Friday, May 3, 2013

Counting Crows

by: Krystalyn

April 29th – I counted 76 birds today, swirling their way down from the heavens and calling out to Jesus. When I told Momma, she focused on her garden and dug her hands firmly into the soil.

“I don't know why you insist on counting them things,” she said.

“I don't know why you don't.”

My Daddy taught me that to count them is to know them.

I know all the birds. There's Roch with the bent left wing and the wide-open jaw. He jabbers about how many dares he's taken. Erl has the tilted head. He's always listening. And Moony, with the wide eyes, sees things before anyone else.

Today, Moony's eyes were wider than usual, and they reflected something I'm sure would send Momma searching for her garden spade.

April 30th – I counted 212 birds today.

I count them in the mornings before Momma gets up. I find a lonely patch of grass, sit down, and look to the sky just as the sun peeks over the edge of the fields. The day feels lighter then, before she gets up.

This morning, Erl landed on my knee. His head was big with all of his secrets.

Daddy told me the crows would come all the way from Timbuktu if they had something to say. He taught me how to look for their messages. He said it was a secret not many were privy to. But that was before he packed his things and left without a note to tell us where he went. I often wondered if the crows had the answer.

“Do you know?”

Erl bobbled back and forth from one foot to another while his tiny claws made puckers in my skin. He opened his beak like he wanted to speak, but no sound came out. Sometimes, I think his head would burst before he told a soul what he knew.

“It's okay,” I said. “I'll be patient.”

May 1st – I counted 297 birds today. They settled on our rooftop and tree branches and cocked their heads in Momma's direction.

She plunged her arms into the soil, all the way up to her elbows. I couldn't see her face, but every time, she pulled up a potato and plunked it in her basket, her hands shook.

When the basket was halfway full, Roch flew down from the old oak and perched himself on the handle. Two others joined him.

The next time she dropped a potato into the pile, Roch pecked her hand.

“Rabid pests!” she cried as she ran for her broom and bashed it against her basket.

Most of the birds flew away, but Roch grabbed hold of the bristles with his beak and wouldn't let go.

“Leave! Me! Alone!”

I watched, horrified as she whacked him against the ground over and over.

His bones popped and cracked while I screamed for her to stop. She stopped when the broom bristles were red with blood. She washed everything off with her hose. Well, everything except for one dark spot that wouldn't come clean.

Then, she went back to pulling up potatoes.

May 2nd – I counted 495 birds today. They came to mourn Roch as I prepared his grave. I laid him in an old shoe box that I had once used as a doll house, then grabbed one of my Momma's spades. I knelt down at the far left corner of the garden, and the crows formed a circle around me, encouraging me. But just as I plunged the tip of the spade into the soil, Momma screamed.

“Get away from there!”

The birds took to the heavens. I jumped to my feet and dropped the shoe box. Roch spilled out. His broken body rolled to a stop at the base of Momma's prize winning tomatoes.

With her gloved hands, Momma scooped Roch back into the box and tossed them both into a garbage can. “I don't want you anywhere near those things. I ain't got time to take you to the hospital for a tetanus shot.”

Tears pricked behind my eyes, and I found the words that would stab her heart. “I wish Daddy was here.”

Her eyes cut toward the horizon. Did she wonder where he'd gone?

I used to hear them arguing at night. I was supposed to be asleep, but thin walls made for light sleeping.

Daddy would say things like, “I see the way you look at him,” and “That wasn't an innocent touch.”

Momma never denied it. She just said, “Well, if you don't like it, go chase the horizon.”

Then one day, he did. I didn't even get to say goodbye.

May 3rd – The birds blackened the sky today, a maelstrom of caws and screams too thick to count.

Momma was still snoring when I got up and dug Roch's body out of the garbage can. The birds whirled around me, like I was inside a tornado. The wind from their wings drove me, lifted me up to my task.

I knelt at the far left corner of the garden and dug with my hands, because Momma had hidden her spade. I dug deep, clawing the soil, but when my fingers scraped against something hard, I yanked my hands out of the ground.

Moony landed where my hands had been only moments before. His eyes widened, and I saw in them the same thing I had four days ago – my Daddy's face. A few others joined him and tapped their claws against the ground, but it was Erl, landing on my shoulder and cawing for all he was worth, that set my hands to digging again.

I dug furiously, parting the soil around the long thin bone … a human leg bone at the base of Momma's prize winning tomatoes. I remembered the spot on Momma's broom that wouldn't come clean.

I rocked back on my heels and covered my mouth to keep from getting sick. It didn't work. I heaved over and over as the sun clawed its way up into the sky.

When I was done, I tucked Roch into my Daddy's grave and said goodbye to them both. I knew what Momma would say if I confronted her, so before she got up, I went off to chase the horizon.

And the birds followed me.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic from photographer Jamie Zarza.

You can check out other images via National Geographic's Photo of the Day.


  1. This has a wonderful rich tone to it.

  2. This is one of my FAVES, Krystalyn. I particularly like the journal-like structure and the overall tone and the way you balance the relationship with the mother/narrator to the crows increasing day-by-day. It's reminiscent of Tell-Tale Heart and The Birds. Great job. Loves it!

  3. Krystayn, this story is SO GOOD. I love the mounting tension and the way you've woven in so many great details. Eerie, sad, and BEAUTIFUL.

  4. Great story! Perfectly paced and awesome ending.