Age: 14, Grade: 9
School Name: Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, NY
Educator: Michael Morse
Category: Short Story
Murder of Crows
The crows arrived when she did, painting the clear blue with smudges of feathers. She drove up in a yellow, rusting taxi; the windows dirtied with dead bugs and bird crap. A spider’s paradise. The trunk of the taxi was popped slightly, rattling against the bottom of the car as the wheels slid over the ratty dirt path leading up to our house. We all stopped our indoor activities to stand on the porch, the wood still wet from last night’s rain, like a row of misshapenly sewn together scarecrow. We wondered what she thought of us as she stepped out, boots sinking in the mud, clothes obscured by a long trench coat. We wondered if she noticed the way our courage shrank down comprised of just the four of us, the way we stood in a semicircle around our door, how we stood within reach of one another. We wondered if she noticed how we all had our mother’s eyes, except for Ren, whose eyes were made of metal. We wondered if she noticed our missing hearts.
She didn’t seem to see the crows as their shining, beaded eyes followed her up the path. She was carrying a suitcase with one hand, heroically dragging it through the mud while we, and the thousands of crows sitting atop the telephone wire, watched silently. We had never seen so many silken feathered beasts in one place since our mother died and compared the creatures with the loss of life. One let out a shrill sound; its companions followed until the warning of bells echoing through the woods.
“Hello, boys,” she called when she was halfway up the path. We didn’t reply, mainly because we didn’t know her name. “Could you tell me where Raymond is?”
Bram, the youngest, the kindest, who had been torn apart the least and was, therefore, Ren’s opposite, piped up and said he was inside. She thanked him, walking right through our protective circle, pulled a small key out of her pocket, and opened the door. We didn’t watch her, just kept our eyes trained on the crows. For a long while nothing happened. Then Ren, being Ren, the one who was the embodiment of our emotions, sang a low note. It wasn’t as much as a song as it was a scream and we winced in unison. The birds reacted by tossing back a coarser note and taking off, wings beating madly in time with our shattered hearts until there were four left, four who watched us with eyes that were our own until we all had enough and they left, leaving behind a shaking wire and a sky too beautiful for the kind of day we were experiencing.
We were reminded her name over a dinner of fish, a word we promptly forgot in an instant. Other, possibly more important, words were said but we let them side past us without a second thought. She had a wide smile, thick fingers, thin wrists, and the air of someone important. She felt like a replacement and we didn’t like her. Strangely enough, it seemed all creatures were drawn to her in the way moths were attracted to a flame. She held no care for animals and was in a constant battle with the neighborhood squirrels. Henry, boyish, mouthy, artificial sunshine, found the whole ordeal endlessly amusing; Bram wasn’t quite sure what to make of it; Ren just raged and raged until there was nothing to do but for the fire to burn itself out. We four decided unanimously the best course of action was to stay away from her, thus keeping Ren as far from her presence as possible. She didn’t seem to notice and neither did Raymond who would never again be our father and would instead be the shadowed figure who stood in our bedroom doorway, assuming we were asleep, making sure we were all still there. Was he afraid? Worried? Attempting a show of affection in the strangest way we thought possible? We all had our theories, each of which we kept private. Ren didn’t need any more fuel; Bram didn’t need another reason for waterfalls to be created.
Grief was a single-headed monster, taking the form of our mother on our worst days. On others, it was a murder of crows, Raymond, and, more recently, her. She swept into our lives like a tornado and we were certain she wouldn’t leave until the dust settled. So we swept and dusted and mopped but there was always one more speck of dirt that was the absence of our mother. A month after she arrived, we began to think of the woman who gave birth to us in singular forms. Bram remembered her heads kneading dough; Henry remembered her hair brushing the floor; Ren remembered her eyes, the only eyes that even came close to matching his furiosity. We all remembered her voice and her legs for she could dance and sing and hold the world on her shoulders. She conversed with the birds, was able to tranquilize the wildest of creatures with a single note. She had tethered Ren and we knew it was only a matter of time before he unraveled completely.
The crows returned every morning she was there, covering the wire and blocking the sun with their oily plumage. We would chase them off after breakfast only to repeat the action the next day. When had it come to this? We four, the great, the mighty, the loveless, chasing birds? A month turned into two, then three, the days looping together, seasons blending into one another, and then, all of a sudden, the rains returned and the ground was muddy and we all had the same dream of a yellow taxi pulling up front and changed our lives again. And we four—the broken, saddened, the liars—we four finally cracked.
We were hurricane and volcano and earthquake and tsunami and no one in our way stood a chance.
We were the boys who lost everything and gained nothing; the boys who refused to cry even when the rain could hide our tears; the boys who finally, finally, cleaned the dirt and the dust until sorrow made the house shine like gold. The rain returned, and the mud, and it washed her away in the same yellow, rusting taxi and covered up the tracks until all that remained was a year lost. We watched her go, standing in the same semicircle, this time with our hands clasped. We stood there until the sky grew dark and the first few stars speckled the sky and we all let out a collective breath we had been holding in for a year. The crows were nowhere to be seen.
A moment more passed until Ren spoke and the fires died and the heated metal of his eyes cooled. “She’s gone.” None of us had to ask who he was talking about. Then he began to sing and we danced in the rain, arms outstretched, drinking in the cool relief because the fire was gone and we could finally, finally, breathe.