ISSUE 3 • ARE WE THERE YET?
I admit I’m decently averse to travel. It took a great deal of thought and preparation for me to go to school in New York, which is only two and a half hours from my house. Now, with graduation looming, geography is constantly on my mind. I should go somewhere cool, but I don’t want to. But I should. I feel like the crow in my story. And the young woman.
Her favorite bird was the crow. There was one she liked to think of as her friend living in one of the high trees outside the church. He came out infrequently, only on the days during which he felt needed. He could sense the cool overcast days before they happened (because his small bones would ache) and knew he must show the world his face. He thought of himself as a Halloween decoration of sorts.
His eyesight was sharp, his brain quick, and on those spooky days he would rise at eight thirty and fly the couple dozen yards from his nest to the church bell tower. Perched on the tower, he waited 29 and three quarter minutes to begin his flight back across the church lawn to the nest. And every half hour until sundown, he flew back and forth between the bell tower and nest, pairing each flight with a string of caws, diverging from his straight path only to occasionally scoop up hovering insects. When perched on the tree, he could see the clock on the bell tower. When perched on the tower, he could hear the hourly chime. Thus, his flights were never late. He was a punctual crow.
On overcast Sundays, he saw her, a young woman with red hair, as she walked into the church for the eleven o’clock mass. She was always right on time, right on the hour, so she would catch him for his eleven o’clock flight. She would look up at him lovingly, a look he was not familiar with. No one looks at crows, let alone looks at them lovingly.
He felt important and handsome when she looked at him, so on overcast Sundays he would spread his wings wider and caw a bit louder and look down at her in return. He thought he loved her, so he started to come out more frequently—not just on overcast days, but on sunny days too—with the hope that she’d be there and look at him.
Every Sunday for four years she saw him and he saw her. Just a simple shared glance, but it was enough for the crow.
One Sunday in late May, he did not see her during his flight. It was five past eleven, and still nothing. No sign of the red haired young woman. At ten past, he became very anxious, so he did something he hadn’t done since he was a fledgling: he alighted on the ground. Because it was May and so very lovely outside, the church door was ajar. He crept inside to look for her. He walked up and down the aisles, glancing at every pew, sharing blank looks with churchgoers. His black beady eyes met with empty white eyes devoid of love or any feeling at all.
He flew up to the loft and perched on the organ, staring at the organist. The organist blinked twice, cowered, and played his fugue. The choir didn’t even see the crow.
The crow flew to the altar and landed on the lectern. He watched the congregation. The congregation looked down. So the crow hopped to the floor and walked down the middle aisle to the door.
He flew to the top of the bell tower and looked around. He could see the whole campus, but he saw no red.
The crow thought perhaps the young woman was sick. So the next Sunday, he resumed his regular flight pattern, hoping he would see her. He didn’t. He didn’t the next Sunday either. Or, the following Sunday.
Without her loving look, the crow saw no reason to fly. He began to spend days at a time in his cramped little nest, only creeping out for a morsel of food—perhaps a drowsy caterpillar on a nearby branch. At night the crow would whimper for the young woman and small tears would dimple his oily feathers.
Months went by and the crow aged rapidly. His feathers began to fall out and lost their sheen. He was thin and could hardly tiptoe out of his nest, let alone fly. He hated his life and the bitter world that ignored him day after day.
One day, he gathered his strength and stood up in his nest. His bones cracked and feathers fell as he opened his tiny beak to call out to the young woman, wherever she was. But his lungs were weak, his throat shriveled, and out came a caw of death, of pain, stagnation. Shrill, dry sobs, over and over, into a void.
But finally someone heard him. The sacristan rushed out of the church and looked up at the nest. The crow keeled over with exhaustion and fell to the ground. Satisfied, the sacristan walked back inside.
The crow thought he was dead and he was rather disappointed in the afterlife. Cold, hard, lonely, like the Earth. But what could he do? He lay there overnight.
In the morning, he saw the young woman standing over him with a man.
“You,” he croaked.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m back. We’re visiting.”
“Why did you leave me? Have you left the church?”
“No,” she laughed. “I graduated.”
“I waited for you for years.”
“A year,” she said.
“You should have followed me.”
“Why do you think you have wings? So you can fly across the same patch of lawn half hour after half hour?”