When the weather springed, he walked to school in lieu of taking the bus. His neighborhood formed a figure eight that was bordered by a sprawling network of gently rolling fields. His cereal eaten, his orange juice downed, his brown bag clutched in his hand, off he went past the Cape houses, split-level ranches, and A-frames. There was no cul-de-sac, just a bend in the road where no houses had been built yet. Cross the creek on the stones and you were in the first field.
Up to your left you saw a farmhouse that had been burnt down some time ago. An old woman named Mrs. Diamond lived there and she had taken on supernatural qualities in the mythic gossip of 3rd graders. Whether she was a witch or not, she certainly looked and acted the part, wearing a black dress, white apron, bonnet, etc. In his mind’s eye and memory she even carried a broom.
She had cows, chickens, crops. Everyone who walked to school feared these cows; somehow they’d become Pamplona killers, anti-Ferdinands intent on protecting their Mistress’ property. It was as if you had to walk through the end of the 18th century to get to school.
Rumor had it that Mrs. Diamond would shoot anyone who tried to cross her property. Perhaps the broom had been a shotgun? He couldn’t remember anymore. But he would never forget the crow.
The crow actually prompted him to walk to school earlier in the year than usual. It was a late spring day, which in his corner of New England meant something like winter. Damp. Chill. A winter coat made you sweat and a spring coat left you shivering. The morning bus stop ritual was exhausting and unavoidable. The worst part was that the school bus stopped directly in front of his house, which was something like having twenty uninvited guests every day. They were only in the front yard, to be sure, but the effect was the same. To walk to school you went left from his house. Two telephone poles down sat the crow.
The bus wasn’t due for another ten minutes or so. He wandered down to look at it. He later wondered if he’d have been as interested if it were sitting on the wire instead of outlined against the gray, underlined by the hard line of the top of the pole. Just as he arrived, it rose and flew two more telephone poles further away from the bus stop. He remembered thinking, “Why the hell not?” This sort of language was out of character for him inside of his own head. With the other boys he’d swear from time to time if he was really angry. This internal curse was his first casual profanity.
Before he knew what was happening, he was walking to school with the crow. It led the way to where the road curved away from Mrs. Diamond’s expanse. It expected him to continue the parabola, pushing up the hill to begin completing the figure eight. But when he detoured across the vacant lot, the crow overtook him and landed in the tree above the creek.
This pattern continued across each field. Sometimes the crow would take off and he thought that was the end of it, whatever ‘it’ was. But the crow always came back. He never broke his stride as he walked past the cow/bull; he didn’t worry about Mrs. Diamond rushing from her blackened husk of a house with a double-barreled shotgun. He breathed in the morning air. He surveyed the tops of the trees. He saw where each of his feet landed. His mind was blank.
When he walked through the back door of the school, he turned and saw that the crow was perched atop the jungle gym. The kids called it ‘The Dome’. Bars formed triangles, the triangles formed the dome. He thought about giving the crow a name and then thought better of it.
The day went by.
Recess came. The crow was gone.
End of day bell.
The crow was back.
They made their way across the fields again. His brain was no longer clear. Questions flooded his awareness like bugs around a picnic. Why him? Why now? What had happened to the crow in the world of crows that made him seek out human company? Would the crow be lonely if he took the bus? Should he feed it as they meandered, draw it closer? Should he call the ASPCA? Should he share this with his friends? His sisters? His parents? Could he train it to deliver secret messages? Would his relationship to this particular crow be some fulcrum on which the entire fate of mankind rested?
That last question was asked in a state of humorous hyperbole. But as it turned out, fate itself was at stake, not solely that of mankind.