FOUR WAYS OF COUNTING BLACKBIRDS
Richard S. Crawford
You’re a raven, and you have this dream. You dream that all your teeth are falling out. They crumble into pieces, tiny pieces like dust, right in your beak, and you spit them out onto the ground.
You wonder what this means, so you consult the sages. One says that when you have a dream about losing your teeth it means that you have knowledge that you are not using. Another says that when you have a dream that your teeth disappearing it means you’re embarrassed about something, something big. And still another says that when you have a dream about your teeth crumbling to dust it means that you fear losing power over your own world. Each sage, naturally, has a different answer.
Then you wake up and remember this: ravens don’t even have teeth.
One day in the park, she tells him: Crows, family corvidae, are the smartest birds of all. They can count all the way up to seven, which is pretty good if you’re a bird. He asks, Why seven? Because if you have seven eggs in your nest, it’s important to know that. If one or more of them are taken then you know. He asks, What if a cuckoo takes one of the eggs and replaces it with her one of own? Well, at least there are still seven eggs, so that’s okay too.
What are you doing to those birds?
I look around to see the who’s asking the question. It’s an older woman, she reminds me of my mother. Clipping their wings, I tell her. We’re in England. In London. At the Tower of London, and I’m just doing my job.
Why? she asks.
So that they don’t fly away.
Why don’t you want them to fly away?
Because, I tell her, if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, then Great Britain will disappear.
That’s so interesting, she says, this old woman. So if you can prevent the signs from coming to pass, then the bad things don’t happen?
I think again of my mother: a tough old bird, but she never let anyone clip her wings, and then she flew away forever. And I’m still here. I suppose, I say to the old woman.
She says, Wouldn’t it be grand if things really worked that way?
Then one night, as an ancient, ancient man, Mr. Crow dreams that forty years ago he accidentally married the wrong girl. He smiles to himself and rolls over in his bed to tell his wife; she’ll be amused by the idea.
The bed is small and cold, and then Mr. Crow remembers that he never married. The night crumbles to dust in his mouth. He spits it out onto the ground, and wonders if maybe an eventual loss would have been worth it.
It did not occur to me until after I’d done a couple of drafts of this story that my last name, Crawford, has its roots in the word “craw”, which is etymologically descended from the Scottish word for Crow. And now that I think about it, I realize that I got my last name, in fact, from my Cherokee ancestors, and blackbirds — particularly ravens — were pretty important in many Native American mythologies. I wonder if there’s any hidden meanings in there that I should be looking into?
Mm. Probably not.