Looking out and up from my front window I saw a yellow sky, darkened by the ominous promise of an afternoon storm. As I watched, three crows flew onto the strip of sidewalk near my yard. The large one, Leader, preened his feathers, cawed orders at the others and punctuated his pontifications with sharp pokes of his beak on the backs of his fellows. A crow’s visit. What was it I had heard? As I watched I recalled—a group of crows is called a murder of crows.
The trio began pecking at the stubble of grass around them. A bolt of lightning cut through the yellow mists followed quickly by the rumble of thunder. Leader and then his followers raised their heads to the sky, opened their beaks to challenge the thunder with their own raucous cries. In reply, with sniper precision, sharp, large drops of water began to pelt the crows.
Lightning flashed and a curtain of water dropped from the sky. The lightening continued drawing bright victory swaths through dark sky. Thunder cheered storm’s ferocity.
The crows persisted, strutting, screeching, cawing at the sky. One tremendous flash of light sliced into the ground across the street. The house shook. Crow leader opened his wings and flapped upward. His companions followed, raucously cawing a threat to return before disappearing into the dark-again sky, flying toward the woods at the end of our street.
The summer downpour halted soon after. A bit of blue edged out from behind the clouds–yellow air gone. The crows were gone. Yet I remained uneasy. For a time.
Eventually summer’s brightness pushed away the malaise. Heat gave way to clear cool of autumn, the bright cold skies of winter, and the hazy blue skies and rainbows of spring, I completely forgot about the dark harbingers’ visit.
However, when summer’s heat again pressed hard upon me and blue skies yellowed with storms, the memory of the last crow’s shrill shriek sounded in my soul. In the space of a month that summer, one neighbor’s child died of a heart condition.
Our dear friend’s son, crumpled over in the shower and died before his father could get him to the hospital. “Undiagnosed ‘issues’ related to a birth defect.” They said.
I waited, holding my inner breath for a third sad shadow to step across my spirit. Months passed. Just when I was sure that bad would not come in threes this time, that the number of crows had been a coincidence, a phone call shrilled near midnight on March 26, breaking the quiet of an early spring evening.
Like the crow’s caw, the call screeched out the news that our son had stepped in front of a car on a darkened campus street near his dorm, crossing subsequently into paradise. Harbingers of the angel of death had visited–a murder of crows, indeed.
Joan Leotta has been playing with words since childhood. Joan recently completed a month as one of Tupelo Press’ 30/30 poets. She has published or has work forthcoming in Red Wolf, Thynks, Knox Literary Magazine, A Quiet Courage, Eastern Iowa Review, Silver Birch and Postcard Poems and Prose. In addition to her work as an award-winning journalist, short story writer, author, poet and essayist, Joan performs folklore and one-woman shows on historic figures. Joan lives in Calabash, NC where she walks the beach with husband Joe. She collects shells, pressed pennies and memories. Find her online at joanleotta.wordpress.com and on Facebook.