05 May The Crow
It is forever grey here. Grey skies, grey ground; the whitewashed house your father left you on a famine road. Malnutrition: that sheet of dust on the cans in cupboards unopened these past few weeks. Apart from the house, he left no memory, no reliquary to know him by. He took the world in his passing and left you to wallow in the ascetic remains of his last days.
I noticed the crow upon my arrival. It hung lifeless over the old chicken pen, its feathers shimmering with petrolic opaqueness in the cruel August light. When I was a boy, my grandfather would shoot birds and gibbet them from the girders of the shed. The shed was empty now, a rusted skeleton standing tall and precarious by the ramshackle cottage.
“And what dyu plan on doing with that?” I turned to find the old man leaning on the garden wall, his wispy hair billowing about a ruddy pate.
“I’m not sure,” I said, nodding at the empty chicken pen. “Not much to guard around here, mind you.”
“There is not,” he said with the solemn reverence of a pastoral philosopher. “Still, I’d keep it up. They’re always around these parts. Even when there’s no food for us, there’s always food for the crow.” I threw another glance at the cadaver, noticing how fresh it was for the first time. It couldn’t have been more than two days old.
“Well,” he said with an abrupt stomp of his boot and a futile attempt at flattening his hair, “I’d best be on my way.”
“I didn’t catch your name.”
He looked at me with a mirthful eye, “It’s well I didn’t give it to you, John,” and took off down the road, leaving me to contemplate the garden wall. Different breed of humor out here. My grandfather told me that. Maybe that’s why I left the crow up.
By November I’d forgotten it completely. Its inky complexion had gradually drained, leaving nothing but a featherless grey husk, indiscernible from the dead fields and unloving sky.
I spent my days scanning through his old gardening books, searching for him in the crafts he loved and exhausting myself in the process. When listless I went for walks. Deserted paths of mud and stone, and raked telephone poles swaying in coastal winds.
The nights I spent with the bottle, watching my breath as I passed into sleep by the lifeless stove. I never went back into his room, though I kept the key for the outer lock in my pocket.
It was night when the scraping started. I sat and listened, wondering if there were rats in the walls. But these were not the scurried footfalls of vermin. This scrapping came in sets of three. It was a nagging kind of sound that roused me from my chair. Standing there, I heard the glasses in the press begin to hum. The sound moved through the room and off down the hallway, passing through the house in deafening waves. I stood in the doorway to the hall, listening to the rhythmic intensification of that terrible noise. The lightbulb had gone out. Feeling my way along the freezing walls, I noticed the sound begin to morph into an undistinguished vibration, a structural quaking from which I would have fled had it not been so hypnotically familiar. Then it happened, a horrible vertiginous shift. That sense of falling that shakes you awake as you lie on the precipice of sleep. A misplaced step, passing from the now into some terrible reverberant void. Stupid. Nothing but a forgotten stair at the end of the hallway leading to his room. The noise had dissipated, leaving me wrapped in an uneasy silence. Sitting there, wondering what it was that compelled me to go lurking about without a torch, I smelt something. This was not the mildew and dust that permeated the rest of the house, this was something different. Crouched in that impenetrable blackness, I smelt decay.
Wake in fright. A body reeling in shock from the kind of hangover that only 70cl of unmitigated self-loathing can supply steps sedately into the biting November wind. It is cold. Somewhere between the chattering of my teeth and the soft thud of pain in my skull was the scratching from the night before, playing over and over like some pernicious mantra, a nagging question you’re not sure you want to know the answer to. Dazed and barely awake, I found myself departing from my usual route, passing from the beaten path into one of those ever autumnal groves that seem to be dying all year round. It was only when I saw him that I realized what I was looking for. The old man stood waiting in the middle of the path.
“Hello,” he called out. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was gaunt. The hearty rouge had vanished from his cheeks and his eyes were now two sunken opals that stared out at me from their solitary chasms.
“Had any crows lately?” his voice was impatient, almost hostile.
The question had caught me off guard. It’s not every day that you consider how many crows you’ve seen.
“Well, no I’d…” but before I could finish, he took out a phone and began frantically jamming in a number as though he’d witnessed a serious accident, or a crime. Then he looked at me with a look of such sheer unbridled contempt that I began to step back.
