Corbie

Corbie

I don’t recall my nest very well, but I do remember falling out of it. My wings flapped, but I still hit the ground with a thump, right on my back. I gasped for breath, clawing for air, and finally I was able to call up to the nest. I cawed and cawed until I grew hoarse, but my parents didn’t come.

Then I heard a soft voice say, “What’s wrong with…oh.” Gentle hands picked me up. The woman had long black hair, almost like feathers, and she carried me inside. Her nest seemed enormous–a long room, with white walls and a floor that looked like the wood of a tree, but it slipped and slid under my feet. One back corner was walled off for bathing, and the other housed something called a sink, with cabinets all around it. She set me there and gave me a bowl of water, which I stuck my beak into right away.

“I guess I’d better find out what you eat,” she said. She walked over to what I later learned was a desk, with a computer.

“Google says you eat peanuts, Corbie,” she informed me before long, and she opened a bag and scattered the nuts on the counter. Only I didn’t know how to eat them. I pecked and pecked, but I couldn’t find any food. So, she cracked them open and cut them into slivers, and I gobbled up the pieces. I liked peanuts. And later, I also liked hamburgers and hot dogs and potato chips. And pizza and fruit out of a can.

All the food came in a can or a bag or a box. A knock would sound at the door, and a voice would say, “Delivery for Tica Bokor.” Then she would bring the boxes inside, and we would eat.

The computer was very important. I wasn’t allowed to perch on it, or she would chase me with a broom. She’d bring it out if I tried to walk on her bed, too, so I left it alone.

One day she brought a big box inside and cut the cardboard off. The box held a metal chair, and she said it was for me. She put the cardboard underneath and set it by the desk. Sometimes she would read to me while I perched on the back of it. I didn’t understand the stories, but I liked to listen to her voice.

Tica almost never left her house. She bathed there, worked on the computer, ate her food and slept there.

She had a thing she called a phone, and I liked it, but I left it alone because I didn’t want her to swing the broom at me. The phone would ring, and every time she would grab it eagerly and say, “Hello.” Then her face would scrunch up. She would talk to the person, and afterward she would cry.

“I keep hoping it’ll be Jared,” she explained when I hopped over to investigate. I would caw and dance around, and sometimes she would cheer up. But other times she would bring up a picture on the computer and cry some more. It was always the same man, tall and dark-haired. I stared at his face—if I ever saw him at our house, I would caw at him and drive him off. Just his image made Tica sad, especially when she saw a picture of him with another female.

One day a box arrived, and she took out a white thing that covered her face. I didn’t like it. I hopped to her shoulder and tried to peck it off.

“Hey, stop that,” she said. “It’s a mask. And I have to wear one if I go outside. I don’t want to catch Covid.”

But she still hardly ever went out. Just once, after a storm, she brought in a branch that had fallen. She hammered it onto a base and used wire to fasten it to the kitchen wall. She said it was for me. It went all the way up to the ceiling, and I could fly to the top and perch on it.

I wanted to fly farther, up to the clouds I could see on the other side of the window, but she wouldn’t let me. “No, it’s dangerous outside,” she said. “And if I let you out, you might never come back.”

So, I would fly back and forth across the room, from my branch in the kitchen to my chair in the front corner. One time I tried to fly through the window, over and over again. But then Tica locked me in the bathroom where I couldn’t fly at all, so I stopped.

She did open the window, though, when the days grew longer and the sun bathed us in warmth. I would caw at the crows outside through the screen. Sometimes they would caw back, and I would feel better. They would caw about mates, about food, and about the cat next door. Once they all cawed together because the cat killed another crow.

I was glad the cat hadn’t got me, but I still wanted outside. If the cat or Covid tried to hurt me, I would fly away fast.

If Tica had wings, would she be so afraid of Covid? I felt sorry for her because she couldn’t fly at all.

