A Murder of Crows

This is the story of a man who is asexual and falls in love. it is about how we define ourselves in the modern age, and what love means to those who have no physical avenue to explore. It is about the way we interact with our families, and how echoes of past lives filter through to us.

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11. Loss

I watched the speck of black trace a heart rhythm across the sky. It shot up as its lungs tried its hardest to come home. Against the overcast sky, it looked like an afterthought, a last minute addition to a piece of art. I knew where it was going, or trying to go at least. As it approached the tree behind my house, it had exhausted all it had, and fell to the floor, 20 metres from home, 20 metres from home. Calling, above the grumbling noise of the city, I heard it caw, a desperate and solitary noise, and all 300 hundred crows took flight, roosting around this one crow. Then a silence fell, a silence I imagine some people would find quite alarming. I watched as their piercing black eyes stared at the dying crow, or darted to one another. The injured crow let out ever quietening cries, but they became infrequent and finally there was a bubble of silence that fought off even noise of the city. Like a spell cast, I was mesmerised, and then a full 15 minutes later the crows crowed in unison, and flew back to the tree in behind my house. That night, as the sun set, there was a crescendo of noise, like I had never heard, and that too stopped so abruptly.

 

Something broke inside me that day, and I cried until I was clawing at my own throat and heart, wishing to rip them from me, to throw them 20 metres from me.

 

20 metres from home.

 

Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.[1]

 

My father passed away 1 month before my wedding. He was found behind the house, splayed on the lawn like an insect on a windshield. He was not trying to get back to the house, not trying to get to a phone for help. He was trying to get outside, a feat he managed. The sun was streaming into the garden, as it did in the afternoon, and the scene flitted before my mother’s eyes like the incomprehensible curls from a cigarette. I remember the call from her, the voice which had the slightest tremelo in it, a far away voice.

 

“A____ , I don’t know how to t-tell you this.” A flutter, and then a pause, a pause that said everything, a pause that screamed in my ear what she wanted to say. I think I may have even said “How?” before I could stop myself. “Doctors are still trying to figure it out.”  Silence again came in, intruding like a drunk friend at a party, clambering over the pair of us. I said something about coming over right away, or maybe something curt like 10 minutes. To be honest I don’t really know. As I put the receiver down, I remember hesitating, as if I held on to it, maybe it wouldn’t be true, that someone would say it was a joke, or that it was a dream and that I should wake up. But then it fell from my hand, and landed with a physicality, and thud that reverberated round my room.

 

I looked about, and even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I looked for him, a suggestion that his spirit was there, but there was nothing. The same rubber plant and TV, the same sofa and rug. Nothing had changed.

 

Everything had changed.

 

I drove up to the house, and you couldn’t tell that anything was missing. Neighbours were in their front gardens, watering plants or exchanging pleasantries. I got out, and an old man from down the road rose his hand a smiled. He shouted ‘Afternoon, lovely sunny day, your dad must be enjoying the garden.’ I smiled weakly and went and rang the doorbell. Should I have told him? No, I don’t think so, he would find out soon enough, no need to make him feel like he had hurt my feelings in anyway. He hadn’t after all. It just made me realise that my father, though private, had an impact on lives who probably didn’t even register on his thinking. And now they never would.

 

The door opened, and my mother was there, her pale skin greying, her eyes tinged with rose tendrils at the edges. She was wearing no make up, and I remember worrying that I didn’t think she could survive this. I brought her into my chest and she crumpled into me like a car crash, dry sobs leaving her like autumn leaves, the final breaths of a bellow. I stepped inside and shut the door. Walking into the living room, my brothers were on the settee where my parents usually sat, both were nursing cups of coffee, holding on to them with a reverence you would leave for a religious artefact.

 

And then it hit me, everywhere I looked, he was there. He had gone from a ghost in our lives, to some omnipotent being. Everywhere I looked, he stared at me from photos, from ornaments, from the chairs, and the ceiling, washing over me, enveloping me. I must have grown faint, because I staggered and had to cling on to an arm chair. I sat myself down, and as I took the weight off my legs, it seemed to unblock something in me, and a torrent of grief thundered out. I was shaking, and I don’t know if I was making a sound, as it went silent, occasionally I would look up, but through my eyes were just a blur.

 

All the things we should have said, all the things we should have done. As if a party of regrets had congregated in the room. My mother came in with a cup of sweet tea, which wasn’t very hot, and I could feel the odd granule against my teeth. We sat in a silence after that which lay heavy around us. We couldn’t even make eye contact for fear that it would set one of us off, but slowly our breathing became too loud to ignore.

