Chapter 3 Ashes to Ashes. pt 1.
When Stirling woke it wasn’t because he was rested, it was because something was different. The afternoon overcast gloamed through a crack in the curtains with the colour of a dirty ashtray, but it wasn't the light that had woken him. Something else had punted his sleeping mind out of dreamland, and for the life of him, he couldn’t think of what it was.
As he lay awake thinking, a sound from the kitchen drew his attention. It was the regular metronome tap of a beak on heavy glass. It was a sound he knew well.
“Tis a visitor, tapping on my chamber door,” he croaked.
Stirling rolled out of bed, knowing that the longer he waited, the louder and more annoying the tapping would become. He pulled on a terrycloth robe and lurched woodenly out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. In the time it took him to walk from one room to the other, the measured easy listening beat of the tapping had become a speed metal jackhammer.
“Alright!” he called, wiping his gummy eyes.
At the ground-level window above the sink waited a large crow named Magnon. The crow eyed him with glass-black eyes, ruffled his feathers, and rapped hard on the glass with its beak three more times; the little bastard.
“You can see that I’m coming, right?”
Magnon hopped back to allow him to push the window open and bobbled over the sill before Stirling had a chance to move back. He fluttered onto the counter, flinging drops of rainwater onto the drying rack of clean dishes, his talons slipping and clicking on the brittle 1950s micarta. Stirling raised his eyebrows at the bird. Magnon eyed him back, unrepentant, and cawed loudly, the closed space in the small kitchen amplifying the sound.
Stirling wiped the spray off his face. “Wet today?” he asked, stooping to pry open the steel cat food container where he kept his supply of unshelled peanuts. He took out a generous handful and sprinkled them on a black rubber car mat that took up a quarter of his available counter space. He took another handful of peanuts, leaned far over the sink, and tossed them out into his backyard. The three or four crows who were waiting for this scrambled for the nuts filling as many as two or three in their beaks before flapping away to eat or hide their prizes.
Magnon attacked the peanuts on the mat, holding the nuts in his strong black talons and using his large beak to break the shells open. He puffed out the feathers around his neck in a self-congratulatory way as he ate.
“Keep them on the mat,” Stirling said, “I’m tired of picking shells up off the floor.”
Magnon didn’t deign to look up.
Most animals tended to like him about as much as the bedbugs and fleas did. All but the most friendly dogs kept their distance, and cats hissed at him as he walked by. The cat thing didn’t bother him all that much, it always seemed to him as though their permanently raised tails were giving the world the middle finger anyway.
Though few animals were willing to accept his presence, one of the ones that would was the crow. Magnon and his crew had visited him every day without fail for the last three years, demanding peanuts and the occasional scraps.
Their relationship had begun with a rocky start. His backyard bordered on a greenbelt where there stood a large Alder tree that the local crows had claimed for their own. At first, things were fine, the crows did their thing, he did his, good neighbours respecting each other's boundaries. Then, without warning, every day, all day, for two hellish weeks, the crows participated in their own version of primal scream therapy.
Sleep during the day was impossible. Stirling shouted at them, threw rocks, banged pots and literally danced in furious, naked, sleep-deprived rage. Nothing worked. He began to fantasize about crows falling dead from the sky as he lay awake with gritted teeth, bloodshot eyes staring at the ceiling.
In a final Hail Mary attempt before bringing his talents as an exterminator to bear, he extended an olive branch in the form of peanuts tossed out into his backyard. He didn't hold out much hope it would work, but he wanted to at least be able to say that he’d tried.
On spying the peanuts, the crows swooped down, darted nervously in, and flew off to devour their prizes on the tops of telephone poles and roofs around the neighbourhood. For the rest of the day he slept soundly in the arms of blessed silence. The next day Stirling tossed out the same bribe, and as a result slept well for the second day in over two weeks. Things progressed to the point where he could depend on the neighbourhood flock to arrive every afternoon and line up on his backyard fence to collect their tithe.
As the feeding continued, Stirling noticed that some of the peanuts he threw would land a bit shorter than the rest. There was an invisible no-man's-land, that most of the crows wouldn't enter, even for the promise of roasted peanutty goodness.
One crow, however, lacked the sense of self-preservation of its less trusting friends. It would eyeball Stirling as he watched from inside the kitchen and sidle in to snatch the peanuts that fell closer to the house. It became a game to see how close he could get the crow to come. Now Magnon woke him every afternoon to eat breakfast with him.
Stirling flicked the switch of his espresso maker and went to the fridge. There was only a thin line of white at the bottom of the milk jug, if he wanted milk for his coffee, which he did, there would need to be a trip to the store soon. He poured the last of the milk into a porcelain coffee mug, ate some toast and jam, and gave the crusts to Magnon.
Having finished its lunch, the crow hopped up to the windowsill and turned to look expectantly at Stirling. Stirling opened the window and watched Magnon hop out and launch himself into the air.
As he watched the crow go, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. He noted with mild surprise that it had stopped raining, maybe that was it.
He dressed quickly in jeans and a button-up shirt, walked to the door, and took his rain jacket and hat off the hook. In Vancouver, rain in December was only a matter of time.
Feel free to add comments.
This is a first draft, so expect errors.
This is written in Canadian English so the spelling may differ a bit from what you are used to.
I know "gloamed" is not a word, but I liked it in this context.