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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8. Social Customs of Crows and Ravens

Crows are at once social, and solitary. When in a gathering, not the sirens of the city or the shouts of disgruntled people will quell their relentless cawing. Since they came to roost behind my home, they have provided a white noise blanket to the otherwise intrusive sounds of my town. Only when darkness falls are they subdued, as they merge into the orange black blanket of the night sky. I would find myself watching them for hours, their arcs of flight, their relationships with one another. They were fluid, at one competitive, but also co-operative. To watch them opened up something I never thought I had, a patience and a wish for luck. The hope I would see them do something rare. Once I swear I saw one become bored, but I may just be anthromorphising them.

 

 

Isn’t life disappointing?

Yes, it is.[1]

 

R_____ was terrified at the idea that we were having a family meal. She was unsure if she could handle the tension that she thought would be innate in such a gathering.  I think it maybe because of the way her family reacted to her asexuality, that she assumed that everyone would find it an abhorrent affront to god. Her own private narrative was all low angles and lower silences, and although I told her that my family were not like that, her reservations and anxieties remained.

 

We approached the house as the sky was flitting between dull grey, and weak raspberry tea pink. The street lights were flickering to life, and the street had the hush of creatures returning home. A tread of steps which screamed resignation in the softest voice. I still had a key, and I had to let go of her hand to rummage around in my pocket. This seemed to increase her unease to palpable proportions. I smiled at her in a mocking way, and told her that I wasn’t taking her into some haunted house, but she didn’t laugh. Her shoulders were hunched, and she kept looking around for an invisible escape route, and as I went to put the key in the lock, the door opened. I laughed and said maybe it was haunted. F____ was standing there, beaming.

 

‘Hey A_____ , God it feels like forever.’ He took me in an one arm embrace, and there was the faint tremor, his uncertainty at what to do next. We broke apart and he turned to R_____. ‘And you must be R_____, I would like to say A_____ has told us all about you, but he hasn’t.’ He laughed to himself, ‘Come in, come in.’ And with that he led us into the hallway.

 

My parents hadn’t redecorated since the early 80s, and even then they were conservative and twee in their taste. The carpet was a deep claret, with flower patterns stitched into it, the loops forming a pseudo regal feelings in ones feet in the deep shag.  In a strange way I think this placated R____, she must have seen that this wasn’t some home of over achievers, or equally the home of a very trendy, progressive couple. They were just normal, a phrase the irony of which didn’t escape me.  F_____ led us into the living room where we were greeted by the sight of the rest of my family assembled in what they thought was usual nonchalance. It was however obvious they were trying very hard to look relaxed. My mother and father especially, in the way they were perched at opposite ends of the sofa, cups of tea in hand, and their synchronised turn and smile. I involuntarily laughed. I introduced her, saying something about how this was R____, and they all took it in turn to nod, smile, clambering over themselves like pebbles on a beach to shake her hand, or offer her tea or just to check if she was real.

 

The sky outside was flushing with a more vibrant red, as the sun dipped ever closer to the horizon. Birds could be heard feathering their nests and calling to invisible partners, and we sat down on the sofa in the middle of the room. It felt like we were being flanked, in a pincer movement, but the assault never came. Instead, a calm seemed to parachute in, and lie across us. The conversation was gentle, and it was mere minutes before everyone else had their turn in the spot light. I would look over to R____ and it was hard not to notice the furrows in her brow. When we gradually made the move to the dining room, we waited, I wanted to check in on her. I was not used to this level of care over someone else’s feelings. I asked why she still seemed worried, and she turned and smiled.

 

‘I’m not worried, just puzzled really.’ I asked what about and she smiled, and looked to the floor, as if it would answer for her. ‘Just, well look how they haven’t interrogated us about our relationship…’ I said they were probably waiting till we were sat at the table, where there was no escape before the inquisition began. She snorted, ‘and they just, they just regard you as normal.’ I laughed, whatever normal actually meant.  I think I said something about us being as normal as anyone else, but I had begun to realise that R____ didn’t share this view with me. In her eyes we were an affront to nature, and it made sense that if you kept to yourself, your life wouldn’t interact with others and you could be happy. Yet when you were with someone, their lives joined to yours, you began to lose a grip on who you were. You become this joint entity, and I know that isn’t the most pleasant experience. ‘Your dad is very quiet,’ she said, somewhat out of the blue. I wasn’t sure how to react, so I think I may have just agreed.

 

We funnelled ourselves into the dining room, and the smell of my mother’s cooking wafted gently from the kitchen. The soft smell of boiled vegetables, of roasted meat and the comfort of gravy.  As we sat, the dance of the containers began, with them being passed with fireworks co-ordination amongst us. Arms looping over and under one another, clinking of forks and spoons, and the gentle tumble of food that kicked up puffs of steam, and smells that made me salivate.

