The Heavens As My Witness

It was golden hour in Lemming park and the air was ripe with a honey-blush glow. The sun had just climbed out from the hillside’s crest as the last remnants of night withdrew into the soft shadow cutouts of the rustling trees, the squat hedges and the lonesome water tower, all white and smooth like a river stone. A gentle breeze dashed through the tower’s balcony and stroked the sleek, ink-dark feathers of it’s only occupant: a crow. From the crow’s eye, from the vantage point of the morning star, the day was well underway.

It would have been a pleasant day, judging by the weather, but the park was already swarming with people in heavy jackets and dark uniforms. Not a smile in sight.  The stone-faced uniforms were picking over a squared-off patch bordered with rustling yellow tape. The crow wanted very much to tear at its knots, but whatever was in the plush grass and the packed dirt seemed far more important to the uniforms. They plucked cigarette butts like earthworms. They bagged gum wrappers. Whenever they entered the square, they pulled blue skins over their hands. Whenever they left they square, they peeled off the blue skins and shoved them in shuttering garbage bags. The crow wished they’d drop them instead. It would have been fun to peck at the skins.

There was one person in the square not circling or kneeling or picking at the ground. They weren’t doing anything at all. Down below, in the shadow of the water tower, framed by the yellow tape in a breezy portrait, was a body. A fresh body. The crow had watched it drop. When the night had rolled on its side, and the fog cat-crawled through the trees silently, stalkingly, the body (with a mind and a spirit and a soul) ran across the lawn barefoot. The mists had clung to her saltwater sweat. Her hair had twisted in coils. Her heels had rammed against the dew-kissed grass until they slipped out and the park went slant. There was another body (with a mind and a spirit, and something not quite resembling a soul) behind her. And this body wrapped its hands around her body’s neck and squeezed, squeezed, squeezed until her mind blackened into pinpricks, her spirit fizzled out and her soul threw itself into the stars. He squeezed until she was just a body. And she wouldn’t have even been a body for much longer. He tried to drag her to the edge of the park where the manicured lawn dropped fifty feet and dark waters crouched below, pawing at the cliff-side, begging to be let up, but voices from the sidewalk steeped into the fog. He dropped her hands and scurried into the alleys.

She was looking at the stars when she died. The crow heard them sing over her long after she went cold and even behind the sheet of day, their lullaby rested on the breeze. She was young, this body, full of spark, this body, and she had scraped the peel of life clean with her teeth. The crow had seen her around the city before. She’d glide across sidewalks on a beat-up skateboard, arms stretched wide as the wind pushed against her fingertips. Propelling forward through space, her heart out of her chest, she knew what it meant to fly even though her feet were inches from the pavement. Her rounds were constant. Her territory, secured. She slept on park benches when the sky was clear. Under storefront awnings in the rain. She rifled through garbage cans and took flight when the others took notice. She belonged to the city in the same way as the crow and the city mourned her loss as it would any child.

And the other body (the one with something not quite resembling a soul); the crow had seen him as well. Long before he gripped her neck, he had dug his dirty fingernails into her spirit. Where she flew, he crawled. Maybe it was because her spirit burst in radiant fireworks when she laughed and glowed like candlelight when she was full (and maybe it was because his didn’t) that he severed her body and mind and spirit and soul. She had shimmered less, those last few weeks. Glowed less, crackled and flickered and furled less. And now, curls of smoke rose from her snuffed-out flame and her body was a topic of conversation for a group of uniforms that did not smile.

The sun leaned in, nosy as ever, and the once persistent shadows retreated into the footsteps of their makers. The bright-burn morning pressed into the crow’s bristles and a black oil sheen streaked across its glorious form. Pity the uniforms never noticed crow’s beauty but he crow was hardly surprised. Strange in the wrong ways, the small people below. There they were, prodding the body like she was Woman of the Year, yet they would look right through her had she walked by them. Alive, she would have been a point of interest to them only in her possibility of corruption and now, she was phenomenal solely for the circumstances of her death. Hardly reasons to be admired. It was better they didn’t appreciate the crow. To be appreciated by the uniforms meant death, and the city was ripe with bottle caps and gutters desperately needing investigation. Too much to do to die, at least today.

Behind a diner, a few blocks away from the park, was a dumpster often brimming with rotting potatoes, wilted lettuce, stale bread and, on very special occasions, cold hamburger with beaded drops of grease. It was the best dumpster in the city. The rotund smells would ferment to apex putrefaction until a quick flick of the dumpster’s lid freed them. That unique perfume of rot was on the breeze now.

The crow lept from the water tower’s balcony, the tips of its feathers tracing the outskirts of the city. The other body was by that dumpster. The crow could feel his otherness corrupting the dumpster’s sweet decomposition. A purse, a phone, and a pair of high heels hit the bounty of decay and the other body shuffled away from the dumpster, hands in his pockets. The thing replacing his soul rattled as it unhinged. My God, that rattling. Like nails on beer bottles. Like talons on parking meters. 

The uniforms must have heard the rattling because one had just left the diner, little bell ringing like an angel kiss on her way out the door. That particular uniform had been at the crime scene and she, like the crow, knew the other body from her own rounds of the city. She turned the corner in time to see the other body chuck the purse, the phone, and the high heels. Their eyes linked.

From the vantage point of the diner’s rooftop, the crow watched as the other body ran, shoes ramming the cracked pavement, until the oil-slick ground slipped out from under his shoes and the alley bricks stood over him, accusingly. The uniform was upon him, knee rammed in his back, and she slapped something shiny and jingling around his wrists that the crow wanted very much to peck. But now was not the time. The gentle breeze had matured to a rushing wind and the constellations had hidden completely in the wanton glare of the sun. It would be a pleasant day, once the morning had stretched its arms, but the last strip of night was still pinned to the edge of the sky and in it, was the spark of a new star. In between the breaths of the breeze, in the honey-blush glow of the morning, the crow could hear her singing.

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