“Is… Is everything alright?” Nothing. Not a word. He just stared at me with that vexed expression as I heard the dial tone started to ring.
“Hello?” without thinking, I took another step back.
“Stay where you are!” he bellowed. His voice burst forth with a sort of manic fury that sounded surreal coming from a man of his size.
The dial tone continued to ring.
“Who are you calling?” I could hear the desperation creep into my voice. He was silent. The dial tone rang again as I turned to leave. I could feel the gravel beneath my feet and the blood pounding in my head as I wondered just what the hell was happening. I heard the old man say “hello”, and I ran.
That night I dreamt of wings flapping in the dark. The door to his room stood open. I entered, the flapping growing more erratic with each step. I plunged my hands beneath the covers of his bed, feeling around for the terrified animal. Gripping it by the legs, I held the bird before me. The crow was dead. Its mouth hung loose and in that gaping maw I found screams that were my own. I awoke to knocking at the door as tears streamed down my face.
A priest stood tall and cassocked with clumped dead leaves underfoot and trickles of rain pouring off his galero. He beamed at me with cold blue eyes.
I felt obliged to fumble an explanation, “You must be here to see my f—“
“I’m here to see you.” His face seemed almost geological in nature. A stone shaped by time: uncaring, unmoving and infinitely patient. Unsure of how to respond, I stepped aside and watched him trail water across the mud-caked linoleum.
“Me?” Feeling a little ungracious, I offered him a seat and got to work making tea. “It’s funny; the last person I’d expect to see here is a priest, especially for myself.” He didn’t respond. Instead, I heard the scratching again. It was clearer now: a lone nail dragging across wood.
“When did you join the parish? I didn’t know they were taking new priests.” Again, nothing. The scratching noise grew. I could feel it tear along the nerve endings of my spine. A deep lobotomal scraping, impossible to ignore. I turned to find him in the same spot, standing quiet and serene. I motioned him to take a seat.
“So why are you here?” I asked, trying my best to sound cheerful.
He took an indulgent drink and stared at me with eyes that sucked you in and left you hollow, “I could ask you the same thing.”
Unsure of what he meant, I asked “I mean why did you come to see me, Father?”
He was silent, staring out the window with those eyes that pin and catalogue, “I see you’ve taken it down.”
“Taken what down, Father?”
“The crow, of course.” I looked out the window and saw the severed rope, swaying unburdened in the breeze.
“How did you know about that?” I feigned a chuckle, hoping to cover up my agitation.
“You can see it from the road.” He turned back to me with that agonizing glare.
I gave another nervous laugh. “I didn’t know you’d been here before.”
“I’ve always been here. Same as yourself.” His gaze was unbearable. Looking away I felt like an infant, a child in my father’s home. I wanted to apologize without knowing why.
“Is there anything else I can get you, Father?” I gazed down into my teacup, wriggling under that malignant stare.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I saw the smile drop from his visage.
“Forgotten what, Father?” my words sounded more like an appeasement than a question.
“Why you’re here.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. I found myself tongue tied around an urge to say sorry, sorry, forgive me, please. I wanted to leave; leave him, leave the house. The thought made me feel stupid. In place of an answer I filled my mouth with tea.
He continued to stare, his blank face slowly morphing into a scowl.
I could feel my chest constrict. “Known what, Father?”
“You’ve known.” He leaned forward. His face filled my vision, eclipsing my mind’s eye.
“No. No I don’t, I—I haven’t”.
“Yes you have you little cunt!” he shouted, gnashing his teeth on the hard T.
His words wrapped around my throat. I wanted to beg him but nothing came out. I felt the wall against the back of my chair.
“You’ve known.” He stood up. My eyes glanced frantically to the door.
He loomed, a great figure in black. I wanted to shield myself, but all bodily urges were overridden by an unrelenting paralysis. My mind began to leave itself as he rounded the table. It looked down at me, distancing itself from the terrible scene until he knelt down, looked me in the eyes and with a smile of pure contempt, delivered his sentence: “You know what you’ve done.”
I felt his breath upon my face and his hand tighten around my shoulder as I desperately fought to block out the scraping that was coming from my father’s bedroom door.
Bio: John Creevy, Meandering graduate. Unknown and unpublished. Happy to work for pints on tap though prefers money when possible.