Short story about a mentally challenged coming to terms with death, and the friendship he makes with a bird.
The first time I saw the raven my goldfish Marty died. He was a good fish, as fish went. He would swim around all day and night, poking the glass where the fish food was. I was walking home from school and it was perched on a mailbox, black as oil.
The next time I saw it was when my cat Pookie fell off the roof and broke his neck on the sidewalk. He didn't look hurt at all, except his eyes were open and there were parts of him going the wrong way. I heard him shaking his feathers in the tree behind my house. He looked big as a dog.
When my aunt Karen died, he was there too. I didn't see him at the funeral. It wasn't at the wake either, I checked. But on the way home I was looking out the window at all the dark stores and stuff and when I looked up he was there, following us home.
When Grandma died, I fed him some corn. I walked over to where he was by the bushes. I thought he would fly away, but he didn't. He hopped back, cocking his head to the side. I laid the corn on the wet grass in front of me and when I stepped back, he ate it.
I didn't see him for a while after that. I talked my parents into buying me more goldfish cause I knew they die pretty easy. I didn't even name them, but one of them died a couple days later and nothing happened.
I started carrying corn in my pockets everywhere I went. Sometimes I'd forget about the corn and it would get all smelly and my Mom would yell at me 'cause she had to wash my pants out when they went all green. The kids made fun of me 'cause I always had corn, but they made fun of me anyway, so I didn't care.
When I was in high school there was a big car crash and like six kids died. I didn't know them 'cause I was still new, and even if I wasn't they were cool kids so I wouldn't know them. On the way home from school, though, he was there.
He flapped down from the sky and landed next to a puddle. I was so surprised that I dropped my books, but they didn't get wet. I got some corn out of my pocket and made sure it wasn't all stinky. I tried to give it to him, but he just looked at me all serious-like and gobbled up an earthworm that was on the sidewalk. That's when I started carrying worms. My Mom wasn't happy, but she gave me an old cookie tin to keep them in so they didn't ruin my pockets anymore.
Then, Grandpa was in the hospital. It was cold outside and my Mom made me wear a big coat everywhere. After school I would walk over to the hospital 'cause it wasn't far. Sometimes my Mom was there, and sometimes it was my Dad and sometimes it was both of them. Grandpa looked gray, like the color the sky always was when it was cold.
My Mom talked to me about how Grandpa was going away soon and he wouldn't be coming back, like Aunt Karen and my goldfish, Marty. She kept wanting me to hug him and tell him how much I love him and stuff. Then he died. The raven wasn't there.
My Mom was really sad for a long time after that. She would just sit at the kitchen table for a long time after dinner. I drew her a picture of the raven and Grandpa holding hands, but she just cried and Dad took me for ice cream.
When it was Halloween time, we went to a hayride in a cornfield, where they grow corn. I didn't care about corn anymore, but I was looking for earthworms when I saw a bunch of black birds sitting on a floppy scarecrow. I gave them some of my worms. I tried asking them where the raven was, but they didn't know. Crows are stupid birds.
When I was trying to sleep, I heard a tapping at the window. At first I thought It was a dream and I rolled over, but the tapping came again. I got up and went to the window and it was the raven. I was in my spaceship pajamas, but I opened up the window. It was cold.
“Hold on,” I said, “I'll get my worms.”
The raven hopped through the window and into my room. I scooped out some dirt and worms onto the carpet and the raven ate them all up. I listened to the door to make sure my Mom wasn't coming and I could hear my Dad snore. The raven hopped over to me. I looked in my tin and dug around but there were no more worms.
“I’ve got no more worms for you,” I said.
The raven flew to the window and turned around to look at me again. It didn't fly away, it just looked at me like it did from the window.
“I'm sorry,” it said, and flew away.
The lady from school told me that my Mom and Dad were hurt real bad in their car. I asked if they were going away like Grandpa and Pookie. The lady told me they didn't know yet and then she asked if there was anybody, and I said no. Another lady came, this time from the family government and she took me to a place that smelled like the older boys and floor cleaner. The bed was too lumpy and I couldn't sleep for a long time, but then I did.
The next morning the lady came, the government lady, not the school lady, and she told me that my parents didn't make it.
“didn't make what,” I asked.
The moved me to another house with some kids I didn't know in it. They let me go home and get my stuff. I brought my crayons and paper, my transformers, and my tin of worms. They tried to move me in with another family, but they said I was almost too old. Some people would come and talk with me about my Grandpa and my parents. They kept talking to me, but I couldn't figure out what they wanted, so I cried and that seemed to make it okay.
I got moved into a group home with some nice people in it. They let me color whenever I want to and they have jello on Wednesdays, I like the lime jello, but the cherry jello tastes like cough syrup. I share a room with Larry. He has a bird. Its a canary. Canaries are stupid birds, but I don't tell Larry. I like him.
