Part 2 (Ending of part 1 revised a bit)
“Hey!” His father stands at the base of the tree, waving his arms above his head, looking smaller than all those birds together above him. Some of them stare down at him as though trying to interpret his dance, but most of them ignore him, their calls drowning out his curses.
Reynold watches as his father’s arms slow their paddling. The desperation eases and turns into slow sporadic movements. It looks for a moment as though he is just swatting at a bee flying too close. Reynold has seen people give up before – the recognizable stoop of the shoulders as though something has been placed atop, the almost visible effort behind each step and subsequent motion trailing behind like a dust cloud in a cartoon. That is what he sees in his father as he aborts his mission and returns to his pickup. The engine screeches; Reynold remembers a mention of a new starter, remembers ignoring it, and watches the pickup drive down the street away from him.
The birds, emboldened by their victory, seem to get louder in the moments Reynold remains on his twin bed with his head against the window. The glass, cold and dirty, fogs with his breath, turning the mass of crows into a gray rain cloud.
“Renny.” His mother has to say his name three times before he hears her. She won’t open the door until he invites her to, and he pretends that he’s still asleep. She says his name again and the way it sounds against the calls of the birds, he feels guilty for his lie.
“Yes?” He almost has to yell.
She opens the door barely an inch, as though she’s afraid the mass of birds with their noise is waiting for her on the other side. She opens the door the rest of the way and stands there holding her gray robe against her small frame. Reynold wonders how she ever carried him around for nine months, let alone after he was born and growing.
“Go out and help your father, will you?” she asks, scratching her ankle with the toes on the opposite foot. She adjusts the sock so they are uneven and something about the way she looks like that keeps Reynold from telling her that his father’s already left.
“Yeah,” he says. She smiles at him the same way she smiled when he told her he was moving out, the same way she smiled when he showed up the first night Jenny was gone, the same way she smiles when his father says something unintentionally mean to her.
“Thanks,” she says. “I don’t want him out there yelling, waking up all the neighbors.”
Reynold pulls his coat on over the sweatpants and sweatshirt set his mother gave him for Christmas. The clothes aren’t particularly warm, but they are soft, which is its own comfort in the cold. His father’s newer work boots that he refuses to wear until his old work boots disintegrate where he stands stand guard near the front door. Reynold steps into them, his toes scrunching against the curved front of the boot that comes just a half size too soon.
The front door is unlocked, and he takes care to not slam it behind him. The crows’ yelps and caws are another presence in the yard. He wonders why no one else has come to see how to get rid of them, and the task feels much too big for him all of a sudden.
There they are before him, roughly equidistant from his ears, but they inhabit all of the distances, volumes and ranges he feels capable of hearing. There is a steady background cawing that reminds him of what his mother still believes is the ocean in the conch shell from Florida that she bought at a yard sale. It says Daytona in multiple florescent shades on it, and he’s caught her several times just sitting in her chair with the shell pressed up against her cheek with her eyes closed.
That is just the background noise of them. In the middle there is a heartbeat of caws, and he can feel the ebb, the overlapping of where a group of calls end and the next begins. Then there is the front sound, the percussion, the drum major with his perfect rhythmic marking of the full and half beats. Reynold remembers ROTC, the feel of the wooden stick in his hand shaved down to look like a rifle, painted white like the ones the girls in the color guard threw into the air during half time. Reynold had wanted to quit the ROTC the year after Brian Golden shot the better part of his ear off with his gun and the school district voted to immediately replace the real guns with their just as heavy but humiliating equivalents. His father, shaken by Reynold’s mother’s insistence that that boy was trying to kill himself, wouldn’t hear of it, and Reynold had to march around the school’s gymnasium with that harmless piece of tree.