She stood on the verandah and waited. She knew they would come. Not a day missed since she came here to this red mud-stained fibro house the real estate agents had called a home. All smarmy and spit-licked, no a hair out of place they were. The woman, she reckoned, spent more on her suits that she probably got paid. ’prob’ly got a hubby to keep her, that one’ she remarked one day to her eldest. The child, a girl, looked at the woman with narrowed eyes and wondered what it must feel like to look like that, all perfumed and neat with pencil legs and pinched waist, her lipstick mouth speaking with authority and pace about tenancy agreements and bonds. She had seen ladies like that in the tattered third-read magazines her Nan had been given by the lady she cleaned for.
Pearls of sweat beaded her forehead as the woman squatted now on the back step, enamel dish in hand. A gust of red dust whirled through the mulga causing her to squint. She wasn’t moving though. She had come here six months before to start again. It was the way with her, to jolt herself out of misery, every since she was young. Cry for a bit, moan for a bit longer, but then “get her bum into gear and find a way”. That’s what she was doing now. “No use feelin’ sorry for yerself…” Her father had given her that pearl as well as the gene for red curly hair, same colour as the dust in this part of the world. Camouflage could be a good thing sometimes. No one noticed her here, much less said anything to her. She liked it that way too.
She remembered the time, five years ago now, when they were living down near Blackwood. She stood in the doorway of the local post office with a baby on her hip and two more on the steps behind her. There they were, the town gossips, a right royal flush and downright mean, talking about her and him and how she went away to the big smoke to get rid of the baby, “number 4 it was, that we know about anyways….haaaahaaaa”
She minded her own business. Keeping her head about water was her primary concern now. She wouldn’t let any bastard wreck it this time. She was sure he wouldn’t find here here; not here, not anywhwere. She grew agitated with this thought, prompting her to action.
Her feet left the verandah and traveled determinedly across the parched yard. The sun burned, but she did not yield to its ferocity. She made her way to the bottom paddock where the barbed wire fence announced the boundary of the meagre plot. The mindless bantere inside her head ceased immediately. The sky was silent and all movement around her seemed to cease in a single moment of time. Above her on a ghost branch, a single crow, blue-black shining, carked in distress. “one, only one…where are the others?” His panic became her panic.
Running now back to the verandah, she pulled on a weathered pair of Blundstones and returned to the gum where the bird was waiting for her. “I know somethin’s going’ on fella, otherwise youse would have come for her bread”.
In a moment the line of paperbarks marking the creek bank became alive with discord. The cark of one became the cark of many, as a black haze smudged the sky above the creek. “Surely not all that noise over a dead wallaby?”
The crow above her uttered a counsel before rising high and swooping low towards. the creek. She followed it, her boots mowing down the dry yellow grass in her path. The cacophony rose in volume as she drew near the creek. There, in an amphitheatre of bush was a stage like no other. Crows, maybe twenty, perhaps thirty were perched on every tree, like members of an audence. She observed closely. It seemed that they were not fighting or mating, but waiting. And then her gaze was drawn to centre stage where, a single crow lay, dead…blood spilled into the dust and formed a red pool around its head. Squatting on her haunches she reached out to touch the creature and felt warmth. She looked again at the spectators. They were watching her. A thought came… “a funeral….this is a crow’s funer” She stepped back suddenly, cuasing a similar movement behind her. "Do crows love each other, miss each other? Maybe even mourn each other? " She contemplated those thoughts and felt a heady mixture of sadness and envy. To the be loved, to be mourned, to belong….“When I die, will there be anyone gathering in such a display of loss and love?”
She left the crows to their ritual. Her return to the house was slow and solemn. She thought of her children, Ruby, Seth and Lou. would they mourn her when she went? Or would they blame her for the erratic life she had dished up so far? The Friday nights spent feverishly excited to be having McDonalds, all the time watching tentatively forthe first sign of their father’s rage and their mother’s black eye. Sometimes she felt that she hadn’t achieved much in their months of roaming, but things had changed. No more scary Fridays, no more black eyes. They had each other and on Fridays now they got out a video for the kids and one for her and had the local shop’s only take-away special, fis and chips. No one yelled much anymore, except if they were playing cricked in the back yard.
That night she tucked them up extra special and told them how much she loved them. She sat on the back steps and felt happy. The stars hung brilliantly in the night sky. In the morning when the crows came, she would welcome them.
it’s true that crows really do have funerals for their loved ones……i witnessed one once….and then googled it……crows nest in the silky oaks in our yard….and often drop their feathers as a kind of gift (I always see it as a gift anyway). I wrote this some 2 years ago now and it reflects moments of my past life…..but not all. I love the idea of landscape informing character.