The boy’s father is a crow. He imagines his father at the field’s edge, landing beyond the fence and drawing close its veil of wings. He imagines his father calling from the woods, the single syllables insistent yet far away.
He searches for his father sometimes beyond the barn. The crows fly out from the trees and across the field. He watches them make their passage through the falling snow, watches the black of their bodies against the white of the earth. In his dreams the crows imagine they are geese and form a great V above where he is standing, and his father, beside him in the dream, lifts his body high into the air to become a black stain dotting the sky.
“Stay back,” his mother says one Sunday when they are out in the yard. His mother pours lighter fluid onto his father’s slacks and plaid shirts and boots, then strikes a match. The flames are a fever when the boy edges near, even while the snow suffocates the earth.
The boy remembers watching his father shoot a crow once with a .22. He remembers his father telling him that, when he turned eight, he would be able to shoot the gun himself, but only when his father was there. First the sound of the rifle reverberated around them, then the creature dropped from the oak limb where it had perched. It was a straight descent, as inevitable as the moon after dark. The crow twitched for a moment on the ground, convulsed, as though trying to understand that it had died.
But then something strange happened. Without warning, while the boy and his father watched, the bird raised itself from the weeds, lifted itself as though it had changed its mind, then flew away.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” the father said.
In February the boy is getting dressed for school one morning when he sees from his bedroom window a crow on the road some distance from their yard, feeding on a carcass. The road is raised and stretches out its long body, straight as railroad tracks. And of course there are bar ditches on either side of it, and dead grass that sways in the wind. The crow pecks and pecks until a car or truck comes by—then it flutters black and moves away.
Later the boy sees the crow again when he is waiting at the end of the driveway. He sees it feeding on the red innards. His mother is beside him, and he remembers how his father once held a different crow he had killed by its feet, how its neck lolled.
“He’s dead to me,” the boy heard his mother say once to his grandmother, the words like the sound of the .22. But now the boy watches the crow lifting high into the air as the school bus approaches, watches the dark of its wings oaring as far away as even the geese know to fly.