A Murder of Crows
by Lena Kinder
She jumped from the hot porch step and ran, her toes pulling up tall blades of grass with each long stride. May wasn’t a particularly special girl: no beauty, talents, or social etiquette of any kind. While the other neighborhood kids played together, May stayed on the corner of Sunny and Shady, running up and down her front lawn discovering strange insects in bushes, dirt, and bark.
The sun was setting, and the scorching Virginia heat would soon transform into a cool breeze in the twilight. May’s feet carried her to the overgrown flower beds her mother had left behind. She didn’t like thinking about that day, and her father never spoke of it. Her hands pushed past leaves and dug through mounds of soil; pink worms and black beetles were dropped into a small translucent box that she carried with her everywhere. Headlights beamed down the night colored street and illuminated her.
“Crack baby!” a voice called out, throwing a half-empty beer can from the driver’s side window. There was loud laughter, and she heard them yelling four-letter words before screeching tires vanished.
The can rolled in the grass beside her, and she picked it up with a frown. The smell reminded her of the bathrooms at the hospital where her mother was staying. White tiles splashed in yellow; she took a sip.
“Yuck,” she cried, spitting at her feet and rubbing her tongue vigorously against the collar of her shirt.
May picked up her bug-box, she wondered how her father could drink that stuff every day. The porch light flickered, time to go to bed. She poured the rest of the can into her bug-box and watched the worms and beetles swim. They moved around in small circles, their little legs kicking and long bodies squirming.
“I thought you’d like it,” she smiled. Bugs loved gross things. She tossed the can behind a dying rose-bush before running out of sight.
Eudora Finegold stood at her living room window, her eyes peering in-between aged blinds. She had been there since dawn, watching the morning light bath rooftops and tree lines. Eudora had never been a caring soul: she glared, puckered, and spat at the sight of any playing child on the corner of Shady and Sunny. A group of boys riding bicycles along her street laughed and pointed at her house as they passed.
“Hellions!” she whispered, pulling the cord of her blinds. They flew up with a swift v-woop!
Their bicycle bells and laughter filled the summer morning, and she waved with a plastic smile. Eudora knew they wanted to grab her clean linen from the line and rub it in the dirt; children were always up to some mischief. She pulled the cord again, and the blinds dropped. Next came the strange little girl across the way — a dirty little thing with a bat-case for a mother. Eudora recalled the authorities tearing the women from the household, kicking and screaming to high heaven; she smiled.
“Should have locked her up,” she muttered, her frown returning.
Now the little thing was playing in the dirt as her father watched from their sun-damaged porch, throwing back alcoholic beverages with no regard for neighborhood regulations. If it hadn’t have been for summer vacation, the school board surely would have removed him by now. Someone like that really shouldn’t be in charge of future generations. His daughter was proof enough of that. Perhaps she ought to make another call, she considered for a moment before shaking her head. But then who would watch her linen?
Edgar Rodriguez watched Mrs. Finegold’s frail figure waving and the laughter that followed as his daughter hopped down their porch steps, bug-box in hand. Edgar was a likable man: hard-working, well educated, and more than a little troubled in recent days. He wasn’t too impressed when he found the remains of May’s friends floating in golden liquid earlier that morning. At first, Edgar thought it was piss, but with a second whiff – he knew better. After that discovery, he commenced with the toilet funeral and had one final farewell with his six-pack before draining the remains in the kitchen sink. Now he sat in a faded green lawn chair waiting to take down license plates, a twelve-pack of Coca-cola close at hand.
“Shit,” he sighed, taking an unsatisfying gulp.
Olivia had been gone for three months now. Edgar knew he should have confronted her when he found the powder stuffed deep inside her pantie drawer. But he loved her. May took a dive in the untamed yard (that would be Edgar’s next project) and cried out in surprise more than in pain. He called after her reminding her to watch her step; she might squash her little buddies; she gasped at this, and he chuckled. When Edgar looked at May, he saw Olivia. Their odd mannerisms and infatuation with nature were reflected in each other.
