The rookery is disguised as a shed. I keep a lawnmower and a pair of hedge trimmers for the sake of camouflage, stowed beneath nesting shelves. The nests are woven of straw, pet hair, and twigs pulled from local woodlands. Fifteen ravens, oil black. A single fledgling, bleach white.
I only let my birds out after sundown. I don’t understand the legality of the situation, nor do I want my neighbors knowing they’re being watched.
The white raven alone stays with me, perched by the fireplace, gazing out the window to the pin-pricked night.
We both wait for the flock’s return.
I train them, each flying to nearby homes, returning with a message in the form of an object. Happy/Sad? The color of the item they drop on my doorstep indicates the household’s level of contentment or sorrow.
Blue bottle caps. Single-use forks. Feathers from other birds. False teeth.
I don’t understand how to be happy on my own, so observing well-adjusted neighbors is my only education.
My therapist suggests I haven’t had the right modeling, the distance I feel in adulthood cemented during youth.
While my rooks sleep, I walk the neighborhood, pausing before houses of happy people, determining what makes them happy, composing a checklist, one I can replicate in my own life. Single. Divorced. Still in love. Widowed. There are no commonalities. Neither is there a bearing on wealth. Most have enough money to avoid leaky roofs or sagging gutters, but the largest houses rarely yield a Blue Jay feather or porcelain canine.
Years ago, my therapist suggested bird watching.
It did little to calm my mind.
Instead, I decided to have the birds do the watching. Ravens, corvus in general, are the smartest avians. Humans failed to teach me how to be good at humanity. Bipedal teachers, therapists included, have fallen short. I hoped the birds would communicate what the rest couldn’t, some missed detail, a puzzle piece overlooked.
I doze in my chair.
Only the caw of my white companion wakes me. Out the window, flames dance about the shed, pulling through the eaves. Smoke weeps from the doorway. My flock hasn’t returned from their scavenging yet, so there will be no blackened skeletons to sift from the rubble.
I had thought I was getting close to a breakthrough, an understanding.
Now, without a home, my ravens will leave.
“You’re only allowed two eyes,” a man with a flaming broom shouts when I step onto my porch.
“We don’t send birds to your windows,” a woman calls, candles blazing in each palm.
I want to tell them they are lucky they don’t rely on another’s flock, that they can depend on their own senses. They don’t understand. I am not trying to take advantage, to pull ahead in life, or possess their secrets. I only want comprehension, level ground beneath my feet, the ghost sensation of happiness.
I want to make them understand, but the only words I can produce are:
Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry…
One of the only things I’ve ever been comfortable with is an apology. I don’t need ravens for that.
The gathered crowd extinguishes their makeshift torches. They walk down the driveway as my birds circle above, cawing, having left their nightly deposits at my feet
I can’t look at the objects.
There is nothing to learn.
The ravens fall asleep in the pines. I wonder what my therapist would say about sleeping beside them? What analysis could be applied to finding comfort in non-human companions? The bark is rough against my skin, wind cool on my neck, sap slicking palms. There are enough low lying branches to make it to the crown. I curve my spine into a notch beside my birds, doing my best imitation of tucking my head beneath my wing, keeping the plume of ash out of my face, the shed still smoldering below.
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his partner, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. His fiction has been published in The Southwest Review, Tiny Nightmares, Wigleaf, Catapult, Hobart, Flash Fiction Online, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on Twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com
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