She mostly used the phone to talk to her boss, and then she would work on the computer again. But sometimes in the evenings, she would call her grandmother. I was glad she did because she smiled when she spoke to her. Sometimes she even laughed. I would strut back and forth across her desk, and she would tell her grandmother about me.

“Gran says you’re good for me,” she told me afterward, and she stroked my feathers over and over. I decided her grandmother must be a wise person.

One morning as the sun was rising, the phone rang, but Tica only groaned. So, I walked over to the phone lying on the desk and said, “Hello.”

Tica’s head rose, and she jumped out of bed. “Corbie, you spoke,” she said, and I had never heard her sound so happy. So, I said “Hello,” again, and she gave me peanuts and canned pineapple. And she stroked my feathers for a long time afterward.

But even saying hello wouldn’t stop her from looking at pictures of that man. I wished he would come just so I could drive him away. Then maybe Tica would see how worthless he was.

“He said on Instagram that they’re getting engaged,” she told me. “Look.”

She turned the screen toward me, but I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want her to see him. I strutted around in the way I knew she loved, but all she did was go back to her bed and stare at the wall.

The weather turned cold, and rain lashed against the windows. A package arrived, and Tica opened it while she was on the phone with her grandmother. “Thank you, Gran,” she said, and then she turned it around so I could see it. “Look, Corbie—it’s a crow. Just like you.”

The crow was perched on a branch like mine, and he was a fine, handsome fellow. Tica took out a hammer and nail, and she hung the picture right in the middle of the white wall. Then she took a smaller picture out of a drawer and hung it on the wall by her desk. “That’s my Gran,” she said proudly, and I studied the face. If she ever came to our home, I would strut and say, “Hello.”

Afterward, we had pineapple cake, and Tica sang happy birthday. I cawed along, and she laughed.

The weather grew even colder, and a box came with something she called a Christmas tree. She set it on a little table and covered it with shiny plastic balls. When she wasn’t looking, I picked one off and flew across the room. I dropped the ball in the middle, and it bounced up. Then I grabbed another ball and flew again while Tica laughed. I would drop them for hours and hours while she worked on the computer.

One day after I’d plucked all the balls from the tree, the phone rang. I said “Hello,” but Tica didn’t smile. She talked to someone on the phone and then burst into tears.

“Gran had to go to the hospital,” she gasped. “And now she’s dead. From Covid.” She cried herself hoarse, and I didn’t know what to do. The next day she just lay in bed—she didn’t even answer her phone.

After that, I hardly saw Tica smile. She threw away the Christmas tree. She didn’t read to me. The weather warmed up, but she spent all her time on the computer. Some of it was work, but most of the time she looked at pictures of that man, over and over again. She printed one of the pictures and put it with a box of supplies. She didn’t open it; she just stared at it for a long time.

“All I do is wait,” she said. “For a whole year now. Waiting for Covid to end. Waiting while Gran died. Waiting for something that never comes. And he’s getting married. He’s happy!” She threw a book across the room, and it slammed into the wall, next to the crow picture.

“But I can fix that,” she said, and something in her voice made me back away. “Even though Gran would hate it. There’s a, a ritual—someone told me about it online. I ordered everything I’ll need. All I have to do is kill what I love most. And then I can stop waiting because Jared will be dead!”

She grabbed me by my feet and shut me in the bathroom. I cawed and cawed, but she didn’t answer, even though I could hear her moving around in the other room.

When she finally came, she grabbed me by my feet again, and I couldn’t get away, no matter how hard I flapped my wings. She took me over by the desk and picked up a knife.

I looked at her face, and tears were running down it. I didn’t want Tica to cry anymore, so I said, “Hello,” and rubbed my beak gently against her cheek.

She stared at me for a long time. First, she turned to look at the picture of that man, and then at the one of her grandmother. She went very still.

Then she turned her head away and threw the knife. It skittered across the floor.

“Corbie, you are what I love best,” she said, and her voice was gentle again. “And I wouldn’t trade you for anyone.” She spent a long time stroking my feathers, and I was glad. That night before she went to bed, she threw out the box and the picture of the man. Then she told me a story where a crow was a hero and saved the day.

