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The Crow

January 17, 2007 4 comments

Hester is old. Hester is stiff and brittle. Hester is alive, but only just. The girl takes care of her. She hopes she’s in Hester’s will.

The girl is going to the shops. It’s an early summer day, with a bit of warmth in the sun. Hester is on a recliner in the garden, with a rug tucked round her.

‘You won’t try getting up till I’m here to help you?’ says the girl. ‘You know you get all tangled up. I’ll only be gone an hour.’

‘Don’t fuss,’ says Hester. Her head is in the shade, but she feels the warmth of the sun on her old legs, and for once, she is comfortable. ‘I’m fine. I can watch the clouds and smell the blossom and hear the birds. I could stop here for ever. It’s beautiful.’

‘See you soon,’ says the girl, and leaves.

Hester looks up at the bright white clouds sailing across blue sky on a brisk wind which can’t reach her, sheltered by the high walls of her garden. Nothing of the outside world can reach her here, except sounds. She hears birds sing, but they are not yet used to her presence. They’re near, but not in view.

CRO-AARK. One is in view. A big black crow is sitting on the highest branch of the tallest tree. ‘I see you,’ says Hester cheerfully. The crow watches her.

There is a screech of brakes from the road outside, and a scrunch of metal. Someone’s had a bump. The crow turns its head to look. Hester can tell from the voices calling out that people have come to help. The days are long gone when she could be involved.

The crow flaps, and resettles itself facing the road.

Hester watches the bees in the blossom on the plum tree, and falls asleep.

Hester wakes, but her eyes are still closed. There’s a funny little sound close at hand. It’s a robin, perching and hopping along the edge of her chair. It flutters off to a branch when she unsticks her eyelids. The little birds have got used to her still shape, and are all round the garden.

The crow is lower down in the big tree.

Hester wonders how long she’s been asleep. Her face is in the sun. She’s hot, and her mouth is dry. She can’t get clear of the rug, but she can free one arm enough to hold up a corner to shade herself. That’s a lot better. And it’s not long before the sun’s moved round that bit more, and leaves her entirely. She can drop her stiff arm.

The crow looks at her.

She is tired out with the heat, and trying to shield her face. She sleeps again.

Now Hester is cold. Dew is soaking through her blanket. She can’t feel her legs, and her back is nothing but pain. It must be late in the night. The streetlamps have gone off. She can see bats flitting across the face of the moon. An owl calls. Is she dreaming?

Hester wakes. She is thirsty, and so, so cold. There is a line of light in the east. She knows she must be alert, and shout for help as soon as people will be about. She will listen for them. It’s very early yet. She hears the first bird.

Hester can’t feel much, but it seems as though things are walking on her. It’s a struggle to open her eyes – they’re sticking, and her hands won’t go up to rub them clear. There are little birds perched on her chair and her blanket. She likes to watch the birds, but this is too strange. ‘Go away,’ thinks Hester, but her dry mouth won’t make a sound. She can’t seem to move her arms or legs, either, so the little birds peck about and explore her, and she blinks at them.

Where’s the girl? Why doesn’t she come? Something must have happened… could it have been that bump outside? Hester lies under her coverlet of birds, trying to remember any people, apart from the girl, who know that she lives here. The little claws distract her from her count whenever they land where there is still some feeling, on her chest or her head.

CRO-AARK. Hester has almost hypnotized herself with the names from the address book she hasn’t used in years, when there’s a thump of weight and a chattering of alarm calls as the crow lands in her hair. The little birds scatter in panic. Hester panics too. From somewhere, the strength comes to toss her head. CRO-AARK. The crow flops down to the ground at her side.

Hester works her dry mouth. There was traffic noise, and people going by, but she hasn’t been able to make a sound louder than a harsh breath. A little moisture…

The crow lands on the leg-rest beside her knees. Hester breathes at it, and lifts her head. It looks at her, and hops to the ground again, in no hurry. CRO-AARK. ‘I wish I could make as much noise as you,’ she thinks.

Twice more, they play the game. Hester knows how important it is, but no moisture will come, and she keeps drifting in dreams now.

CRO-AARK. The crow is on her chest. CRAARK. She barely moves. CRAARK. This time, no breath. The beak spikes down.

by Joyce Carter

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