By Rileigh Rabea
Edith pinched the flesh of the ash leaf she was holding, noting its texture. Not quite crunchy yet, but dry; orange, still a ways from turning red. Fell much too early, what a shame; she had half a mind to mourn it. She set the leaf on the ground and tugged her book of poems out of her bag.
She had two bookmarks in it, one that kept her place and one that denoted where the middle of the book was so she could press the nature she collected in it. Diana insisted that it didn’t matter which page she stuck them between, it wouldn’t press no matter what because the book she chose was too light. 89 pages wasn’t good enough. Edith nodded assuredly to herself as she secured the leaf snugly in the grooves between the 44th and 45th page along with the stray buttercups and bog-rosemarys she plucked from her neighbor’s yard. It’ll work, they’ll all press fine and won’t Ms. Smartypants Doctor feel stupid. Sure, maybe using a leaf that’s already dry is cheating but Diana’s been right all her life, Eddy deserves one.
That was when she heard the scream.
Not a scream, more of a call. A squawk? Edith didn’t know, but she tucked her poems back into her book and started running towards it anyway, some (perhaps misguided, she admits) sense of heroism in her heart. She sprinted through the brambles after the shrieks, getting berry juice all over her pant legs and twigs stuck in her hair.
When she finally stumbled her way into a clearing, she could no longer hear the sounds. She got stable on her feet, or as much as she could manage, and tried her best to look around. It didn’t seem like a horrific murder had recently taken place here, but she supposed she wouldn’t know. It was actually rather… nice. The clearing was bright yellow and shimmered in the sunlight, and the leaves fell from the maples gently. One could almost forget they heard a horrific scream coming from here just minutes prior. Allllmost.
Nothing, nothing. No clues. Everything was impeccable. The leaves on the ground? Completely undisturbed. The plantlife surrounding? Everything intact. The trees? Perfectly-
There was a huge gap in the canopy, directly across from where Edith was standing. Big. Human shaped. Body shaped?
She approached the gap, not nearly cautiously enough, and narrowed her eyes. Just inspecting. What could cause a hole that big? She couldn’t seem to stop approaching it. She just needed a better look.
Something screamed. Directly below her? She reeled back.
She caught her heart before it shot straight out of her throat and, after taking a moment to muster up the gumption, she looked down. At her feet, there was a wiggling, writhing mass. So inky black and complete that it looked like it inverted, opened into a hole, but it was a solid thing made of feathers when the light hit it.
A crow, she realized. An injured crow. Nothing to be afraid of.
Edith sank to her knees and crawled towards it slowly, statuesque, but no amount of caution or continuous hushing that she heard made animals like you could make the thing stop panicking. Its left wing was completely twisted around like a corkscrew, and she could hear it’s cartilage crackle whenever it writhed, which only made it scream louder.
Edith cooed and hushed it the best she could manage and put her hand on its protruding belly, it calmed a bit, and she could feel it’s sporadic breaths against her palm. Then she flipped it and pressed her free hand on its back. It panicked a little more, flapping its wings with a sick pop pop pop but stopped when Edith brought it to her chest and said, “Hey, don’t worry. You’re gonna be fine. You’re coming home with me. No worries.”
It cawed one more time, weak, and settled its head into its plumage.
Diana hadn’t come home in a few days, and, over the phone, she made it sound like she wasn’t counting on being back for at least a few more days, so Edith thought it’d be fine to set up the crow in her room.
After looking up how to properly care for an injured bird, Edith realized she had been pushing her luck as it was when she picked up the crow with her bare hands like she was some kind of wilderness expert, so she decided to go all out with the bedding to make up for it. She gave her new avian houseguest the biggest box she could find in the house and rigged it up with not one, but two heating pads, she even took it upon herself to decorate the box with pictures of other crows pinned to the sides, and then drew some picture frames around them. The crow was still napping when she finished that, so she drew some doors and windows and furniture as well. She was gonna cut holes in it like the website said, but since the crow wouldn’t be flying anytime soon, she decided just to leave the box open for airflow.
