Mr. Crow there, he hangs around this time near every day; waiting for something to die. Once, I saw some crow feasting on a deer been struck at night. The splayed thing was split clean in half, spine exposed, split shoulders, and they just roosted up on top, ‘bout seven of ‘em, and had a fine time tearing meat from bladed bone. My daddy used to say if crows were big as humans, we’d all be gone the way they gobble up the dead. Said they’d bite our heads off in one pluck if they had the chance. He says this even though my mother’s kin are ravens. It’s in her hair and her eyes. You can see it plain.
Our old place, from here, it lay off over that ways. In fact, the way the crow flies, it’s so close it scares me.
I don’t go back nowadays. Not much at all since Joe took leave. The day he went, we was out at that farmhouse back in Johnston County. The old place, old shed house at the edge of the wire fence, and a coop to the south side. It’s all by itself. There’s a dirt road in front and it loops way up to the main black top in circling bounds. That main road goes up to more houses, clapboard and shingle, then on up past a wooden bridge and a roadhouse—somewhere you won’t find me—ever.
I remember everything like right now. The more I sit and think on it, the more these pictures come to mind and I feel like I’m there agin. This time we was there it was different. This time the yard was way overgrown. There was even young trees coming up; long leaf pines. Sticks and long grass and small trees everywhere. It’s a mess.
The dogs are tied this time. Sometimes they’s loose. In my mind’s pictures and in the day.
Looks like three of them are tied out back, one on a hemp and two on chains.
In here, in my mind, I remember Joe’s bringing coal ash out. He’s got on a white tee shirt and Wrangler jeans that’s too long, so they hang down over his boots, bunched at the heel. He bumps into me on the way through the yard but don’t even notice doing it. His black hair’s all messed up, as usual, but he don’t never mind. He’s got on a gray-and-red Ford hat. One that looks like a baseball cap, but has a label from Ford on it. It’s kinda shading over his eyes. He’s carrying out coal ash in a tin bucket but he’s not putting it in drums to be hauled off, he’s putting it out back in the yard like lye on remnants of the dead, when suddenly the landlady come by. She’s white—a white lady—got a white-and-blue gingham dress, and white shoes. When she comes by, I keep her out front so she can’t see what’s going on the other side. Tell her, “Your hair sure looks nice today.”
It don’t really. It’s ugly. It’s about the color of carrots and primped up into a mess of curls that would look like a pile of pig manure if it wern’t so orange.
I’m tilting my eyes toward the ground so I won’t laugh about her hair when she looks down and sees some ash on my shoes where Joe bumped into me and says to me, “Lulu, where you been putting all that ash? There hain’t been any ash in these here drums since February and now it’s already spring.”
Not that dumb, she takes me. Even I can see crocus pop up and take notice. I ask her to follow me up to the front porch, busy her with broke windows, tell her, “We been burning gas and wood instead. It’s warm most of the time now, except for nights anyway.”
She wants to see for herself. You can just tell the way she starts peeking through the windows toward back and fidgets standing still, but she don’t try and pass me in the doorway to the house. She’d have to touch me to do that and we both know she won’t. She just stands there nervous-like on the big wrap-around porch tapping her fingers on a white column post that’s holding up the roof.
Then for some reason she come right next to me and starts to peel away some of the tan-colored tarpaper this little place here’s built out of. She peels it back, looks at the black sticky back sheet and pushes it back into place. It won’t stick now though. She don’t care. She peels some more right next to it. I just watch her; don’t say nothing. It’s better not to rile her, she in charge of this whole place here. She could make it real hard for us. Hell, she don’t like mixed-bloods anyways, you can just tell the way she bats her eyeballs like she too good to look at me for a long time without blinking the sight of me away with her mascaraed-up lashes. Sometimes they so thick I think she glues dime-store ones on. They don’t look natural.
