Karen Rivers

murder, crow: what the birds know

Karen Rivers

I pulled into the driveway and a huge flock of robins rose into the sky in a shock of noise and wings, so many of them, red breasts flashing against the brown of their frantic wings.   "Sorry," I said.  But I wasn't why they were flapping.   In the middle of the group, one crow was calculating his next move, beady eyed and omniscient.


He KNEW.   


Later, I would tell the authorities that he'd planned it all along.  "Premeditated," I'd say, and they'd write it down in their tiny notebooks and sigh in the manner of police who find the world's actual crimes exhausting in terms of paperwork and overtime.  


"Shoo," I said to the crow, because I'm bigger and scarier than he will ever be.  I own this driveway. I am the god of this land, for God's sake.  I could stop what was about to happen from happening just by wanting it to not happen.  Right?  I flapped a bag of groceries at him, cobs of corn falling on the ground and rolling towards the street.


"You jerk," I said, although the corn spilling from the bag was not technically his fault.  However, blame must be laid and he was clearly a bird who was to blame.   He opened his mouth and called me a name.   I won't repeat it here.   It wasn't the kind of word I like to type.


Above me, the robin storm swirled like something that should be filmed and posted on YouTube so as to go viral later.  Why should the starlings get all the action?   I didn't raise my phone and shoot.   I'm just not that kind of girl.   The noise was really astonishing, not to mention the awkward flapping.   


"Don't you have somewhere better to go?"  I said.  "This crow is looking to start trouble."


They stared at me, bored or annoyed or both.  "Look," they said.  "The world isn't such a big and scary place.  You just hear about the bad things more often now because of the internet.   Leave us alone, you old bat."   I wondered if all birds hate me or if I've just been online dating for too long and now assume everything alive is judging me for how I look or the size of my thighs. 


The crow swooped just then, grabbing one small robin out of thin air with his talons.  WITH HIS TALONS.  I don't know why that surprised me, but it did.  Surely not as much as it surprised the robin.  In a second the crow was at my feet, pulling miles of guts out of the tiny bird, who appeared to be still alive, watching, while the other robins screamed in outrage.  Another got close, as if to save the first, and the crow tore at him with his beak.  It was basically a massacre.  Why didn't the others leave?  Hide?  Save themselves?  I blinked away the crow's eye contact, the black death in his eyes fixed on my facial expression.   I tried to choose the right look, landing somewhere between horror and shock.  It happened so fast I didn't have time to declare my position on the cycle of life and whether or not this was justified in the name of hunger or nature.  Whether the crow had a right.   Who did this to him, that made him this way.  


The bird had died by now.  If I took the corpse away, would another bird be murdered?  I didn't want blood on my hands. 


I let the dog out of the car and she steadfastly ignored the ruckus as if to say, "Look, lady, I just don't want to get involved."   Clearly, the crow was a part of a greater whole and my dog knew all about when to turn a blind eye.


The robins wept and keened into the wind and rain sprinkled down on the newly planted lavender.   I didn't think when I planted the lavender.  I can't breathe without sneezing outside now, the ricochet of my sneeze sending the birds up into the grey, appalled at my bad manners, sneezing at a time like this.  Honestly.  Some people.  


Then, just like that, they were all gone, the murderer, the victim, the onlookers.  A smattering of blood pooled on my driveway.  I hadn't really thought before about how birds bleed, just like us.  Like people.  The guns in the hands of the killers are a murder of black shiny remorseless crows. Well, they have a right.  


Or do they?


I wonder where they went next, the surviving robins.  Back to the oldest aunty's house to reminisce about the dead, I guess.  Robins are just like everyone else.  Snacking on sugar cookies and cooling casseroles and remembering that time the Dead One did the cutest thing with that worm on the lawn or laughing sadly about his wobbly first flight, the gold-flecked lino from the 70s in the aunty's nest making them think of everything that had ever happened in their own young lives, the sparkly patterns tracing their journeys away and back again.  


The crow, of course, is back with his murder, laughing low and hard with his brothers, the taste of the robin's guts fresh on his grey forked tongue, planning his next attack.  Every day, their power is growing.  He has a right to carry talons, after all.   It's in the constitution or maybe it isn't, but still, he has a loud voice and he'll use it if someone tries to take them away.  He is attacking so frequently now that pretty soon it will become the new normal, taking its place on page three of the local news, the headlines instead filled with the latest viral video: a robin dressed like a shark, riding a fluffly kitten in circles around the kitchen, while in the background, the rest of the flock sings Let It Go.