With still more time to kill, she looked up “how to tell if a bird is a girl”, but didn’t have the means to measure out its wingspan by millimeters, so she just decided to leave it a mystery.
When the crow finally woke up, it immediately seemed very interested in the box, and Edith couldn’t keep herself from getting excited about it. She helped it settle into the box, and watched, completely fascinated, as it toddled about the parameters of the box, every once in a while doing a little hop that Edith fell in love with before it plopped down on its rear and wiggled around until it was settled comfortably into the blankets surrounding.
“Do, you, uh,…” Eddy are you seriously talking to a bird right now “…do you like it?”
The crow looked up at her and stared for a second, before turning to a picture of another crow she had taped on the left wall and quickly tapped it with its beak. Satisfied, it turned to look at Edith again and she could swear she saw it nod.
“Dude, I love you.”
It (maybe) nodded again.
Life with the crow was easier than anticipated. It never shrieked or molted or suddenly healed without letting her know and flew around her house like a wraith; it just sat in its box quietly, waiting for Edith to come back with its food for the day and rag soaked in disinfectant. Edith knew she should probably call a vet or wild animal shelter or something like that, but she just felt like she shouldn’t. She would always hang up the phone as soon as she managed to dial, and whenever she brought it up to the crow it would ruffle up and caw at her, frustrated. She took that as a “no thanks, lady” and moved on to other topics. It was getting better under her care anyway, it would flap its wings all day long! It had yet to manage to take off, but progress is progress.
Talking to the crow like it could understand her no longer seemed strange In fact, it was like second nature. The little bird was startlingly easy to talk to, and if Edith was feeling exceptionally delusional she could even convince herself it was listening, retaining the information about her work at the bar and her neighbors, thinking about it even. Sometimes, it would even let out a little yelp while she was talking, as if to say “you need a raise” or “you’re right, Mrs. O’Connery is a slag”. She would always feel embarrassed about it later, but in the moment it was a comfort.
Edith was running out of people to talk to. Diana had sent her a rushed text about a “breakthrough” a few days ago and had stopped answering calls until about 4 a.m. And all her coworkers were either trying to get into her pants or knew her ex-boyfriend, and the last goddamn thing she needs is that asshole knowing so much as whether she took a shit that day, so she keeps her distance.
That leaves the bird.
“I hate folding laundry.” She complained to it. “I absolutely hate it. I’m no good at it and it takes forever. Look at this—” She held up the sweater she had just folded at an angle that the crow could see from its little box, and it looked up at it. Edith had done it just like she had seen in a video, but still it was crooked and one of the sleeves was hanging out of the sides. She groaned and tossed it down onto the bed, ruining her fold further. She shoved her head in her hands.
“I’m no good at this. I’ve never been any good at this. Diana used to do it for me when we were kids so I never learned. I bet I wouldn’t even be any good if I did learn. I’m no good at this. I’m no good at anything.”
Edith sobbed into her hands and fell asleep a pile of the poorly folded clothes in the guest room, right next to her bird.
When Edith got home from work the next day, after a long day of dodging advances from her ornery busboy Jack and spilling vodka on herself, the clothes were folded neatly.
Odd, she thought, running her hands over the clean, neat fabric. I must have fixed it before I fell asleep last night, and just kinda forgot. Yeah. Edith ignored the fact that she couldn’t have folded clothes this nicely for the life of her.
Anyway, bigger and better things.
Edith shed her rum-soaked button-up and way-too-bleeding-tight black slacks and tried to decide on something comfortable, yet stylish. She had been invited out by Mrs. O’Connery, the prodigal slag, to the shopping district. ‘Much to discuss,’ apparently. It was almost certainly all about her ‘handsome, employed, single’ son, but Mrs. O’Connery always paid, so she decided it was more than worth being sat down on a park bench and forced to look at 28 pictures in a row of a concerningly built man glaring at the camera with the same damned expression his face for a nice new sweater from one of the higher end stores and a free meal, maybe even a bushel of flowers for the house if she pretended to look him up on Facebook.
