Short Fiction ~ Rayna Haralambieva
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 12
Shriek, clack, shriek.
I look out of the window. I strain my eyes, push my gaze far out into the last slithers of the dying light. Silly bird, you scared me. I wave my arms at it, a scarecrow of no use. Shoo. The crow quietens but doesn’t move. We stay like this, looking at one another, still, undecided.
I go back to bed, hold the album in my lap. Cradle it, smell it.
When Ronnie was two, he was vicious with pictures. He would rip them and make an airplane, a frisbee, a ball.
He would shove the paper ball in his mouth. Spit it into pieces. No, baby, why did you do that? He would throw a tantrum as if it were me who had broken something precious. I would hush his crying and cradle the remains of his baby pictures.
I look at the pieces. Little finger, elbow, ankle. I am missing a piece of his T shirt near the collarbone. I try again. I re-arrange the pieces, move them around again and again, not quite. The lower part of his arm hangs in the wrong place and the patches of his T shirt don’t match.
Tap-tap, caw. Not you again. I slip into the kitchen. I shovel a handful of muesli, throw it out of the window. Go, now, bird, and don’t come back.
Crows recognise and remember human faces. Once you make an impression on a crow, it can remember your face for as long as six years.
Ten minutes later. Clack-clack, beak on the glass. This time, much closer to where I am sitting on the bed crunched over the pieces.
Its beady eyes fixed on the picture I am not giving up on rebuilding. Shoo. What are you looking at?
Crows have better eyesight than humans. We can only see light as a combination of three primary colours, while crows’ eyes perceive combinations of four colours.
I remember when Ronnie teared it into pieces. He was crying his eyes gummy, fat snots falling off his nostrils, barely able to catch his breath. No, Ronnie, you’re a big boy now, I said and didn’t go to him, didn’t take him into my arms. Tired of being awake all night, tired of Richard having slammed the door, tired of the world spinning with me falling behind. No, Ronnie, now, be a big boy for goodness sake. Leave mummy alone for a minute, will you. I said and closed the door shut.
The lights, the wee-woo, wee-woo piercing my ears, the boots thumping up the stairs. Ronnie’s face blue and glassy and still. They forced the paper ball out of his clenched mouth. One, two, three, again. I heard but couldn’t process.
Crows are natural empaths. They genuinely feel for others and want to help.
It’s been a month now since I first saw her. Sheila, I called her.
Sheila keeps me company on days like this. When the sky presses low and I hold on to pieces of pictures that still hold his milky breath.
This one now. He’s grinning in a sway. His tiny hands curled around the ropes to hold himself tight. A toothless smile, cheeks big like grapefruits. I can’t decide where the red patch goes – is it part of his hoodie or his jumper? I show it to Sheila and wait for her to decide. She looks at it and caws. I wait some more. She can do it. She’s done it before.
Crows like the process of having something to accomplish and gain a sense of achievement at solving things.
But Sheila keeps staring at them and makes strange cries. She looks at me. I look away. What’s the matter, Sheila? Caw-caw-caw fills up the room. She stares at the pieces of my Ronnie. I bring some seeds. She wants none. Now, the cawing has turned into a cackle. Her eyes pierce through something I’ve been holding down for a while. The cackle is hurting my ears and I can’t look at her looking at him no more. She flaps her wings as if warning she’d leave. The cackle goes through the house. Shakes floor, bedframe, guts.
Crows hold funerals for the dead. When a crow dies, others gather around the remains to honour the dead.
Rayna loves stories for their power to heal and charm. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in, among others, Reflex Fiction, Litro, Flash Frontier and Bath Flash Fiction. She aspires to have an entourage of writerly cats.