“I’m worried about what this means symbolically,” said I to myself when the crow landed beside me on the park bench and said, “Your hubris will get the better of you in due time,” like a schoolteacher divulging the moral of a fable to a classroom full of six-year-olds. The bird’s attention fluttered between the spaces around it—the scant bright scarlet leaves hanging overhead on the tendrilous maple branches, the baby in the stroller being pushed by its mother on the gravel walking trail, a miscellaneous piece of trash placed in the grass by a miscellaneous human who may or may not have happened to be myself—but I digress. Though its attention was splayed among the world around it, its words were meant to bite me and me alone. Who else could it have been talking to? No one else was in earshot.
And those words did bite, like a fierce November breeze heralding the turning of the seasons. It is said that crows are approximately as intelligent as the average human seven-year-old. So, said I to the crow, as if I were chiding the approximate seven-year-old it was, “I don’t have to listen to you. I am a grown-up and you are a crow.” With that, I rose from the wood-and-iron park bench and started back down the woodland walkway, back to my apartment complex. I did not look back at the crow. I assumed it flew off to gather trinkets for witches, or whatever it had been trained to do. And my miscellaneous piece of trash continued fluttering among the exposed roots of the hibernating maple trees.
That night, I was plagued by nightmare fantasias, by visions of toddlers with windblown plastic bags stuck over their heads, by testimonies of sea turtles that choked on straws and fish that found themselves stuck in the rings of those Gatorade bottle holders. But as soon as I woke with a start, cold sweat drenching my body, I soon forgot my dreams and began to lay myself back down to rest; I could see out my bedroom window and onto my modest balcony. My attention was caught by the silhouette of a black bird in the light of the weak electric streetlamp.
Thinking nothing of it, I fell back asleep, though the bird spoke in that same schoolteacher’s tone, in a voice that permeated glass and empty space, “You may not fall on the sword of your own folly, but others will—and others have.”
Thought I, “Shut up, bird,” and I drifted into pleasant, dreamless sleep.
When I awoke again to daylight and flung my window open to taste the air of a new day, I noticed something outside on my balcony: the buckle of a wallet shining in the light of the sunrise, with the wallet attached, left under where the bird had stood vigilant that last night. I stepped outside, under the overcast Novembrian sky into an almost-winter’s morning frost, stooped, and picked the wallet up, checked the driver’s license in it for an address. That stupid bird thinks I’m a bad person, thought I. Well, I’ll show him. Pine Street, two streets over. I shivered, dressed, threw on an extra layer of flannel for luck and warmth, and set out to return the wallet. Some instinct of mine checked the wallet for cash; there was none.
At the address was a house of little note: stained mustard yellow siding, intact windows with the curtains drawn, a lawn of dying or dead grass, a cracked grey concrete walkway from Pine Street to the front door. The doorbell buzzed when I pressed it; in the interlude between that action and the opening of the door, I noted an overturned patch of earth by the front porch. A ramshackle wooden marker stuck out of the toiled dirt. The woman who opened the door had red eyes and wet cheeks—she had been crying, I presumed. I noted she was the woman whose image appeared on the driver’s license in the wallet.
“Yes?” said she. “Can I help you?”
“I think I can help you,” I said, handing her the wallet. “I found this.”
“Oh, uh, thanks,” she said, accepting it in her shaky palm. She sniveled a bit—her nostrils were full of mucus. “I’m sorry, I’m glad– It’s been a rough day is all.” She gestured to the disturbed patch of earth in front of her house. “My dog Benny ate a piece of trash off the ground yesterday evening and choked to death.” Awash with guilt, all my internal monologue offered me was, “Oops.”
“And then,” said this woman, “and you won’t believe this. A crow picked my pocket.”
A bird cawed percussively in the distance. Like a schoolteacher, divulging the moral at the end of a fable.