by Alan McCormick

Crows massing on the rooftops of the estate, hunched-shouldered funeral ghouls in their damp satin cloaks, their talons like blind men’s sticks tapping on the slates above us, they natter and shift in the gloom before their sunrise takeoff over the shoreline and into the far-flung hills. One crow stoops on a roof a little apart from the rest, a small collapsed black umbrella, he jerks about on the spot, as if he’s trying to stop himself from inadvertently springing into action and falling off.

It’s said an errant golf ball on the nearby seaside course had hit him. Gouged out his right eye, chipped his beak at its tip, collapsed his wings so he was left unable to fly. Now he hangs about outside the fish and chip shop at night, hopping and sobbing for scraps, the town drunk, the town crier.

His accident may have disabled him but it also left him with unusual powers.  The golfer, whose drive had hit him, searched for the catastrophic missing ball in the rough by the cliffs bordering the seventh hole. As he reached out with his seven-iron to rake back the ball, he followed the momentum of his club and toppled to his death on the rocks fifty metres below. When he was found, a black wing feather protruded from his startled open mouth like an occult message, or a sign-off from the Camorra.

The blow also freed the crow to actually speak. Not in the squawking guttural scratchiness of a Ted Hughes crow, or in the mellifluous sonnet tones of John Gielgud’s narration for that strange nineteen-sixties crow animation for BBC2—if there ever was such a thing—and if there wasn’t, there should have been—or at least there should be a remake now narrated by Derek Jacobi—‘oh, sweet indefatigable crow, flap shut your wings and come huddle in the warmth of the beating heart of your wicker-wisp-wound nest’—no, the crow’s voice resembled, albeit uttering un-authored doggerel, the strangely bird-like strangulated sounds of a grainy tape recording of James Joyce reading: ‘I want battered bastard chips, chip chippered chips, chip chippy chips, and I want them now, now, now!’

As I watched for the sun to rise this morning, I spotted the crow stiffen and fall back, a discarded coalscuttle bouncing along the slates of the roof, then dropping out of sight.  The sun arrived on cue and the other crows flocked into a shambolic dark cloud that grew and filled the sky.

Had the crow been able to, he might have risen to the occasion, recorded the event: ‘as he fell, the sun bled celestial fingers of light through grey dawn clouds, and the black crows rose as a congregation of departing dark-suited mourners, flying out over the fens and the Murrough, out to the hills that lie beyond Newcastle, to the Glen of the Downs, The Sugar Loaf, finding solace in the turbulent expanse of The Irish Sea.’

But no, he was dead and un-mourned, except by me, and those who appreciate a crow that crowed more than the rest.

Alan McCormick lives by the sea in Wicklow, Ireland. His fiction has won prizes and been widely published, including in Best British Short Stories, The Bridport and Fish Prize Anthologies, and Confingo Magazine.

Alan also collaborates with the London based artist Jonny Voss. Their work has featured on 3:AM, Époque Press’s e-zines, Words for the Wild and Dead Drunk Dublin. Their book ‘Dogsbodies and Scumsters’ was long-listed for the Edge Hill Prize.

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