Tag Archives: crows

There Are Too Many (Part 3)

The final installment. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

“Fuck off!” He yells this louder than he’s yelled in a long time. He hasn’t emptied his lungs out like that since…when? Was it the time he and his father fought about him using the pickup truck without their permission? His father had checked the mileage on a hunch and so had tangible proof, but still Reynold denied it. He’d screamed at his father, trying to get him to let him out of the corner he’d lied himself into. His father had responded with silence that only escalated Reynold’s volume. Was it when Jenny told him she was pregnant? He had hooted and hollered, thrown his fists in the air and jumped around like a maniac, slowing only to approach her and reach for her belly, still small then. He’d gotten real quiet, stooped against her and he swore to her he could hear its heartbeat. She’d laughed and said, Impossible! But he’d believed it, right then and there, with her fingers in his hair and the phantom heartbeat coming from her stomach he’d declared, “I’m the luckiest man.”

Now, in the yard, he feels small just like his father looked moments ago. There is the slumping over that he feels now has been approaching him all his life, pausing only to let him believe he was destined for good things. He takes off his father’s shoes that are too small for him and stands in the yard, feeling the cold wet of the winter ground soak up through his socks. The string on his sweatshirt is uneven and the left side hangs down near his waist, he can feel his nose beginning to reach the brink of dripping, and he thinks about how you never stop feeling like a child, no matter how high you count each year. He is not a man equipped to raise a child, and he wonders if it is something you are only ready to do because you are doing it, like going over the edge of slope for the first time on skis that feel too separate from your feet to be safe. He trails mud up the walkway toward the house. He supposes he will never know.

The house smells like something baking. As he removes his socks, heavy and dark with moisture, he pretends it is Christmas morning and that the house is full of people upstairs and in the kitchen, that he has taken a moment to himself but will soon be immersed in a presence other than the rising raucous of birds behind him.

The lights are off in the kitchen, as is the oven, but his mother has left two boxes of cereal and a bowl out for him. There is a Dollar General candle burning on the table that lives up to its label marked “Christmas cookie.” He fills his fist with Fruit-Os and heads back upstairs.

“They’re still out there.” Reynold’s mother comes out of her bedroom to tell him. She has begun applying her makeup, but she’s only slathered on the foundation, and her eyes sink beneath the pale. He feels as though he should reach out for her, as though she might crumble underneath at any moment.

“Yeah, just give me a minute. I need new socks,” he says with the cereal in his mouth.

She looks down at his bare feet, sighs. “There should be some old ones in one of them drawers.”

He digs around for a while, forgetting his original mission for socks. He finds the knife he sent off four Copenhagen tobacco labels to get when he was a kid. His dad quit chewing when his mother swore she’d never kiss him again if he didn’t quit. That summer the dentist yanked two of his molars and he never touched the stuff again. There are pieces of candy left over from countless Halloweens, old patches from Boy Scouts, his grandfather’s dog tags, an empty pack of Camels from back when they could still advertise to kids. He remembers the socks, which are pushed almost all the way in the back of the drawer, except there’s something else back there. He pulls the drawer to the point of falling out, and sees the red tissue paper lining the Lady Fingers. Behind those are four Black Cats, as big as pencils.

Reynold grabs them in his fists, cupping them like water. He rushes back down the stairs, past his mother and into the living room where his father keeps the long matches next to the fire place. The amount of crows seems to have grown in size, the tree limbs visibly bend toward the ground, threatening to break. You could probably hear their strain if it weren’t for the calling of all those birds. Their feathers are shiny; they look dipped in oil and Reynold fantasizes that he could catch them all into one fire that would explode into the sky like a flare, telling every crow everywhere that they are not wanted here. This is not a place for them to live, to feed, to make their noise.

Reynold does not notice that his feet are freezing against the ground, still littered in places with dirty snow and melted snow that has frozen again overnight. No, his senses are well occupied with the sound of all those crows and the smell of the matches that he is lighting, one after the other. The Lady Fingers are small and crack apart when he throws them into the air. The first few rows of birds scatter, but the top rows ignore him like they ignored his father. He is no longer angry; there is nothing but the sizzle of the Black Cats, the light of the sparks spewing from their ends, the flapping of wings, the whooshing that he can’t tell if it is coming from all of the crows as they fly away or the branches as they sway and bounce and settle amongst each other again, now a little lower, a little more bent and crooked, a tree that has been used and tried and affected. He has scared the crows off for now, and though his left arm is bleeding from where a spark has burned him badly, he is elated seeing the shadow of the tree against his parents’ yard with the details of its branches instead of one large shadow, foreboding. The neighbor’s wife peeks out the window that’s supposed to resemble the tiny round windows at the bottom of a ship and Reynold waves. He begins to feel the cold in his toes, except for in his pinky toes that have gone numb.

There Are Too Many (Part 2)

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.

There Are Too Many

Part I

Reynold stayed the night at his parents’ house because his father has gotten too old, too bent and crooked to cut firewood himself. He does not live with them, not since – and he would say this proudly – he was seventeen. He moved out with a trash bag full of clothes into his very first apartment, Mrs. Stone’s basement six houses down. Now he’s got his own house two towns over that he built himself, too big now without Jenny there anymore.

It’s barely six am when the crows outside his window start their calls. It starts in the background of the dream he’s having – something about a bump under Jenny’s dresses and a look in her eyes he remembers her having – and then his eyes are open and he’s wishing they weren’t. He shuts them again, squeezing tight and pulling back the dream images that have already begun to dull and look away and shut their eyes right back at him. Those damn crows keep calling.

The next sounds he hears, of his father getting ready in the next room, are familiar in sequence but not in pace. The shuffling of feet and the buzz of the electric razor Reynold got him for his birthday years before seem to move forward without decision. Reynold wonders if his father’s replaced the blade since he got it.

The crows call louder, trying to get his attention again, to remind him why he’s got his eyes open instead of closed, enjoying the way Jenny’s belly looked once upon a time all rounded like that, all promising. He moves the curtain to see where they’ve gathered, and the elm tree that was bare just last night is solid black with birds, standing there like replacement soldiers for the leaves.

The sight is scary, but Reynold is not scared. He waits for his father’s descent on the stairs, the click of the deadbolt they added last year when the Bergmans’ came home to a kid with a knife in their bedroom, and the start of his pickup to clear them out. He stares at the birds, waiting for the satisfactory dispersal.

“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. After a moment, Reynold hears the pickup truck start, watches it drive down the street away from him.