 

We were a family who talked with our mouths full, so I suppose now is the right time to describe my two brothers. My eldest, C____, is 4 years older than me, and a disgustingly high achiever. As a role model, I don’t think I could have asked for someone so inspiring, but that is not to say I liked him.  He was talking at R___, and she just seemed to be enraptured by the tedium of his job. C____ spilled details about deals, and regulations, all tumbling out with the ignorant bliss of clowns. There was a smile dancing round the creases of his eyes, like he was experiencing a day he had never expected to see.  I asked him about how his family was, and though this would have derailed him, he filled in his history with gusto. He was always driven, from Primary School through to later life. He was going to be the lead in the school nativity, and he was. He was going to get all A’s in his exams and go to Cambridge, and he did. Yet here he was, being more charming and pleasant than  I had ever known him. He was focussed to the point of sacrificing everything around him to achieve what he felt he was capable of. An iron boulder rolling down a hill was what I would see when he came into a room, nothing was going to ever stop him.  He was regarded by many, my friends from school, and most who met him, as slightly moody, and sometimes I wondered if he was mildly autistic. Yet here he was, showing pictures of his children. He had difficulty making bonds with people, and was often insensitive to those around him, with total obliviousness of how his actions may have hurt someone.  Yet this was so very different, a marked change in the man I thought I knew.

 

I always saw him as a hard worker, and often wondered if he really was as bright as his exam results and teachers said he was. I knew how hard he had to work to achieve what he wanted to do, which was at odds with my other brother’s effortless talent. This adulation had made him somewhat self serving, and he carried himself with a smug egotistical satisfaction that made most who met him think he was wholly unpleasant.  Yet this was totally absent from the man I was seeing in front of me. He was all but orchestrating the conversation, with my other brother, and mother taking it in turns to rib and chide me, but also make R___ feel comfortable. All of this seems to paint a picture of a person who I wouldn’t choose to be family with, and in many ways in those days, I wouldn’t have. That is not to say he wasn’t protective of both me and my other elder brother. He seemed to do all these things in the hope that neither of us had to. Like he was sacrificing himself for the pair of us. Maybe that was what he was doing here, the very idea of our meal being complicated and difficult was a problem that he could solve. And he was solving it well. Only my father’s continued silence hung like an uninvited guest. Like all familial relationships and personalities, it was complicated. He then said to R___ something I wasn’t expecting, and I don’t think anyone around the table was either. It was something quite brutally honest that normally he would have politicked around.

 

‘It’s not that I don’t love my family.’ He took a large glug of wine, ‘ it is just, life has a tendency to get in the way of love. Practical things like savings, and school trips, mortgages, and holidays. With all those things, and bills, it is hard to remember why you love someone.’ He trailed off and had another large slug of wine. ‘It is sometimes hard to remember’ he mumbled to himself, fixing the table cloth with a dead stare.  I think it was this statement, more than any other, that prompted me to write this story. I would never want to forget why I fell in love and all the glory and consequence that comes along with it.

 

F___ saw what was happening, and began regaling R____ with the tales of our mischief and his many failed attempts at happiness.

 

My second eldest brother, F____,  was 2 years older than me, and I think he was your typical middle child. His language, both verbal and body, screamed the sense of not belonging. Yet at this dinner table he was calm, opening, and most importantly of all, welcoming. He often fought to receive attention from my parents and others because he felt ignored or dubbed off as being the same as either my brother or me.  It was only when he got older, and began to become more of an individual, that his relationships with the rest of the family solidified into something that could be called love.  Unlike most middle children, although he had some of the neuroses, he was never insecure, and the older he got, the more confident he became. As this thought appeared in my head, he told a joke that had my family balling with laughter, even my father raised a smile, and shook his head faintly. I wouldn’t say F____ lacked drive or ambition, he had big dreams, but he did look for direction from our C____, his style, his clothes and his interests. Unfortunately , just not his work ethic. Both of them loved motorbikes, and many thought this came from my father who used to repair them on the side. But it didn’t, it came from films like Easy Rider and the idea of the open road. Romantic, sparse ideals that call to all of us at some point in our lives.  Some how my family had managed to pool amongst themselves several nice bottles of wine, and as a result all of us were nicely merry.

