Introductions are tedious. Polite conversation has never been my strong suit; I much prefer action to chatter, especially when the latter is without purpose. After all, I do not fancy you, and I doubt you will fancy me as I feel no obligation to make myself appear more noble, charming, or interesting than I am. I exist to perform a single duty, and without question, I am the best in my profession. That is not hubris; it’s merely the truth. I never said I was humble, but then I haven’t said much about myself at all. Everything you need to know about me can be summed up in eight words, and so I will just get to it.
I am a raven.
And I kill people.
October 10, 2008
I have lived in Austin all my life, but I have travelled as far south as Mexico, and I’ve seen beautiful things on my journeys. But something always brings me home, something intangible and inexplicable. But perhaps that’s why it’s home — because its hold over me is mysterious and wonderful. In my years soaring over Austin and watching its denizens, I’ve seen brilliant things and heard wonderful stories. I’ve also taken some amazing lives. But that’s just what I am and what I do. I cannot explain it or control it any more than I can my heartbeat.
This world is not conclusion. A species stands beyond/Invisible, as Music/But positive as Sound.
Emily Dickinson’s words whisper through my mind as I soar over the Austin Greenbelt, looking down over the hikers, families, and dogs wading in and around the pale, green water. These bright, animated chess pieces move over the board in a synchronous harmony almost as though they are dancing. I hear their laughter and their shouts, smell their skin and hair. As I drift lower they loom larger in my vision, now less like dancing gems and more like the glorious monsters they are. A baby on wobbly legs points a chubby finger in the air at me, babbling and drooling. Her mother sweeps her up into her arms, and the baby’s head falls backward, her mouth wide with laughter.
In the distance, I see a woman also watching this scene. She is dressed in a tank top and flip flops, the uniform of South Austin. She is folded into herself, boasting the kind of invisibility ungainly teenagers wish for themselves and so few humans can willfully create. The woman is watching the mother and daughter with a small smile, but behind the smile I see something else. Her eyes are liquid and unfocused. It is a moment before I realize she’s crying.
Curiosity piqued, I moved in closer to see her better. Something about her is familiar. I swoop down and pull my wings close to me, settling on a large rock just across from her. A breeze has blown a lock of hair into her eyes. Shifting, she moves her hair away, and when she does, her eyes light on me.
She stiffens. Her eyes become focused and hard. She looks me in the eye and shakes her head.
“Raven. You bastard,” she says, her voice low and soft.
I step back and look around. Although I am occasionally yelled at by humans I am rarely spoke to, or even spoken of, properly. Most often I am mistaken for my cousin the crow, especially since I am unnaturally small for a raven. Certainly no human has ever looked me in the eye and addressed me.
But this one is.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” She wears a half smile, and expression completely devoid of mirth. “You have no idea who I am.”
I shift my weight from foot to foot and fluff my feathers in irritation. I am about to fly away when it comes to me. I have seen this woman before.
October 4, 2002
It was an unseasonably cold, clear morning in the foothills of Dripping Springs, Texas. I was out for my morning soar, stretching my wings and letting the wind carry me. I could smell wet, dying leaves, the smell of autumn.
I dropped lower as the wind died down, and I could see the pretty houses dotting the hillside. Xeriscaped lawns, SUVs or minivans in the driveways, organic vegetable gardens in the backyard. I knew these sort—they flourish in Austin. The Earth-aware, alternative medicine, sustainable types. Lots of the houses had children’s toys in the front yards, indicating early-rising rapscallions within. But that one house, the one where my business lay that morning, stirred in its own way even as the other houses slept.
A woman’s voice, guttural and animal-like, cried out.
Sweeping in, I could smell sweat, blood, and anxiety. The energy surrounding the house was frenzied, frenetic. I could hear two voices: one soft and comforting intended to sooth and calm, and another that cried out in pain.
I flew around the house several times trying to get my bearings before I saw the open window. Swooping in, I misjudged my descent and disturbed a vase of flowers too close to the window. The vase crashed to the ground, announcing my arrival.
A stout woman with hair bound in a loose tapestry of graying braids atop her head rushed over to where I’d landed. “It’s a bird,” she called out. “Just a bird in the house.”
