Flash Fiction: Love, Loss and the Healing Power of Crows

Jacqueline heard the crows outside and felt called. Their caws brought her first to the window to see their black bodies balanced on the telephone wires and then outside to peer up at them. Caw caw caw they sang and she felt a sense of calm. They brought her peace in a way that she didn’t understand.

A young woman was walking her dog right then and saw Jacqueline gazing at the birds. “I live on the 8th floor and I can see their nest right from my balcony.” 

Jacqui looked at the high rise across the street and saw where she was pointing. 

“I watched when they had a nestful of eggs and how they took turns sitting on the nest.”

“Lovely,” Jacqui said, wishing she could have seen that too.

“People complain that  the crows make a mess on their parked cars, but I love them.”

“Me, too,” Jacqui said, still not sure why crows, of all the birds she could pick, had such a particular draw for her.

The woman and her dog walked away and Jacqui went inside and made herself a cup of tea. She was lonely, but not excited to get to know anybody new. Without Chet,  she had lost most of her tolerance for people. She had no room for chit chat or worse yet, another of those “How are you doing?” talks. She felt happiest when she was left alone.

Weeks passed and the crows were out in full force. They gathered at dusk before settling into the nearby trees at night. One chilly late afternoon, Jacqui heard an especially loud ruckus. She looked through her window to see at least fifty crows on the telephone wires squawking at an unprecedented level. She went outside to get a better look and saw a dead crow lying in the street, the apparent victim of a speeding car. When the traffic ebbed, several birds flew down to get a closer look at their friend. It was as if the whole community was upset and didn’t know what to do with their emotions other than caw and caw and caw.

Jacqui thought back to when Chet had died. It seemed as if everywhere she went, people just talked and talked and talked. As if they could make things better if they could just keep repeating what they hoped were comforting words. For Jacqui, most had been empty platitudes about how “he was in a better place” or “how lucky that he hadn’t suffered.” That was the one that really got to her. What did they know? Didn’t time elongate when you were in an accident? Chet could have endured a protracted period of fear and suffering even though the total “outside” time was only a few seconds. That’s when she’d started avoiding almost everyone. 

Her attention was drawn back to the crows who had reached a fevered pitch. They were clearly distressed. Should she get a rake and move the bird off the street? Maybe get a bag and take it to the dumpster in the back? She hated seeing it getting run over again and again. It felt disrespectful.

She was just grabbing some gloves when she heard a knock at the door. There stood her crow-loving friend looking as disturbed as the birds who continued to squawk. “What can we do?”

Jacqui shared her plan and the woman, who quickly introduced herself as Camille, immediately said, “Let’s go.”

The two women soon returned to the street and, amid the thundering caws, scooped up the dead crow and placed it on top of the paper bag. Lorraine carried the rake, Jacqui the bag and they walked solemnly, as if in a funeral procession, down Jacqui’s driveway, through her backyard and out to the alley where the dumpsters were. They were just opening the green waste when they heard a new burst of squawks. Looking up, the crows had flown and were now on the telephone wires in the alley, looking down at them. Jacqui placed the crow on top of a pile of grass clippings and left the lid open. “In case they need to say their good-byes,” she said. When the two women had reached the back gate, they turned and saw four crows already balanced on the edges of the bin.

“Aw,” Camille said, “crows are one of the few animals that actually mourn their dead.”

“I knew there was something special about them.” 

They walked back through the yard then headed for the street. Just as Camille was turning to say good-bye, Jacqui realized she didn’t want to enter her empty house all alone. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“That would be lovely. I’ve only been here a few months and I don’t know many people.”

“Well, come inside.”

“But I should warn you. Lately, I’ve found myself with almost nothing to say.”

“Ha! Then you’ve come to the right place. Maybe we could just sit together and watch television?”

Camille looked relieved. “That sounds perfect.”

After directing her guest to the half-bath to wash her hands, Jacqui heard cawing and looked through her kitchen window. A single crow was in the nearby tree and was looking straight at her. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Jacqui said out loud. “It’s hard to lose someone you love.” The bird tilted its head to one side then flew away.

Those were the only words she’d wanted to hear after Chet died. They acknowledged what had happened but didn’t try to soften the pain. She knew all too well that grieving had its own process and pace. There were no easy fixes or ways to rush through it.

“Should I come in?” Camile said, appearing at the door.

“Yes, please do.” Jacqui offered her a chair then filled the kettle with water. “You can at least tell me where you moved from.”

“Seattle, Washington.”

“And why did you move here?”

Camille’s cheeks grew pink. “A new start. I’m recently divorced.”

Jacqui poured hot water into the teapot and sat down at the table next to her new friend. “Not what you wanted?”

“Nope.”

“That hurts.”

“More than I want to admit.” Camille fought back tears. “And you? Tell me something so I’m not the only person wearing her heart on her sleeve here.”

“My husband was killed in a car accident a few months ago.”

“Oh, dear God. I’m so sorry! I can’t even begin to imagine how terrible that must be.” 

“Yes. Really awful.”

“Life is a lot harder than I ever thought.”

”Yes, it is.”

“The brightest part of my day is watching the crows.”

“Mine too.”

“Want to watch tv?” Jacqui asked.

“Sounds great.”

As they walked into the den, they heard the cawing of the crows.

“The mourning continues,” Camille said.

“At least we’re all in this together.”

Both chuckled, then Lorraine added, “But seriously, there’s comfort in that.”

“Yes, loss connects us all on a deep level.”

 Camille’s face brightened. “I hope you won’t think I’m a complete nerd but there’s a documentary on crows I think you’d love.”

 “Which channel?” Jacqui picked up the channel changer. “It’s time I learned more about my new friends.”

4 Comments Add yours

  1. jhenehan says:

    This is a beautiful episode from a life, imaginary or not.

    1. Thank you, Joan. I so appreciate your feedback.

  2. bethtmnyfl says:

    thank you ,Len, for sharing such a common need. “I am sorry you lost someone you loved.” instead of the how are yous that are so difficult to answer. The metaphor of the crows and the mourning ritauls of human and bird were moving. simple yet profound joining. thank you for this moment.

    1. Thank you, Beth. Hearing these words from you – someone who has been through this – means so much to me. Big hugs to you.

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