The crow sat on a park bench
And the crow is all that it was.
A nameless entity, a smear of anonymity, because what was a name to a crow? Simply a word, an abbreviated concept. One word could not sum up its existence, its iridescent quirks, glaring faults and all that whirled inside. No, it was the crow and nothing more.
Notice it was the crow, not a crow. The distinction is important. Nameless as it was, the crow lacked none for purpose or poise. Smooth lines, pristine feathers, frame dipped in ink. A solid beak and steady wings, arched and proud with eyes like glass. This was not just any crow at all. It was the crow and nothing would detract from that.
The crow sat on a park bench. Now sat is more or less what it did but perhaps, “perched” is a better word. Birds perch, after all, and dogs sit, and the crow was definitely not a dog. It was certain of that. Yes, the crow perched on a park bench. A chill breeze pulled its feathers and the crow dug its talons deep into a rain-stained wooden bench. Specifically a bench, not the bench; there were many in this park.
Unlike the others, this bench wore a metal plaque pinned proudly to its planks. The plaque declared, “Look at me! I’m special!” and the bench was in a way. It was commissioned by a mourning widower. He took her heart, she took his name. They settled into Hemlock, a sleepy town, a quiet nook in the changing world. Every Sunday, they strolled through the neighborhood park and took turns spotting jackalopes run through the bushes. They’d sit on the benches on the top of the hill, intertwined fingers, and the expanse of the city spread out before them. It seemed so small and it was, Hemlock was a small town after all, but within the horizon was their entire lives. They had grown roots in Hemlock and the town loved them for it. So the years passed, they grew older, the town, larger, but the trips up the hill became fewer until they never went up at all. There was nowhere to sit along the path, just at the top of the hill. She couldn’t walk in the end, couldn’t leave her marriage bed, but if she laid still and tilted her head just so, she could make out the park through their bedroom window. The image of the cityscape would rise before her as if she were standing on the hill, breeze pulling her white hair, fingers intertwined with his. He held her hand until it went cold. A certificate of death, a gravestone, and a bench were that bore her name when she no longer bore her life. But this is not about a dead woman or her name on a park bench: this is about the crow.
The crow perched on a park bench. Ruffled by the breeze, it preened its feathers in a vain sort of way. Not that the crow cared about its appearance. The breeze had not moved the crow and the plaque was still below its feet. Etched words, meaningless marks, dedicated the bench to someone the crow knew nothing of and it preferred its unfamiliarity. There was much the crow knew nothing about but it knew this town and the town knew the crow. The park was one of many places the crow frequented. There, by the overgrown rose garden was a shaded thicket of brambles, insects of every kind in the soft dirt. And over there, a tangle of blackberry bushes, the dark fruit already gone for the year.
Near the park bench was a playground. Not made of iron, of course, because the neighborhood committee had rallied against the use of iron. The fae children would have been excluded. No, this playground was made of wood once painted, now faded and dull. In the grass by the playground was a child. Imagine her, green-stained knees, dirt under her nails, hair falling out of her ponytail. She had just slid down the big slide for the first time and felt quite proud of herself. Clutching a stuffed unicorn who had seen better days, she squatted in the grass. Her small voice described a patch of clovers to the unicorn as her small hand pet its frayed mane. Its bead eyes had popped off, plush fur had worn down to the cloth, and all its colors had dimmed past the point of a good wash. But the stuffed unicorn didn’t mind so much. It meant the world to this child and the child meant the world to the unicorn.
The toy was given to her by a figure long since absent from her life. Her father left when she was little more than an infant, hardly able to walk or speak, for reasons that do not matter as much as the void resulting from his leave. He had bought her the toy at a trip to the zoo. She couldn’t stop pointing at the unicorn even though it slept the entirety of the visit and its horn never once lit up with pearl iridescence.
She set the stuffed unicorn in the grass. Wet grass. Not that the unicorn minded but it knew the child’s mother wouldn’t be happy. Why the child set the toy down was uncertain. Not even the child knew, really, beyond the impulse of the moment. What is certain is she set the toy down and locked eyes with the crow on a park bench. The child shuffled to her feet and scampered closer. She did not point, did not say a word, but watched the crow blankly, breeze pulling her messy hair. With a tilt of the head and a glint in its eye, the crow begged a question.
But it said nothing.
Off in the distance, a woman’s voice yelled the child’s name and she ran in its direction, the unicorn still in the grass. The child planned on picking up the unicorn and had the spectrum of circumstances shifted, she would have remembered. Had she not gone down the big slide and noticed the clover patch, had she not spotted the crow on the park bench, had her mother not called her maybe, maybe she would have remembered. But what had happened was already written.
The child forgot her toy.
The crow perched on a park bench. With glassy eyes, it watched the child abandon the toy but did nothing. It was just a crow, after all. The park was now void of children and its dim hue seemed that much more lifeless for it. The crow usually did not mind the silence, but today the vacuum of sound was pervasive, intimidating almost. Shuffling its feet, the crow watched the toy in the grass as if it might rise up and charge. But it did nothing. The crow was alone in a park with a named bench and a forgotten toy but in its solitude, there was a presence. Further downhill was a clouded fishing hole, its surface still, solid almost until ripples disturbed the static veneer. Maybe caused by the glint of a fishtail or the round eyes of a frog, a rising tentacle probing the cold air. Maybe by nothing at all but a phantom, a terrible wish with foul intentions. Far more devious than what broke the surface was what lay sleeping in the bed of earth, in the covering of hornworts. An unnamed horror, to name it was to understand. A neglected fear, to remember was to acknowledge. The crow did not go by the fishing hole but it knew of others that had; others it had not seen for quite some while. It had not forgotten.
A stirring breeze pulled the crow’s feathers once more and its wings shuddered with anticipation. It was time to leave. With a subtle bow, a rapid flash, the crow took to the sky like a plume of smoke. Feathertips traced the outskirts of Hemlock etching the borderlines, claiming the town. From the vantage point of the stars, the bench and playground blurred into the park, the park into the town and the town, into the horizon. Rising higher, higher still, until the crow’s wingspan eclipsed the sun. Nothing more than a memory. And far below by a park bench, hardly more than a speck in the universe, a crying child ran back to her stuffed unicorn who was named and remembered, very wet but very loved.