I sniffed and examined her. She wasn’t the one.
I took flight again, maneuvering into the room with the blood and sweat, landing in the corner near the door. The older woman hurried in behind me. A small woman with wet, curly hair plastered to her forehead stood on all fours on a pile of sheets and towels on the floor. Her legs were spread apart, and she was moaning, rocking back and forth. I recognized childbirth, and moved in for a closer look.
The woman moaned again, grunting and gritting her teeth. She looked to be in extraordinary pain. The stout woman glided behind the laboring woman. “The baby’s crowning, “ she said. “You’re doing great, sweetheart. Keep pushing gently, breathe, that’s it, we’re sooo close, Carrie!”
Carrie took a deep breath, and her whole body relaxed for a moment. Her back arched down, pulled by the weight of the child in her abdomen. With a soft shudder and a small sigh of relief, she looked up. I think she was about to speak when she saw me. In that moment, we both knew why I was there.
“Get out,” she whispered, her face having gone white. “Oh god, get out! Get out! Get that fucking black bird out of my house! Jake! Mom! GET IT OUT!”
Surprised by her outburst, Carrie’s mother sat back on her heels. “I don’t know how to trap a bird,” she muttered, looking dazed. “Jake’s not here, honey, he was called away to work. Don’t worry about it; the bird can stay. We can deal with it later.”
Carrie began her wailing again, and her mother, the midwife, began shouting instructions even as she maneuvered between Carrie’s shaking thighs. “All right, honey, the baby’s head is out. Okay. Oh. Oh. Carrie, you have to push this baby out now…”
One minute, two minutes later, in a rush of blood and water, the baby slid between her mother’s thighs and into her grandmother’s waiting hands. The tension in the air was palpable. Yet amid the commotion and the smorgasbord of smells, I was called to the bright, shining, ethereal cord that suddenly appeared in the room. It rang in a brilliant frequency, and when it appeared, everything else ceased to exist. I went to the cord, and snapped it into my beak. It was mine to take away.
As I took flight with the cord securely in my mouth, I heard a woman’s voice cry, “She’s not breathing! Oh god, she’s not breathing! Help, Mom, SHE’S NOT BREATHING!”
I went out the same way I came in, through the window, flying high and disappearing into a colorless sky.
October 17, 2008
“I never thought I’d see you again. Not much reason to, I guess, since I never got pregnant again after that. Did you know that, black bird? I had four miscarriages before carrying Isabelle to term, and then you swooped in and carried her away. Just like that,” Carrie says, snapping her fingers.
She looks different now, clothed and clean in the sunlight. Her hair is an explosion of bright, copper curls that reflect light like metal. If I were a magpie I might try to capture some of that hair for a souvenir. But I know better than to get too close; she’s wound so tight she’s liable to do anything and I don’t want to cause a scene.
“So you know what I want from you, black bird? I want you to bring me another baby.”
I cock my head to the side and blink. Storks bring babies to couples, not ravens. I hop a little closer to her, for I am intrigued by more than her hair. It isn’t often that I am seen for what I am, and even more rarely that I am seen for who I am. Carrie doesn’t just see me for a raven; she knows we have met before. She knows I saw her naked and despairing. She knows I nabbed her child’s life from this world. She knows me. She sees me. And I cannot move away.
“You take lives all the time,” she says, her voice breaking. “All I’m asking is that you bring me one of them. Instead of taking it off to wherever you take them, bring it to me. You can do that. You owe me, black bird.”
Her tears are falling freely now, and I almost understand her pain, even if the meaning of her words are lost on me. “Owe” is such a uniquely human word. I cannot understand what this means.
“I carried that baby for nine months without even a hint of trouble,” she whispered, her shoulders shaking. “It’s not fair, black bird. You owe me.”
“Fair” is right up there with “owe” as a word I have no use for. But her plea is so rich, and as a composite she is so beautiful that I am drawn to her desire quite apart from her own trifling reasons. I am drawn to help her because she sparkles, because she sees me, and because I have never brought life to anyone, and quite frankly, the idea excites me. For reasons completely my own, I want to help Carrie.
I blink my eyes, shake my feathers, and take to the sky. South Austin is full of interesting people. I just have to find the right one to bring to Carrie.