It has been a few weeks since that fat crow swooped in and cut off the squirrels’ retreat from my dogs. After Gracie killed one of the squirrels, ‘Fatso’ crow proceeded to dismember it and dish it out to a murder of other crows. That’s right, a murder. Since that day, I’ve found out a lot about crows and that’s what a bunch of them are called; a murder. How fitting. I can’t think of anything more premeditated than what I witnessed last month.
I also learned that crows, in fact, do have a language. Three caws are thought to mean either all clear when they are short and crisp, or varying degrees of danger depending on the pitch, volume and the duration. Crows are thought to be monogamous, and generations live together in colonies in groves, like the patch behind my neighbor’s house.
All this I learned and mostly forgot since that episode, but for some reason it comes back to me today. I’m working on my computer but my mind keeps drifting. The windows are open and the morning sun warms my face when suddenly the sky goes dark for an instant and I catch a huge shadow cross my lawn. I look up but too late to see the bird who created it.
A minute later it happens again. I get up and go to the window just in time to see a fat, black bird land on the peak of my neighbor’s roof. It’s Fatso, he’s back, and my heart starts to race. I say to myself, I was just thinking of you.
I never did explore that area behind my neighbor’s house like I promised myself. For one thing, its private property and for another its largely swamp and underbrush. I look off in that direction now to see if there are more crows mulling about. I wonder if Fatso is planning another attack. I don’t see any other crows, but this one, remarkably, swoops down and lands on the birdfeeder fifteen feet from my window.
I can’t quite make out what’s in its beak. It keeps bobbing its head up and down as it looks at me first with one big brown eye and then the other. Its eyes look almost human.
It drops what its holding and the object pings against the planks. The bird flies off.
Staring at the object, I try to make out what it is and don’t notice the crow circle my house. Fatso breaks the sunlight again, and as it does the object seems to wink at me. The crow’s shadow is twenty-feet wide as it glides across the lawn. I hear three short, quick caws as it flies behind my neighbor’s house. Happy calls, if I remember right from my studies.
I rub my palms against my pants. From the window, I can only tell the object was once round and shiny.
Crows have been known to bring gifts to humans that feed them or leave out food for them. I wonder if that’s what this is. I’m thinking that Fatso, who a month ago got me to leave the dead squirrel so it could feed it to its colony, is now rewarding my good behavior. Good human, here’s your treat!
I go out to retrieve it.
It’s a charm. A bracelet’s charm with a broken loop attached to the cleft of a heart.
Dirty, bent and battered, it is hard to tell much else as I pick it up. There is writing on it, on both sides, but I can’t tell what it says. It stinks like a swamp and I take it to the sink to wash it off.
It must have been wherever the crow found it for a long time, judging by all the grime I work out with a nylon scrub brush. One side is engraved bolder than the other and I make out the name Jeremy. The other side is a date, but only the top portions of the middle numeric date are still there. Under stronger light and using a bit of numeral deduction I work it out to be either 5/23/1990 or 5/28/1990.
I take it to the kitchen table and sit. Jeremy? The name taps something in the back of my mind, but it is the date that has me excited; it could be exactly twenty-seven years ago… ‘Today! This is more than a coincidence,’ I say out loud.
I remember that feeling I had this morning; thinking about Fatso crow and then there he is. ‘This bird is playing with my mind.’ I go back outside to see if it is on my neighbor’s roof. I don’t see or hear it. Or any other crows.
Crows have the intelligence of a small primate but this goes way beyond that. I say, ‘How could a bird know a calendar? It has to be pure coincidence… and stop talking to yourself!’ Then add under my breath, ‘bird’s making me crazy.’ My heart for some odd reason is racing.
Jeremy? The name does mean something, but I can’t place what.
I put the charm on top of my wife’s mail. That way I’ll be sure to remember to tell her about what happened today, and four weeks ago. I still haven’t told her about the first episode. I don’t want to admit to her that I tried to talk to a crow, and anyway, she would not have been impressed with Gracie’s and Joker’s behavior that day… Once, after Gracie brought the head of a rabbit into the kitchen, she went after the dog with a broom! My wife is a nurse. She has no appreciation for battle trophies, or delusional husbands.
‘What’s this?’ she asks as soon as she gets home, picking up the charm. She reads the name. ‘Jeremy?’
‘That came special delivery,’ I say. ‘Read the date.’
‘Special delivery?’ She turns it over. ‘What’s the date? I can’t read it. Who sent it?’
‘It’s today’s date. May 23rd, only 1990. Or maybe it’s the 28th; it’s hard to tell. A crow dropped it off.’
She looks at me.
‘Seriously,’ I say. ‘A crow literally dropped it off.’ She rolls her eyes.
I tell her about the shadow, the crow staring at me from the birdfeeder, and how it dropped the charm on the deck. But I decide not to tell her about last month’s episode as her expression changes from her cute dear to curious to something else entirely.
She clutches her fist around the charm until her knuckles turn white and she says, ‘Jeremy,’ with a look in her eyes that I’ve only seen two or three times. The last time was the day her sister passed after a long illness. It is the look of closure, the look of final resolve; there is nothing more she, or any nurse, can do.
She starts to break down and cry and I go to her and hug her but not understanding. I can only think she must have a patient with that name. She calms down in my arms, then says after a moment, ‘You don’t remember?’ She backs away and looks at me with steel-grey eyes torn red at the seams. ‘Jeremy? Julia?’
Suddenly, I do remember!
The second name triggers it; Jeremy was going to be the name of our first-born, or Julia, if it was a girl. We made that decision on our Honeymoon in the summer of ’89, right after my wife told me she was pregnant.
She turns over the charm and says, ‘those middle two aren’t numbers, they’re question marks.’
I flash back to a store we stopped at outside of Las Vegas, where we bought a pair of fluffy baby booties. Seamed together, one shoe was pink and the other was blue with ‘Las Vegas’ stitched in red across the toes. It was specifically designed for expecting couples like us. We had the names ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Julia’ stitched on the sides, and we hung them from the car’s rearview mirror for the rest of our Honeymoon.
But our first-born was not born. My wife had a miscarriage a day or two after we got home.
Coming at the end of a fantastic three-month, 5,000-mile long honeymoon, and eager to start a family, it felt like someone turned off the perfect picture show in mid-frame.
We vowed to try again, and not to use either name after that.
We couldn’t know the sex of the child that soon, but we did work out an approximate due date. My wife had them stitch the heels of the booties with 05/??/1990.