The next morning, she opened the back door and took me outside. “I’m done waiting, and so are you,” she said. “I’m going to cut the grass and plant a garden, and you are going to fly as far as you want.” She set me on a tree branch and took a step back.

I flapped my wings as hard as I could and soared up into the sky. I circled overhead until I could barely see Tica, and then I flew and flew until my wings were tired. I landed in a tall tree and ate a caterpillar that was crawling on the branch next to me.

I stayed there for a long time. I cawed to the other crows, and they cawed back, warning me away. They were starting nests, and I wasn’t part of their flock.

So, I took to the sky again, and this time I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I circled down and landed next to Tica, who was shoveling dirt in her garden. I snapped up a worm and strutted over to her. She held out her hand, and I stepped onto it.

Then I said “Hello,” and brushed her cheek with my bill. She smiled and said “Hello,” right back.

***

March #BlogBattle: Fragment

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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Posted in My Stories
43 comments on “Corbie
  1. D.L. Finn, Author says:

    I loved this story, Cathleen and nice blend of current events:) You had me worried at the end.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, I didn’t want to write a Covid story that was all sweetness and light. However, I did want my fictional character to triumph over the dark spiral she’d become trapped in. I hope I combined the two okay. : )

      Liked by 1 person

  2. D.L. Finn, Author says:

    You did a nice blend where I ended up worried for them and then relieved 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A beautiful story, Cathleen…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful story, Cathleen. I love everything about it. Part of my upcoming novel is a woman who ends up raised by wild animals (no spoilers) so I read your words closely, getting ideas on how to make that believable.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. balroop2013 says:

    I like that you chose a crow of all the animals and birds. Crows are considered to be least friendly but the way Corbie evolves is interesting. Emerging out of darkness is within our reach Cathleen, I love the message and the symbol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Balroop. Yes, I also like the symbolism of using an animal that’s often considered a harbinger of death as a person’s main tie to life. I played with the idea of using a starling, too (Mozart actually had a pet starling that he loved), but they talk too well for the purposes of my story–they’re incredible mimics. And there are YouTube videos about crows who are semi-wild–they fly in and out at will–so the idea was at least plausible. (I watched YouTube videos with talking starlings, too.) It’s a fun research tangent to take.

      And I hope that ALL of us emerge from whatever darkness plagues us, Covid-related or not. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ann Coleman says:

    I loved this story, Cathleen! And not just because it’s the first one I’ve ever read that was written from a crow’s point of view. It’s a lovely story of connection, recovery and hope and just what we all need right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ann. I knew had something to say about Covid eventually, but I didn’t want to get too caught up in arguing over details. That serves a purpose, too, up to a point, but with the prepping articles, I’d said about as much nonfiction as I felt was relevant. I really wanted a story. For some reason it took hitting the lockdown anniversary for it to gel into something complete. But then I sat down and wrote in a day. Sometimes these things can’t be forced. : )

      Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    What a beautiful story is it true 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Willow, I looked one up since you mentioned it. Very interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94Ba7uILkqY. : )

    Like

  9. Love this story! ❤ xo

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great to see the story up, Cathleen! Wonderful job.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jennie says:

    What a beautiful story, Cathleen!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. aebranson says:

    Great unfolding to this story – I kept picking up clues that made me think “Is this what I think it is?’, and then later you would confirm it. Early on I wondered when Corbie would start speaking, because his story reminded me of a friend who had a ‘pet’ crow growing up. Very early on we get the fell of lock down, one of the clues that made me wonder if this was a current timeline. Tica’s fragility became most apparent to me when Corbie commented on wanting to fly free, but she absolutely refuses because he could come to harm (You know, it just struck me, this is also a great parallel to the covid response, where politicians want to keep us under control because it’s supposed to be for our own good. Alas, I seriously doubt they’ll have the same denouement as Tica!). The darker turn when she makes the comment of killing something she loves most was well down, and I couldn’t decide if Corbie escapes because he does live to tell the tale, or if this would turn out to posthumous recollection. Great complexity!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, AE.

