Ten-year-old Josh walked to school on an already hot May morning. The bulldozers roared and pushed along the river, clearing the bush and the cottonwood trees for new condo development. Josh’s skinny white pony-tailed neighbour, landlord Glaser Neil called out from his yard “hey, take a look at this,” and Josh stopped. Neil often acquired odd things. Odd but interesting. Neil pointed behind his lilac bush. Josh looked over and smelled the lilacs. Glaser motioned for Josh to come in, and the boy opened the gate and peered at the back of a cage. “What’s in there?” he asked. He heard a growl.
With Respect to P.H. Emerson’s Fairy Tale, “The Crows”
I woke up this morning to the sound of crows cawing outside my window.
As I lay staring at the ceiling, I wondered how many were gathered in the yard, perched along the aging wooden fence, watching. And waiting. Was a single bird calling out in search of a friend? Were there two or three, or more, chasing away the deer that liked to nibble on Mom’s yellow roses?
Maybe they were trying to tell me something, as only crows can do.
She looked at the baby, and wondered – is there something wrong with me?
She took in its ten little fingers and toes, the soft folds of fat around its upper legs, its arms, its wrists. The perfect little mouth. She had never known such softness. And she wondered – what kind of monster am I?
He found her sitting in a tree. Her legs dangled over the edge, her dusty feet kicking back and forth. It had taken him a while to find her. It wasn’t as simple as it usually was. Each hourglass of life came with coordinates, of course. The tiny numbers ascribed on the bottom gave approximate locations. It wasn’t a perfect system. Humans weren’t as predictable as, say, ants. Things had gotten tricky when they domesticated the horse, for example. It had gotten worse with the engine. Obviously airplanes had kicked things into gear. But the hourglass makers, those bright-eyed creatures, were quick to adjust. They usually got it in the ballpark.
The cobbled streets bloat, filled with petrol fumes, birds’ droppings, and old receipts discarded by office workers returning home. A clock chimes seven times.
Mum opens the windows each morning to let the birds in and closes them at night to keep the darkness out.
Jean-Pierre had been an engineer of Swiss watches. He had retired at forty-five after a very successful, brief career of twenty-two years. The thing on his arm looked like an aqualung. It weighed enough to make him feel it resisting his movements. Its face was extra thick, and the chunky bezel shone like a chrome grille. He had puzzled out its inner intricacies himself; he had made it as complicated as he could do. That had been his goal: the most complicated watch I can make—for no other reason than that. Just to do it.
Between 2000 and 2011, 215 people in America died from objects falling off buildings. And no, in the scheme of mass shootings and domestic homicides and car accidents, this statistic is nothing. Irrelevant. Flaccid, lifeless. The likelihood of a carpet bag filled with steel hammers falling twenty-nine stories, making contact with your skull, and fusing a metal-and-brain sandwich into hot concrete is nearly zero. For the most part, you should feel inclined to leave your protective headgear at home.
During the summer holidays when I was twelve my neighbour shot his three sons. I was at home with my brother when it happened. We were experimenting with a magnifying glass, colouring strips of card with different pigments to see which would burn first under the focussed triangle of sunlight. I remember the sound of the gun was a huge and deep boom. I could feel the concussive force even through the walls of our house. I heard a shot, a scream, two more shots, and then silence. Three shells fired from a breech loaded shotgun, each containing nine double aught spherical pellets, their destructive force expressed onto the children next door. The boys used to play in the yard. I would see them almost every day. They were all younger than me, twins and an elder, one at school. My mother would look after them from time to time when theirs wasn’t well. I tried to teach them how to play cricket.
“You going to the disco on Friday?”
“I dunno. The last one I went to was really bad. I ended up sitting in the toilets waiting for my mum to get me.”
“Why don’t we go? We can meet up before and go there together. It might be good, and we can leave if it’s not.”
“Eh, all right. You come over to mine, like, an hour before. Okay?”