“Crow Death”

The boy isn’t certain how often he should think about his mother. She slips from his mind the way the suns slips into the woods behind the house at dusk. There are times when it is clear he is meant to think about her—when his father takes him to Rose Hill cemetery on the first Sunday of each new month—but there are other times when the rules are uncertain. More than a year has passed now, and in that time his friends at school have come to say far less, if anything, and his teachers no longer pull him aside, kneel down to his height, and ask how he is doing. Everything is back the way it was, it seems, except now it is his father who stands with him at the bus stop every morning, who hands him his lunch box. His father also takes him hunting in the woods on weekends, more often than he used to in the past. It is winter now, and on this Friday after school they walk through the white snow into the woods. It is so cold their breath decides it is a cloud. Both he and his father shoot first at a squirrel on a limb at the far side of the creek, but miss. Then his father shoots at a fat black crow high in a white oak. It is a perfect shot—the bird comes tumbling down. There is blood on the snow. The black feathers and the white and the red are so vivid that the boy carries the memory with him back to the house. He thinks about it after his father puts him to bed that night and he is trying to sleep, thinks about how still the crow looked there in the snow. Its eyes were glassy, like they weren’t real. The boy has trouble sleeping from the memory, but at last he dreams that crows are calling from the distant trees. For a moment in the dream, he thinks this is his mother’s voice. Sometimes he can’t picture her very clearly, but in his dreams he always knows that it is her. Often she sits beside him or kisses him on the forehead. There is a scent he recognizes—musky-sweet, like wild flowers deep in the woods. In the dream she lands on the grass beside him with a great shroud of dark wings. Something in that startles him, and suddenly he is awake once more. The tears come from nowhere, appearing of their own free choice. He rises from bed and crosses the hallway to his father’s closed bedroom door. He means to knock, but there are voices from inside. One, he suddenly realizes, must be his mother. But she is laughing, which makes no sense. It feels very late at night now to the boy, and he touches his ear close to the wood but doesn’t hear anything more. He is afraid to knock. He returns to his bed and tries to sleep, but later—he’s not sure how long—he hears what sounds like someone in the hall. He gets up to see who it is. His father’s bedroom door is flung open now, the sheets on the bed thrown back, but no one is in there he can see, not even his mother. His father has a bathroom to himself, so the boy goes through that narrow door and hears the shower running. It seems his father is up in the middle of the night and bathing. The boy pulls back the curtain to tell his father about his dream, but what he sees is something he can’t quite comprehend. It is, as he had thought before, his mother. The shower water is tumbling down atop her. Her hair is dark black instead of reddish brown, and much longer than he remembers, but she has returned now to their house and their lives. She turns, her eyes still closed as the water slips down her face. It is startling, then, what the boy sees. Between his mother’s legs is a thick black nest of hair, dark as a crow. And on her right thigh is a reddish smear of blood, bright and unmistakable. The boy is running, now, dashing across the hallway and back into his room. He flings himself on the bed, willing himself back into sleep, to burrow there. He wants to crawl inside his dream. He aches for his mother to find him there, for her to fly down from the trees with her great wings, to land suddenly beside him.

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Doug Ramspeck

About Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck is the author of six poetry collections and one collection of short stories. His most recent book, Black Flowers (2018), is published by LSU Press. Individual poems and stories have appeared in journals that include The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Slate, and The Georgia Review. His short story collection, The Owl That Carries Us Away (2018), is published by BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City). He teaches at The Ohio State University at Lima.