She act like she hate the way I look. Makes me wanna go check the mirror see if I’m dressed backwards. It ain’t that though. She just don’t like my complexion being more than her best suntan and my belly sticking out. She don’t like my big, black eyes and thick teeth. Joe says I got rabbit eyes. Me, I know they crow. Either way, she don’t like me, my eyes, nothing, and I don’t like her neither. I watch her til it gets to me then, finally, she leaves in that big white Caddy she got. Running over potholes in the drive like they people in her way. Like she ain’t got time to be bothered, less she interested in something herself.
After she gone, I go ‘round back to see Joe. He’s over back dumping coal ash into big holes he’s cut with a post-hole digger. I want to tell him, “No.” I want to tell him not to be doing that, but I don’t say nothing. He’s got a bad temper anyhow. Don’t like to be told nothing about no landlady. He thinks we own this place, or something, jes ‘cause it is rightfully old lands, not that anyone white would see it ‘fore New World claims and Jackson’s reign. Even Jackson told folks he wasn’t fit to be a president. Couldn’t read or write when most of us were fluent in our own language and in English.
That’s what you get for helping those be twisted. They fell you easy, soon as they’re back on high ground agin.
Then agin, maybe Joe thinks since we don’t own it, he don’t care to fix it. I never can figure him that ways. I look at him long and deep and I know in my heart all he’s really doing is thinking about leaving. Thinking about a better place. Me, I can’t stand the yard this way, wish he’d fix that blame green-and-white Lawn Boy we bought at the yard sale over west of here. Or get a sling blade, or machete, as bad as it is now. I start to get frustrated, so I walk over by the coop to stay away from him. Crows, they moving in a bit, watching something, one at a time. They gathering themselves like pallbearers.
Now, I’m going to warn you. This next part’s bad. That’s when I stumble up on something so scary even my teeth hurt from the sight and sounds. The dogs is all right, kinda too lean and shaggy, especially the birddog. I used to keep them better than this myself, I think.
The dogs is fine, but the chickens… the chickens look rough. They feathers falling out and ruffled up ragged. They got big patches missing any plume at all. Some of thems bleeding around the eyes and beaks. They all white chickens, not a bantam in the bunch, so the blood looks like butchering on powder snow. They jumping up and down and pecking each other like they gone wild. I get a little closer, wondering why Joe hadn’t come over this way to check on ‘em. He’s the man, I think.
I hear somethin’ like bones clacking and something dripping. I get a little closer and see these chickens got two rabbits pinned down and trying to peck out they livers. Way down on they little rabbit sides.
Already I have seen enough, but I can’t quit watching. Like when you pass a wreck on the highway and you know they all dead but you just got to watch driving by. Most times, the staring causes more jam up than the crash rightly did.
By now I’m scared for those rabbits. They just laying there getting pecked and looking up with those black lacquer eyes from the sides of they heads. Those same eyes like ones I saw when I was fifteen and skinning rabbit from that tree limb to the other place, that red house over the backside of Johnston County. I was skinning three of them, pants and jacket skinning you do with rabbits. Cottontails, they was. I was nearly done when one rolled open his big, black lacquer eyes looking at me and I seen he wasn’t dead. Nobody’d checked them before they brought them to me to skin and I thought Joe’d done it. Anyway, these rabbits here getting pecked on looking at me exactly like that one then. I remember, eventually I had to bash the skull in on that cottontail looking at me whilst I was skinning, just to keep it from suffering since his skin already departed. I didn’t know what else to do.
Maybe my dad could’ve sewed it back on for him the way he used to stitch us kids up when we fell and ripped our knees and elbows open playing ball. Maybe he could’ve sewed it back on. He sewed up our mouser that got his collar hung over its shoulder and cut way into him. You could even see its parts in there. He sewed up the whole side and stomach on that gray tiger. He ain’t around though. Me, I couldn’t do it right so I busted this rabbit’s skull to set his spirit free from that split up skin hanging down around his ankles and let his soul fly away.