When its nice out they let me walk in the garden and I get to meet all the nice birds. I tell them about my day and about the jello, but I don’t think they listen. I ask them about my goldfish, Marty, and my cat, Pookie, and my aunt and my Grandparents and my Mom and Dad but they usually fly away.
I miss them a lot.
Larry says they’re up in heaven now with Jesus and the angels. He says angels are like people, but with bird wings and they do whatever god tells them to do.
“Like what,” I ask.
“Whatever he wants,” Larry says.
I think that's stupid, but I don't say that to him. I like Larry.
Sometimes people die here, and I always go outside to look for the raven, but he doesn’t come anymore. The black birds come when it gets cold out, but they're stupid birds who don't listen.
There's a lot of things I need to learn here. They try and teach me how to live on my own, but its hard and it makes my head hurt. I just want to stay here. There's jello on Wednesdays. But they keep trying and they say it would be good for me to be on my own. But I tell them I'm already on my own, and they say they can't keep me here because they need space for the other kids and money doesn't grow on trees, but I know that already!
So I start working at the grocery store. They have me bringing in the carts and sometimes I help ladies to their cars with heavy bags. They smile at me and sometimes give me 5 dollars. Donny, he works there too, he says that if I act really dumb then the ladies will give me more money. But I don't like Donny. He's mean and he smokes.
I live on my own now, in an apartment. The apartment man says its a nice place, but its cold and it smells like old cheese. But I've got a bed and a couch and a TV set, and I can cook macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, and I can buy jello at the store and eat it whenever I want!
The raven doesn't come anymore. I stopped picking up earthworms. I still have the tin because my Mom gave it to me, but now I keep other things in there.
The other day, I saw a lady get hit by a bus. She was on a bike and she got hurt real bad. Not like Pookie. Her insides were under the bus. They looked like the things they sell at the deli in plastic tubs.
I didn't see the raven in the sky or sitting on a newspaper box. People were all around her yelling and screaming and the bus driver was holding his head and shaking it no, no, no. But when people moved, I saw the raven. It was under the bus with the ladies insides.
I could see two shiny eyes looking at me. It looked at me but didn't move. There were people around so I said I’m going to the park real loud but everybody just thought I was crazy.
I sat in the park for a while. I even thought about digging for worms but I didn't. I just sat and looked at the other kids that were there with their families. I was about to go home then the raven flapped down from the trees and sat next to me on the bench.
Only this time, he looked like a person.
“I don't have any earthworms,” I said, looking down.
“That's okay,” he said, “they got stuck in my teeth anyway.”
“Why don't you come anymore,” I asked.
He sat quiet for a while, not looking at anything, and then he put his hand on my shoulder.
“I'm real sorry about your folks,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said,” me too.” And then I was quiet for a long time.
“You know,” he said, “I still look in on you.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“I have an apartment now,” I said, and he smiled.
“I'm thinking about getting a goldfish, “ I said, and he laughed.
“I don't know. You don't have the best history with goldfish.”
“I know, I just...”
“I know,” he said, and he squeezed my shoulder.
“Are you an angel,” I asked.
“Larry says... he says angels are like people, but with bird wings. You've got bird wings. Are you an angel?”
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “Sort of.”
And then I got quiet for a really long time and he just sat with me and didn't say anything. The air was getting colder now, and the sun was starting to get low, but he just sat with me on the bench. My chest was hurting and my insides were all twisted up, but not like the lady's.
“I know what you want to ask me,” he said. “You want to know about Marty and Pookie and...”
“Are my Mom and Dad okay?” My face was hot.
He stopped and he smiled. And then I smiled, even though I was crying.
“Just because someone's not here doesn't mean they're really gone. Its...” he thought for a little bit. “Do you take the train to work?”
“The bus,” I said, proudly.
“OK. Its like...this world... this world is your home, right? But you can't stay at home forever, eating jello and coloring pictures. You've got to go to work. So you get on the bus and you go to work because as much as you might want to stay home, they need to you bring in the carts. You might leave people behind, people you love, or a goldfish,” he winked at me, “but you go because you have to, and there are people counting on you. You go to work so that others can stay home.”
“So Mom and Dad...”
“They got on the bus.”
“Will I... will I see them again?”
“You've got to get on the bus too, you know. When its your time. And I’ll be there when you do.” Then he smiled at me with his old, dark eyes.
“Does the bus ever hit anyone like with the lady?”
And he laughed so hard he bent over, slapping his thighs. When he looked back at me, he had tears in his eyes but they were smiling too.
“Very rarely,” he said.
“Oh... good,” I said.
And then he was a bird again, and he hopped up onto the back of the bench.
He looked at me and then down at the ground and then back at me. I looked down and out of the mud squirmed a squiggly brown earthworm, fat as my little finger. I dug it out and gave it to the raven who swallowed it all up in one big gulp.
I only saw him once more after that, but I always kept worms with me, just in case.