 

During his adolescence, F____ had a string of girlfriends.  I don’t know if it was because he liked his own company more, or that he was going through the motions with these girls. Maybe it was that he was just an insufferable, objectionable teenager, resulting in them none of them working out. This was an unfortunate trait he carried on through into adult life, resulting in a divorce and a broken engagement. It was at this point I became hyper aware of the direction the conversation was heading.  He was never particularly career driven, even with his big plans, and it was often discussed at dinner that if he had applied himself, he could have done so much more. Most people would have been wound up with this, especially by how regularly we discussed it, but he never got wound up by it. I suppose it is one of the benefits of being so aloof. His nonchalance actually annoyed me because he was so talented, any creative thing he tried his hand at, he was brilliant at. This always sat at odds with his apathy and laziness. It sat at odds with me.

 

F____ was telling R___ that marriage was a meaningless action, which had raised the voices of both my other brother and my mum. He then seemed to let slip his armour, and we saw a hidden part of F____. He was talking about his ex-wife. He told the story how they had married young, and how everything was the future, everything was new car smell, go faster stripes. But that they were too young for the choice they had made, they hadn’t even fully formed into the people they were. So when the cracks began to show, they fell into them.

 

‘And now…’ he said, voice getting scratchy and thin, ‘I honestly don’t think I can get close to anyone. I don’t want to fall again, I don’t want to hurt like that. I am scared of letting people get close to me, scared of being hurt. I prefer being alone, but I do want someone, someone to save me so to speak. I don’t think I can do it myself.’

 

He shoved his mouth full of food, as if that would stop him saying any more, and I could see he was having difficulty swallowing it.  With a Herculean effort, he filled his stomach, and in doing so regained his composure. As if the last piece of conversation had been carried away in the clouds from the vegetables, he began joking about something or other, and quite skilfully turned the conversation to a cheerier topic.

 

An anecdote had come to an end, I can’t remember who told it, I am sure it was about how I threatened to pull my trousers down in the supermarket. It was one of those moments where people let their laughter die like a gasp, the head tilt up, the headshake, and the movement of either food or glass to mouth. R___ who had been an observer for most of the evening, listening and enjoying herself, spoke, and it was to my father. I saw a look between my mother and my eldest brother, but what it meant I don’t know. Were they scared of what she might ask, or what he might say?

 

‘I haven’t heard much about your view on A____?’

 

There was a pause, as there normally was with my father.

 

‘I never told anyone this,’ he began, pushing some peas around the plate before looking R___ directly in the eye, ‘but I always wanted to go to Fiji. You see, Fiji is as far away from here as possible, and I would dream about it all the time. It was my biggest regret, and now I know I will never go.’

 

‘You can still go,’ said F____ swilling some wine in his mouth.

 

‘I can’t, not really. And that used to be my biggest sadness.  Then my life filled with another sadness. And A___,’ he turned to me and fixed me with eyes that were full of an honesty I had never seen before, ‘know that I have always loved you, but that sadness was that A___ could be alone in this world. When his mother and I are gone, and the family drifts apart as is natural, that my A___ would be all alone.’

 

I didn’t realise it but tears were leaking out. I still blame the red wine.

 

My father’s hand reached out to me, wavered in the air, his skin so thin like a knife edge, blanched and freckled, and then it rested back on the table. ‘That was the largest sadness in my life. But now, now I don’t even have that.’ He touched R___’s  hand, and for two people who I knew didn’t like personal contact, both of them smiled. F____ raised an eyebrow and smirked, while C____ and my mum just sat in shocked silence.

 

Dessert was had, followed by coffee. The conversation could have carried on for hours, but my father excused himself early as he was tired, and my brothers and myself took this as an opportunity to go home, regardless of my mother’s fussing. They all took extra special time to say goodbye to R___, and we were the last to leave.

 

‘Don’t worry about what dad said,’ mum said to me, running her hand through my hair, and standing on tip toes, as I bent down to kiss her goodbye. ‘He has just been a bit strange recently. The doctors said it maybe his new medicine.  And R___, ‘ she said, turning to her with a happiness etched into her cheeks like a brand, ‘thank you so much for coming.’ She held her arms with her wiry little hands, and then gave her a big hug, ‘Please come again, please do.’ And with a subtlety I thought beyond my mother, she ushered us out, eyes twinkling in the glow of the street lamp. ‘A___ you call me now you hear.’

 

But now, now I don’t even have that

 

That ‘even’ hovered in me like a fly in summer, occasionally surfacing when I didn’t want to think about it. Everyone else said he meant that he had no sadness left in his life, but something bothered me. Something I never got to ask him. Was the sadness he had carried around with him the only thing that kept him going? Was I a product of his grey and unfulfilled life that had been a result of his choices? R____ said she knew what he meant, but she said it was for her, and no one else to know. She had looked into his abyss, holding my father’s hand, and it had looked back at her. It smiled for her.

 

 

 

 

[1] Tokyo Story –  Ishiguro Ozu

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