I didn’t eat any meat for about three months after. Til I got sick tryin’ to be a rabbit, eating out of the garden all the time. Lettuce, collards, mustard and turnip greens, cucumbers, radishes, everything there, but no meat of any kind—not even fat to cook it with.
I don’t know how those white girls eat like that—vegetarians—how they survive. It ain’t natural eating like a rabbit. ‘Cept if you are one, I guess.
Me, I got to have my meat to live on. I get weak without it. The old people say that’s why we getting sick all the time now. Because we try and eat like white folks. Say meat’s good for the blood. Good for the heart. Me, I went back to being corvus.
I’m thinking all of this but I’m still staring at these rabbits laying there getting pecked by hens, being pecked on by roosters. They ain’t moving. But, all the time them eyes just staring at me for something. Even whilst they livers being plucked out. The birds all pecking each other, too. I turn around go grab my chopping hoe from the house and come out back agin. If I turn the chickens out now they’ll make the dogs sick. If I touch the rabbits I’ll get sick. I’m gonna have to shoot all of ‘em to rid this madness; let the crows clean it up. Leave it for the rookery.
Joe, he come walking over like nothing. I tell him what’s going on; he grabs out a .20 gauge and stands there a staring at all the ruckus. He don’t fire, not even once. I start to say something when he tells me, “Get back in the house.”
I’m stubborn. I’m in a hurry, too. They’s eyes starting to get to me. I’m grabbing the gun, I shoot clearing them chickens out. I don’t go in til I shoot these rabbits myself. End that misery for those eyes that see your soul. Those black lacquer beads on the sides of heads, only rabbit and deer and animals that don’t kill have them. All us meat eaters got ours up in front. All them lacquered ones got them on the sides of they heads. Rabbit, deer, even buffalo, I hear. Those animals share everything, even their mates. Chickens, too. Guess nothing mates for life ‘cept crow, crane, hawk and eagles, maybe. Til death do part.
Anyways, I remember after, by the time it was done, the whole yard’s strewn with feathers and dead birds.
It’s bad. Looks like a killing down to the auction house where they tease little dwarf cattle and load the very ends of hog noses that’s still carrying the rings. They load the noses, the lips, and jowls up for bologna meat. That same auction house they slaughter out behind, where they kill and kill and kill all day until nobody knows life from death anymore. Then they go home from butchering to they own families. Sometimes they have to be locked up so they don’t butcher they young ‘uns like that redneck Dell Mac Crary did five year ago. Looked like this yard here when they found them. Looks like a turned-over poultry truck from that place down the road that burnt down a few years back.
Remember, that Rainwater girl got stuck in there because the bossman; he just locked up all the big, steel, freezer doors around the workers so that the fire wouldn’t spread through his precious building?
Look to me like a dove shoot, where all them rednecks stand in a circle in the cornfield and all shoot at one time til the doves fall. Sometimes, because they in a circle, they shoot each other; birdshot flying all around.
Joe, he takes off for Persian Gulf and Somalia ‘bout that time. Polished his boots real black like lacquer. He going to Army mechanic over there. I’m left with all these dead chickens and rabbits and yard to clean up after. He means well, he does, he just gets too caught up in ideas. He thinks too much. Don’t stop to look around. Even in winter when the snow’s white and speckled on them Black Angus cows’ backs and falling like cottonwood puffs on the clear river water, he don’t notice any snow except what’s on the road ahead. He don’t notice the hoe and .20 gauge still out there after the killing. He don’t see nothing. That’s the last I saw of him.
