The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
Caw. Caw. Caw.
Arnold was jolted out of his doze. A crow in his back yard?
What was a crow doing there? There weren’t any such birds in their Northern California retirement community.
He’d been reading before dozing off, which usually happened since he’d turned 80 years old. He looked outside. A large black bird perched on a branch of one of the backyard trees was staring at him. He felt a sudden stab of dread. Then the bird was gone, as if it had never been there. Had it really been there? He’d been taking a lot of medications since his surgery. One of them had hallucinations as a possible side effect. Maybe he’d been hallucinating. He didn’t know. He considered the scene out of his back window. It was winter and in Northern California that usually meant rain or fog. In any case, the view was bleak. The leafless trees looked like skeletons. The few plants in sight looked shriveled. The sky was a lifeless gray.
Crows. He’d read that in some mythologies, Celtic and maybe American Indian, the crow was considered a harbinger of death. Of course that was just superstition. He got up and poured himself some coffee. Maybe that would perk him up. His wife Mary was out to some luncheon or other. His big cat Shandyman was, as usual in the afternoon, nowhere to be seen. Around dinner time he’d materialize and meow for his food. Arnold felt very alone.
Death. Arnold had found himself thinking about that more and more lately. He and Mary had been in the retirement community for over 15 years. As the residents aged, people they knew had, as they called it, passed. They’d already gone to three memorial services since January first. The surgery he’d had late last year had given him a sense of his own mortality. Up to a few years ago, he’d been fairly active, playing tennis, serving on one of the community’s boards, being a club secretary. He’d been forced to quit tennis because of his aching knees. Since his surgery he’d given up his other activities. When he thought about it, he and Mary hadn’t done much lately.
Being really old. That was what he felt like entering his eighties. Before that, he knew he was pretty old. But when you’re 80 life seemed to narrow down. When he looked into the mirror in the morning he saw an old guy. Then there was the daily regimen of taking the pills. When he sat down or stood up he could hear a clicking in his knees. Every day he had some kind of ache or pain. And it would only get worse. It was depressing. Still, as everyone said, being old was better than the alternative. He thought again of the crow.
A siren. He and Mary was sitting down to dinner when they heard it, never a good thing to hear in their community. This time the siren sounded closer and closer. They went to the door and looked out. A fire engine and an ambulance were three houses down. A little crowd had drawn around. They walked over in the drizzle. They didn’t really know the couple who lived in the house. After a while, the EMT’s came out. Someone asked them what had happened. “Too late. It was the husband. Heart.” They heard somebody say it was Bob. He’d been sick a long time. The crowd dispersed and they went back to their house. Neither had any appetite.
The crow. As Arnold got older the more trouble he had getting to sleep at night. Now he lay awake staring out into the dark. He could hear crickets outside. Then, was that the sound of a crow? No, he was imagining it. Maybe he’d imagined that crow in the afternoon. Real or imagined, it seemed the crow had not come for him. It had been Bob down the street. Maybe the crow had been checking him out for future reference. Meanwhile, he was still here.
©Martin Green March 2015
mgreensuncity at yahoo.com
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