      My crow’s one word actually came from a real life detail. My Grandma Ruth kept a cockatiel named Charlie, and his cage sat right by the phone. Every time the phone would ring, he’d say, “Hello.” Since Charlie did this without being taught, I hoped enough birds out there spontaneously learned “hello” that folks could relate to that.

      I never knew a talking crow, but there are enough of them on YouTube that it can’t be that uncommon. I can claim using hello for a fresh start, though. That bit was all me.

      I’m glad that using the individual tale as a canvas to paint the larger story worked for you–that’s what I was aiming for. And I needed a happy ending. This past year has been so tough; I think we’re all hoping for one. : )

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Lovely story (or excerpt?), Cathleen — probably the first piece of COVID fiction I’ve read, but surely not the last. I myself started work on a novel during the pandemic that was originally conceived and outlined beforehand, but the deeper into it we got, the more I felt the need to reflect current events in my story. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that in the years to come: stories that aren’t necessarily about the pandemic, but that nonetheless acknowledge how it has permanently changed the course of history. Way to be ahead of the curve!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sean. And this story is complete. I didn’t have a whole novel in me about Covid, but I did have a few things I wanted to say. But like you stated above: really, the story’s about something else. It’s about letting fear take over your life, and how control won’t fix it. Covid is just the trigger. It’s been quite a trigger, though.

      After I wrote it, I remember thinking that the most unbelievable thing about this whole story, the one plot element that will later strain people’s suspension of disbelief the most, is that someone would voluntarily lock themselves up for an entire year. I think it might end up being the sort of thing you had to have lived to understand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Things happen in our lives, and the trick to being a good artist is to allow those experiences to assert themselves in our work. Not force them in, but — like a stray dog at our front door — let them in if they want, because, like the dog, they’ll contribute in their own way to the animating spirit of the house/story.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know what you mean. I’ve sat down to write a story about a topic sometimes and found that I couldn’t write it at all, or else it morphed into something else. I *have* tried forcing it and had it work, but usually it won’t. I’ve got quite a few stories with strong starts that won’t get finished until I have something I really want to say with them.

          And I’m looking forward to reading your novel someday. : )

          Liked by 2 people

  14. […] “Corbie” by Cathleen Townsend […]

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  15. A deeply emotional piece, Cathleen! From the lost love, the separation of the bird from the rest of its kind, the loss of the grandmother, to the awful moment with the knife. This juxtaposed with the humour and levity — ““Gran says you’re good for me,” she told me afterward, and she stroked my feathers over and over. I decided her grandmother must be a wise person.” Wonderful writing. An accurate portrayal of depression.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I’ve found it’s hard to write about sorrow and depression without being depressing. This is the first time I’ve tried it from the POV of another character. Afterward, I thought, “So, this is why Sherlock needed Watson.” I think Tica was too unlikeable at the start of the story to spend much time in her head.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. What a wonderful story about an animal companion; they can truly help us heal.
    I most liked the part when Corbie says “Hello” when he is about to get killed. So appropriate and sweet.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Gary says:

    A whole heap of MH here Cathleen. Never letting go of the past, not leaving the house (I’m guessing that would be the case Covid or not), taking in a wild fledgling and not nurturing it to be released later but dragged into the hermit solitude until the crow is no longer accepted by its own kind. Even to see a passing intention to actually kill it in some ritual against the former boyfriend. It makes me ponder MH or psycho…. or both. What must the boyfriend have done to warrant such deep resent of him moving on?

    Or did he do anything other than not love her? So many permutations and sub layers to this character. It was good to see Corbie break her resolve though. The simple Hello dispelling the need to kill what she loved. Perhaps that was the breakthrough her own MH needed.

    Fascinating watching this evolve 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks so much, Gary. : )

    Like

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