In the summer of ’79—when I was ten-years-old—I watched my Granny Shadrick die. And I didn’t care.
My mother had abandoned me at my granny’s place when I was three and she had no choice in the matter. Either did I. It could’ve been worse, I guess. I could’ve been tossed into the trash and left for dead. When I was six granny told me that she only took me in because I’d be useful around the house. As time passed it almost became a tradition to hear how I was like a bad dream; best to forget. Looking back, I would’ve rather been tossed into the trash.
Every evening after supper—which was either stew or chili—we sat out on the front porch; her in her rocker with her shotgun across her lap and me on the steps. Whenever the breeze would kick up I could smell the stale Redman chewing tobacco and sweat that emanated from her. Her fingernails were like the color of bark and her teeth were like broken windows. Although the house had a serviceable shower she never took one. She’d say that our Creator intended for us to ‘stew in our own juices than to warsh it away.’ To this day I still don’t know what she meant.
She spat on the porch. “Boy?”
“Watch yer tongue!”
She detested when I called her granny; it meant we were related. She preferred Miss Shadrick.
“Go get me a burlap bag from the kitchen. I feel lucky tonight.”
Before I reached the screen door she grabbed my arm with her leathery hand and gripped it tight. She spat onto the porch again leaving a brown gooey mark upon its splintered surface. “Ya can’t choose yer family, y’know? So you best behave before I take a switch to ya.”
Looking down I nodded, because she wasn’t lying.
She squeezed tighter and shook my arm. “Whaddya say?”
“Yes, Miss Shadrick.”
How I wished I could’ve been born to anyone else but to the woman who birthed me. I hated her. And I hated granny.
The kitchen and its daily butchery never horrified me, as well as the repetitive stews and chili we ate throughout our days. It was all I knew. Like I was born to it. Nearly a hundred crows filled the space. Many hung by their talons along a twine that ran the length of the kitchen. Others were bare of their bluish black feathers, heads and claws cleaved off. Several wicker baskets were filled with decomposing crows speckled with writhing grains of rice. A few other baskets held bones and the chopped heads, wings, and talons. The innards were tossed out back for whatever finished them off throughout the night. On the stovetop two large pots boiled with tomorrow’s menu. On the floor blood had pooled in front of the refrigerator. Sepia-colored stains blanketed the counters like large liver spots. The room reeked like some kind of an aviary slaughterhouse and it permeated throughout the whole place. Flies buzzed about drunk on all of the carrion. A flower-patterned curtain acted as a makeshift door beneath the crimson streaked sink. I reached in and grabbed a burlap bag, shaking off maggots as I headed back to the front porch.
Granny Shadrick rocked in her rocker as I came to the screen door. In her boney hands she held the 12 gauge shotgun. The crows had already started fluttering in. One here. Another there. “I’m a ready ya pesterin’ scavengers!” Then three more. “Every evenin’ ya little devils roost in my aspens and squawk. You haven’t learned yer lesson yet, have ya?”
This was the life that I knew: living with a woman who hated me as much as I hated her and who was only one strap away from a straightjacket.
Dozens at a time continued to arrive but now they had begun cawing. As usual I stood behind the screen door as granny fought with her demons.
She looked over her shoulder at me. “What took ya so long?” She stood up, lowering the shotgun to her side and reached out her scrawny arm. “Give me the bag.”
I pushed open the screen door and stepped through, moving as if my legs were filled with sand.
“Give me the damn bag!”
I tossed it to her and didn’t let the screen door hit me on the ass as I made my way back inside. She rolled her dull eyes at me and spat on the porch.
By now hundreds of crows perched in the aspens and continued their verbal assault.
She raised the shotgun and held it firm against her shoulder. I covered my ears and waited. Without looking she said, “It’s like pissin’ in a pond. Ya can’t miss. Git ready to watch ‘em fly!” She followed this with laughter and pulled the trigger.
I jumped. I always jumped.
Crows scattered in all directions. Black feathers exploded into the air and floated down to the dirt patched yard. She bellowed another laugh as three crows lay on the ground. The remaining crows returned to the aspen trees and cawed louder as if to provoke her…if that were possible. She rubbed her chin and pulled on the few hairs that clung there and cocked the gun.
Again, I started.
The crows dispersed among a puff of black feathers. Two more crows lay dead. This time the others didn’t return.
Granny Shadrick waited for a few minutes and said, “Y’know, you should be doing the dirty work but yer a damn sissy about it.” She stepped off the porch with the shotgun tucked beneath her arm and started stuffing the dead crows strewn about the ground into the burlap bag. “Yer ain’t nuthin’ but a bad dream, I tell ya.”
Silence filled the encroaching night as the remaining amber faded beyond the tree line, replacing the sky with a purplish black hue. She held up her burlap bag. “Nuthin’ like crow, Boy. Told ya I felt lucky.”
Just as the last word fell from her curled lips a crow swooped down from above and pecked Granny on the head. “Ya bastard!” Then another followed suit. She dropped the bag and raised her shotgun, and without aiming pulled the trigger. Nothing. She had forgotten to reload. Another crow pecked at her back. Then her head again. She ran her hand through her hair and stared at the smeared blood across her fingers. Two more swooped down at her and she swung the shotgun in retaliation only to lose her weapon as it sailed across the yard. Another crow struck. And then another. She tried to make her way toward the porch flailing her arms, screaming for help as a dozen or so covered her like a shroud. I watched from behind the screen as they all worked in unison; flapping their wings, clawing at her clothes, and pecking at her exposed skin. They ripped, pulled, and tore at everything within their reach.
As night fell on the house death fell upon Granny Shadrick. Caws carried throughout the black sky while the murder of crows feasted upon her peck by peck. I shut the front door and headed up to my room, leaving her with her demons. I lay in bed until I no longer heard granny cry for help and until the last crow had flapped away. Sometime during the night the chirping of crickets lulled me into a dream.
One where I had a loving family.
About The Author
Sheldon Higdon has over twenty five publications to his credit in various magazines and books. Everything from short stories to non-fiction articles to poetry. He is also an award-winning screenwriter. You can contact Sheldon either through his popular blog site ‘The Obituary of Sheldon S. Higdon’ at http://sheldonhigdon.blogspot.com or at his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/sheldonhigdon.