No time to worry about any clothes besides the ones she was wearing out.
She said a quick goodbye to her bird before she left, it cawed back.
“Now, Edith-Anne, dear, you’re a very fine young lady.”
“Thank you, Mrs. O’Connery.”
“But with that said, you hardly dress like a fine young lady, do you?”
“Haha, I suppose not…”
“Of course not. Look at you, is all you own peacoats and slacks? Shameful. We should really get you some finer things to wear. I’ve yet to see you in a nice dress, don’t you own any?”
“One or two, ma’am, but they’re hardly anything real ‘nice.’ I just picked em up from Lucy’s.”
“A thrift store?”
“Papa didn’t bring me up to be extravagant.”
“Well, maybe he should’ve. I can’t very well set up my son with a girl who wears thrifted dresses, can I?”
“I guess not.”
“Good. Now, there’s a great place down the road where we can get you a couple of actual dresses. Right this way—”
Edith stopped hearing Mrs. O’Connery then, and decided it was harmless to let her eyes wander from shop window to shop window as long as she didn’t lose track of her. It was when her eyes caught something in the display case of Flannery’s Antique Jewelry that she started having trouble.
In the center of the rack with a big gaudy CLEARANCE sign stuck unevenly behind it was a brooch. It was a shirt collar brooch, the kind with two big pieces connected by a chain that her mother used to wear to events so long ago. One either end was a large, grinning golden sun whose rays twisted and turned from it like frozen flames. She could have easily seen her mother wearing it to a gala, with that one pair of golden slacks she only brought out when she wanted to “make a splash.” It would’ve flickered under the stage lights while he gave one of her rousing speeches, and then she would catch Eddy’s eyes in the crowd she would wink, vibrant ginger hair that matched her own sliding over her shoulders.
Edith snapped out of her reverie. Oh, yeah, Mrs. O’Connery.
“Sorry, be right there.”
“What were you staring at.”
“Doesn’t seem like nothing, let me have a look.”
“Oh, that’s alr—”
“This ugly thing? But it’s so old, antiquated, not for someone like you, dear.”
“My mother would have liked it.”
“Exactly. Now, let’s go get you something… suitable to wear.”
Birds cawed in the distance.
The brooch—the shirt collar chain brooch with the little golden suns, it was on her windowsill.
The crow had left a few days ago, it was hopping around the guest room and flying from dresser to dresser impatiently when she came home from work and landed obediently in the box when it was time to go. She carted it out into the woods, the very same place she’d found it initially, and waited patiently for it to fly out on it’s own.
She’d been there for about ten minutes, just watching the crow hop up unto the edge of the box and back down like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to do. Stay or go, stay or go.
After about 10 minutes, just when Edith was seriously considering just leaving and coming back for the box tomorrow, the crow flew out of the box completely and landed on her knee. It fluttered its wings at her, as if showing off, and Edith was pleased to hear that that terrible popping noise was completely gone. She made a move to shoo it away, gently, of course, but the bird shoved its tiny head into her palm and she stilled. It moved its head up and down her palm a few times, and it took her too long to realize it was encouraging her to pet it.
Hands trembling, she ran the tips of her fingers slowly through its feathers, slowly slowly.
She probably shouldn’t have been shocked at how smooth it felt, or how fleece-like its neck was when it puffed up its feathers for her to feel, but she was. It was such an insignificant thing, but she was nothing short of completely amazed by it. There was a fleeting temptation to just pack the bird back up and go home, maybe she could buy it one of those fancy bird cages? A big one, of course, give it enough space to move around, and she would let it fly around the apartment sometimes to get exercise; but, despite what you might’ve been told, Edith was a responsible person. And being responsible typically meant not being able to follow through with your wayward impulses, as totally sick as they may be. So, haltingly, she coaxed the crow off her lap and left. Box and all, left in the woods where she found it.