He called me from over there and said he was going to have a baby. Told me that it would be like a niece or nephew for me and that this new girlfriend would be like my sister. I never had a sister. I ask about her and he says she’s got deep rich color to her and bright eyes shaped like eyes on doll babies. People here don’t understand how I’d be so happy over her and the baby. Well, I never had a sister and babies are nothing but sweet. I plan to love both of them just like they mine, too. They say I’m making things up; that there ain’t no baby and no other girl. They don’t understand how I stood by him when he got me into all that trouble with the law. You remember, that time we got locked up for thieving. They said we stole some cars and hit mens over the heads with frozen meat. When I told them I was home the whole time, and my cousin stood for me in the magistrate’s office, they told me Joe done it all then. But me, I know it was all a mistake. See, I know him. He just gets mixed-up and does crazy things sometimes. Like I told you, he thinks too much and his mind goes around and around in little circles like an old Lionel train set. Just circling and winding on a track only he knows about. When it’s done sometimes he’s blowed up or got into a fight or messed up somehow, but he don’t mean it. He’s kinda pitiful that way. Wouldn’t kill nobody. That’s why he got made mechanic in the army even. After he messes up, he always come back looking like a big baby. His eyes got that “help me” look to them. He ain’t bright. He don’t know nothing.
Folks around here don’t think much of us anyway, on account of we’re descended from those that stayed back in the woods when most the rest of ‘em got moved to the Territory. Anyway, that white lady that that bailed Joe out was related to him somehow. She was one of his friends from the city. One of those women traced his white relations back for him. He’s got a lot of white in him, more ‘n me. You can tell by the backs of his teeth. They hardly scalloped at all.
I can’t wait til Joe and his new girl come back for me. It won’t be too long now. I can take care of babies real good, and I got a lot of love to give. It’ll be nice there agin. It will. Guess I should be getting back over that way. They say I can’t go til I agree to take some medications and til there’s somebody gonna watch me. I don’t like to look at that nurse though. Her eyes way too close together. You got nice wide eyes. You are the only one still listen to me tell it the way I seen it happen. I don’t know what the hell they trying to make me say. I just know them dogs need feeding and I don’t know who gonna go feed them if I don’t go back soon. Me, I don’t feel like eating nothing. Not now. Yard’s probably a mess all over agin. I’m feel like I’m fixing to lose it if Joe don’t get here soon. I wake up nights and all I can see is lacquered eyes. All I can hear’s that sound of they livers being pecked on. Slushy like. I can’t shake it somehow. I start to feel a bad feeling under my fingernails when I think about it.
You know, I think I do need to get back right away. What if we did miss one of them crazy chickens and they pecking at the hounds? Geez!
I gotta go. There never was no trouble. They just saying that. There never was. Joe’s coming here as we speak. We goin’ rabbit dance soon as he gets here. We always do that when he’s been gone. You know, a bit of two-step, just for fun. Two forward, one back, just like dancing my life here. You know they don’t call that wild stuff rabbit tobacco for nothing. Everyone likes a little smoke after. Rabbits they just wanna have fun. They join up then they go off looking for other rabbits to join up agin. I once saw an eagle snatch up a big rabbit in a split second. Wonder why birds wanna get at they livers. Crows’d gobble ‘em right up. Eagle, too. This a crazy world. It truly is.
So, anyways, I’m waiting now for him to bring home my new sister and baby so I can love them. But, every time I look at these here windows, they look like the windows on that house out in Johnston County. It makes me think about those chickens pecking livers outta these rabbits, and I get chills.
The dogs act like it’s a haunt out there. They bark all night, short and tight barks, ghost barks they used to call ‘em. Not the long barks and growls they make at the living. Not like howling at the night sky and other animals. Ghost barks they make. Around this time come evening, I get a little scared to go off the back step out there, case we missed one of those bloody, white, mad chickens. That’s why I wouldn’t leave the house. That’s the only reason. Don’t let them tell you different. See there, Mr. Crow hangin’ out. Me, I’m awaitin’ here til Mr. Crow’s done done. Til Mr. Crow shows me different. Way he flies. Waitin’ right here. You, too. Might as well wait. Sun ‘bout to go. ‘Bout to go down. ‘Bout to drop.
Originally published in This Land: Summer 2015.