By Kourtnie McKenzie
She held my hand while I waded through these deep, dark mud-puddles, the way Charon guides souls. And she asked, why are we going this way, because we passed our car two garages ago. But I saw something splashing ahead.
So I led her on, and we hugged the wall of our duplex, tethered onto the fringes of Anaheim. We fought against rainfall and flooding: all this water that Orange County couldn’t handle. And just when this strip of mud-puddled asphalt plunged into a deeper, darker pool, I pointed there—to the ground.
I was only ten or eleven, so I felt I had to point vigorously.
My mother looked down, and she asked me, is that a bird, and it was; it was a sorry, soaked crow. Then she took her jacket and scooped the crow up. I don’t recall where we were planning to go, but now, we returned home. The crow was barely breathing, still twitching. I looked to my mother because I needed her to play God.
She ran into the kitchen, and wrapped this crow into one of our scrappy kitchen towels. Then she asked me can you get some glovesbut I couldn’t fathom why we needed gloves so I asked her why do you need gloves and she answered me with a question don’t you know that they’re diseased.
I just shook my head.
I wanted to hear what made the crow diseased, but she asked me again, why can’t you get some gloves. I said I would, if she used the gloves to help the crow, and she asked can’t you see that I’m trying,and I told her, I did, I did—but that isn’t enough.
She turned her back to me then.
She told me that, twenty years ago, there was another crow. Every day, while she was walking to school, it would fly out of the trees; it would swoop in on her head; and it would rip out a talon-full of hair, she’d say, and oh! I was shrieking. I didn’t know what to do. Her friends would laugh, and she’d ask, why are you laughing, because it wasn’t funny to her, how this crow used her for nest-building.
When that crow took off to the sky, she said, it aimed for the highest tree.
I listened attentively.
That spring, she told me, she saw her hair in the high tree, knotted in twigs. Holding eggs. I liked that moment, with the tall tree and tiny eggs, so I interrupted her story, did you know there’s an eagle, it flies to the top of Yggdrasil, the world-tree—
And she said, why does that matter?—that’s an eagle. I’m talking about a crow.
I was startled by her tone. This was not how my mother spoke to me.
The kitchen felt cold and callous.
My mother turned to the side so I could look at her and the crow better. Her fingers were shaky as she wiped the bird, round and round. Fingers and feathers clung together in the tattered folds of this towel. I didn’t want to look anymore. So I told her, I’d like to get something else, and she asked what else do you think I need and I said, I have an idea, and ran into our living room.
I ran in circles around our paisley couch.
When I returned to the kitchen, with a hairbrush and comb, my mother and the crow were not there. Then I ran to the window. I saw them in the torrential rain: My mother—beneath a tree. In the mud-puddles. The crow—shoveled into deep, knotty mud.
Kourtnie McKenzie is attending the MFA program at Fresno State in Central Valley, California. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s working for her school’s literary magazine, The Normal School, or is hunting for tea, coffee, and fresh fruit.Her work has appeared in Young Adult Review Network.