no living cardinal at all! She was a marble statue, stained deep brown with the harsh environment of the forest. He cried out at this realization, loud shrill chirps that echoed for miles.
He sat perched for a while, recollecting fondly the good and difficult months he had loved this figure. From first sight to now, he still loved her, and wondered at what he would do with his life now. Before flying off into uncertainty, he hopped closer to say his final goodbyes.
To his pleasant surprise, the cardinal looked closer at what looked to be a living, growing thing inside the open crack of her chest. He let out a wail of bittersweet delight. The marble statue, so cold, so warm, so constant in his life, had harbored the growth of a delicate red poppy. Her heart had yearned and loved his own all these years, protecting the flower in the brightness of the sun, to the weathered cold of winter. The red cardinal’s heart grew, knowing she had always loved him, and indefinitely, always would.