Edgar leaned back in the uncomfortable plastic chair and looked up towards the sky. It was a clear day, the heat index would probably be over ninety; he took another swig. It should be Olivia here with May. Suddenly, a black cloud passed over him, and he sat up clumsily, gripping his chair. The shadow moved swiftly above him, unnaturally so, then it took a plunge.
“Those aren’t clouds,” he said, squinting his eyes. “They’re crows!”
Edgar ran to the edge of the porch, calling May’s name and pointing towards the sky. He watched as she stood up from Olivia’s rose-bushes and gazed at the murder of crows. She dropped her bug-box and cupped her muddy hands around her mouth. He felt a grin cross his face, the first glimmer of happiness in months.
“Caw-caw!” They cried together, and the black birds heard them.
Eudora gapped in horror as a swarm of squawking birds descended on her yard. Their beaks roared and tore apart her once flawless garden: iris’s, hydrangeas, and morning glories flew through the air in puffs of blue smoke.
“Help! Help! Help!” She ripped the cord, and her blinds tumbled to the floor.
Her voice rose in hysteria as she skittered to her kitchen and fumbled for the phone hanging on the wall. She could not tear her eyes away from the obscenity happening outside. Eudora's words stumbled in-between gasps of breath; children were crossing the road, running towards her house, their arms spread wide like wings. A sudden glimpse of white flashed, and Eudora’s eyes nearly popped from their sockets. She dropped the phone, the dial tone still beeping.
May ran, laughing and cawing as the crows swarmed around her. The corner of Sunny and Shady had been cloaked in falling black feathers, and the boys and girls who were once warned to keep away from May now stared at her in awe. They leaped off porch steps, bicycles, and sidewalks all chasing after her. Their arms flapping and mouths caw-cawing in time with the birds. They played – dancing in a sea of black.
“Look!” A boy tugged her arm.
May watched as Mrs. Finegold scurried barefoot across her lawn, blue petals soared behind her with every step she took. The old woman held a straw broom above her head, swinging it back and forth with fury. Her voice cursed and screamed: “my linen! my linen! my linen!” over and over again. May took flight, sprinting towards the bed sheet being carried in the air, her flock followed, their tiny hands reaching up passed flapping wings.
“Filthy vermin,” Mrs. Finegold cried, swinging her broom at their little fingers.
To Edgar’s eyes, this was a weird sight. He hadn’t expected this to happen, and to make matters downright bizarre, it seemed as though Mrs. Finegold was being attacked by the birds. Over the sounds of flapping and squawking, he couldn’t hear the obscenities she was spitting. Edgar only saw her violently swatting the birds flying over May’s head. The crows released their hold, and he witnessed the soiled sheet fall, covering Mrs. Finegold like a bad Halloween costume. She stammered across the remains of her lawn, waving her broom widely in the air. The birds dived, plucking out yellow straw and dropping it from the sky.
Eudora could feel the crows ripping apart her perfectly good kitchen broom; she swung and missed, swung and missed. If she had hit a single child, that would have made her ruined linen and cold coffee worth this horrendous morning. Eudora felt an explosion of pain erupt from her temple and spread like wildfire. She cried, then it happened again and again and again. Those disgusting birds were attacking her! She abandoned her whisk and stumbled for her entryway in a panic.
“Abominations,” she screamed, but the crows were relentless. They enjoyed watching her wrinkled arms wave high in the air. So much like their morning breakfast.
May watched Mrs. Finegold disappear behind her front door. As though she was the reason for their visit, once Mrs. Finegold escaped, the crows seemed to dissipate. Their worm had shrunk back into its hole. A prize for another day, perhaps. The only remnants of their presence laid scattered across the ground: feathers, poop, and straw. May picked up her bug-box off the ground and placed each deserted memento in one by one. Something to show her mother when she came home. Olivia would prune their roses, red petals drifting down, as May preformed a grand recounting of this strange day. She heard her father call her name and order her to come inside. She was filthy, he called out. May turned to her newfound friends and gave a shy smile.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.” She ran, kicking up black feathers, a murder of crows floating behind her.
About the Author
Lena Kinder is a student at the University of Southern Mississippi studying Secondary English Education. In 2019, she received an award for her personal essay “Melanie” from the Mississippi Community College Creative Writing Association.