for the birds, this one

Fiction, 12/22/10

It was always at dusk that I saw them, flapping jet-black against a bruised purple sky. They were impossible to miss, I thought: tens of thousands of raucous crows winging it to the north end of the lake, darkening the horizon as they passed. Walking home, my path was the same as theirs—but theirs, as the crow flies, was a more expeditious route. They would roost in the tall evergreens near the slough and cackle with one another until the last shades of twilight gave way to night. One time I stopped and stared up at the crowns of these trees, waiting to see what all the racket was about. Cawing and chortling, the crows hopped amongst the uppermost branches, jockeying for position, it seemed like. When newcomers would alight on an already crowded tree, desirous of lodging for the night, they were immediately set upon by the vociferous tenants. Much arguing ensued, and the late arrivals usually ended up taking wing for less contentious digs. I watched all this from the side of the road until it became too dark to distinguish, from a distance, between the branches and the birds.

Later I fumbled with my keys in the darkness, holding each one an inch or so from my face. Finding the right one, I fitted it into the lock and turned the bolt, simultaneously turning the knob. The front door swung open and I heard my father’s voice. “Hey there, who is it?”

“It’s me, Dad.” I kicked off my shoes and headed toward the kitchen where he was reading the newspaper at the table. The house was cold; the heat, whenever it was turned on, never stuck around for long, it seemed, and that’s why we usually just kept it off.

His back to me, my father briefly glanced over his shoulder to register my arrival. “Back from work, I see. Anything noteworthy happen today?”

I proceeded to tell him about the crows: the staggering multitude of them, their congregations in the trees, the way they accompanied me home. “And you should hear them all at once! It’s like a ca-CAW-phony!”

“Har-har, I bet,” he said. “That’s wild, though—I’ve never really noticed how many there were.” I asked about his day at work, and all he said was, “I’m just glad to be home.” And that was that. I made myself a turkey sandwich and climbed the stairs to my room, where I assiduously lost myself in a book and fell asleep.

The crows followed me home every night. Or I followed them. During the day, their beady black eyes bore down on me from trees and telephone wires as I took the bike path over to the café. A fraction of them stayed in town while the rest dispersed to who knows where, but come dusk they would all flock back in droves. They seemed to have the run of the town, coming and going as they pleased, and I wondered why they chose this place over any other. There is nothing here, I thought one day, walking, as always, beneath their feathered pall. Certainly nothing to crow about.

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