 

My mother was the first person to speak, and she did so as if addressing all of us from the front of a school assembly. I imagine that disassociated language helped separate herself from the moment, made it something less real. As if this speech would help displace her from the reality that was all around her.

 

“I didn’t believe my father was dead for 3 days when he went. I couldn’t believe that he would leave me, and that even death wouldn’t get in the way of that. I have always felt him near me, through your births, your wedding day…” she trailed off, looking over to me with a look of hopelessness that fired straight through my ribs. As if she looked right into my heart and found that all the blood had turned to oil, and had stopped moving. “I was so convinced” she continued, “that he would return that I didn’t even cry whilst the others did. But that day, that day when I realised he wasn’t coming back, I wished the whole world to suffer how I was. I wanted bombs to fall on us all and wipe it all away. The colour was gone, I wanted everyone to know, to understand, to feel how I was.” She sipped at her tea. C____ voice came up, as if from under water. I don’t recall what, but I remember my other brother sidling over, and letting him nestle into his shoulder. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh god, it is just me and mum now.’ And not knowing what was to come. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother, but I loved my father more. I loved your father most of all.” Shaking she put her mug on the table and sat back, and she turned her head so she didn’t have to look at any of us. Almost under her breath, on the edge of hearing, I heard her say, “I remember the good times, his touch, his smell…” I don’t know if she was talking about her father, or ours, but she was quailed after that.

 

C___ leant forward, he was ringing his hands over, looking at them as if he would find the answer or some kind of Lazarus magic in them. But they were cold and clammy.

 

“I remember one chat with dad, ha, my one chat with dad.” I suppose it was the emotion of the event, these little asides, these little moments of personal grief seemed to take an age. We would all talk, but not really listen, I suppose it was like some sort of group therapy, but therapy for something that was un-repairable. I know that may have sounded cold, but it was the reality of the situation. C____ continued. “He told me that the only time he had felt anything other than the happiness of being with mum, and – and us, was when his dad died.” He stopped. We heard the radiators clang as they came on, the time my father set them to come on. “He said he didn’t expect the devastation of that feeling, the way it came into his body and crushed everything in it. All the hope, all the love were cowed by this black empty shadow that smothered him, and made it feel like there was nothing in this world of any merit.” My mother was nodding, almost imperceptibly. “He said that there had been no other time he had felt like that. Not even when his mum died, only with his dad. He said that sometimes he needed someone to turn to, someone to hug, a shoulder to cry on.” I am sure all of us thought we would have been that person, but it was not our right to choose. It is none of our right to choose that. “And he said he didn’t have that anymore, and he never would. He said he knew that there was nothing in the afterlife, and it was that what hurt most of all.” C____ was breaking down and so fell silent as he wrestled with the heaves of grief he was trying to control.

 

F_____ must have felt it was his turn to say something, and at that moment I was still in no rush, and so I let him open up a little. “I remember the one time I ever talked to him about stuff like this, he mentioned that all he had ever experienced was happy and sad. He said his entire life had been devoid of shades of grey. But he said that through knowing us, through all the people he met, he got to understand that a bit more. He got to see what those other emotions must have been like. I can’t even remember how we got to talking about the subject. It was only recently. But now it feels like it was a million yeas ago.”

 

I still couldn’t bring myself to say anything, and so I gathered up everyone’s mugs and took them through to the kitchen to give them a rinse and a refill. As I looked out to the garden, I saw the shed, and at that moment a cloud passed in front of the sun. The change in light, along with the lazy tears that hung under my eyelids made me think I saw him. I am sure each of us had a similar experience that week, but in a heart beat it was gone, and the sun broke free and deluged the garden again. I heard someone come up behind me, and my mothers arms snaked round my waist, and her head rested against my back.

 

“He loved you, you know. As much as anyone in the world can. He was so looking forward to your wedding.”

 

I didn’t say anything, I carried on washing, maybe more vigorously, but washing none the less. I think I may have said something about rearranging it, but before I could finish she cut across me.

 

“Not a chance, he would not have wanted you to lose the deposits.” We both laughed, and although at first it felt strange, it made me have hope that we could return to the happiness we had before, just it would be different. I think I said something about nothing ever staying the same. We were quiet again, and my mother decoupled from me and went about boiling the kettle again. “Of course nothing ever stays the same, what would be the use in that? A____ , your father believed that what made everything that bit more beautiful, everything that bit more fragile, was that it was never forever. What was the use in eternity? He used to say to me, when you can experience everything in a heartbeat?”

 

I think I may have said something like dad said that, and she just leaked a feeble laugh as she picked up the new cups of tea.

 

 

What is broken can always be fixed. What is fixed will always be broken.[2] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Walt Whitman

[2] Jens Lekman

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