And now there was a brooch on her windowsill.
She snapped it up on impulse, as if afraid someone would see it. One sun in each hand. The metal was chilled, but not cold. It was blessedly cool against the burn of anxiety pressing up against her skin.
Okay, alright, okay, this is fine. This isn’t a big deal. Just return it. Say you found it. It’s not like you stole it. The chain of the brooch rattled with the force of her trembling. Jesus Christ just calm down you didn’t do anything.
Edith shoved the brooch into her purse and bolted out the door. Just do it quick and don’t think about it. If you think about you’re gonna freak out so just go to the jewlers, give them the brooch, leave. 3 steps. Easy peasy.
Her footsteps thundered down the hallways of the apartment complex. She was certain that if she didn’t stomp her feet as hard as she could against the carpeting she would float up and through the ceiling, clean up into the air. Maybe her crow would catch her, before she flew too far into the atmosphere. Maybe she could learn to fly, to live in nets and flocks far away from the world on the ground. Far from where her father sits in a cell and her mother lays in state, far from where her old life lives in stasis and her new life moves too fast.
She would realize later that Mrs. O’Connery had been calling her name at this time, but for now she couldn’t hear anything but the wind whistling in her ears.
She was surprised to find she’d ended up in Flannery’s Antique Jewelery and hadn’t just careened off into the eternal distance. The walk seemed much shorter than it had ever been before. Hey, had this place always been this shade of brown?
She didn’t remember why she had even come until she spotted the cashier, and older gentleman who was looking at her rather strangely. How long had she been standing there?
With little forethought, she marched her way to the cash register, feeling extremely heavy as she did so. Had she always weighed this much? Maybe it was her boots- wait did she put on shoes before she left?
She scrambled for something to say when she reached the register. She got caught between “Hey, are you missing a brooch?” and “I found this outside.” and muttered “Hey, are you missing the outside?” and thrust the thing into his face. Great job so far.
The cashier unhurriedly unfolded his spectacles, slipped them over his nose and blinked owlishly. Once, twice, three times. Edith quietly stewed in her own sweat, and wondered idly if it was possible to have a heart attack at 24. She must have been shaking, because the old man gently grasped her wrist as he leaned over to get a better look at the brooch.
Finally, his eyes shone with recognition. He smiled at her like he pitied her. Or pitied someone. “Not as fitting a gift as she would have liked then, huh?”
Edith was sure the sudden heat she felt throughout her body was her brain booting up. “Excuse me?”
“That’s a shame. Poor girl seemed very sure of herself. She must really be in the dog house, eh?” He chuckled lightly, Edith wished she could share in some of his joviality. Or at least know what the hell he was talking about.
“Uh, what? Girl?” Really good Ed, that one was almost coherent.
“Oh, so it was that kind of gift. I got it.” He smiled again and took his spectacles off. “A girl came in here—real tall sort, dressed all in black like a biker, not the type we usually get—said she wanted this as a gift for a special lady. Repaying a debt, or something like that. Assuming that’s you. Guess you didn’t like it, then?”
“Uh, no, I like it, I just-” She slowly pulled the brooch back over to herself, tucking it against her chest. “Didn’t- I didn’t know it was for me. Did that girl, did she say how she knew me? Or what her name was?”
“Afraid not. Must’ve wanted it to be anonymous. Maybe I should have told her it’s customary to leave a note about this kind of thing.” The old man guffawed as if he had made a joke, and Edith found it hard not to laugh along.
The rest of the meeting was a blur. She thinks they chatted a little more, but about what she wasn’t sure. Before she knew what was happening she was on her way out with a “Come back soon!” Odd day. Okay.
Edith went home, it was late. She cracked open the phonebook, looking for the number for Diana’s office to tell her all about what happened.
She forgot about the number, about Diana, about her whole damn life when she opened the tome and a handful’s worth of wildflowers and one, half-dry ash leaf came fluttering to the floor.