The Call of the Crow

What do you see when presented with Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows”? I thought of a man’s impending death.

Photo by narubono on Unsplash

I see the crow and quickly look away.

I hear the incessant “caw, caw, caw” and I want to place my hands over my ears and hum the words to a happy song. But nothing comes to my lips.

The crow is black. The crow is foreboding.

Is the crow death?

In the river bottoms, the crows come in packs, swooping low over the harvested fields, the broken stalks of corn like the limbs of war dead, half-in, half-out of the grey, boot-sucking muck.

A murder of crows is what they call that pack of black that fills the fading light of late afternoon. 

“Fitting,” I mutter to myself, raising the collar of my worn pea coat to my neck, a shield against the harsh December wind that comes from the north.

I, too, am in my final season and I believe the crow knows.

I skirt the field and climb the hill and they fill the branches of the barren oak that rises up and over the farmhouse. The roof has started to sag from the weight of rain and all these years. I know that I’ll not repair it. 

Inside, where my wife once stood at the stove, stirring the pot of soup, and the brown-headed girl, she being 10 then, came to me with open arms and words of “daddy, daddy, daddy,” it is now quiet. On the wooden table, there is an opened bag of bread, a slice of white lies to the side left to grow stale. Mold just a few days away.

My breath catches and I feel a tightening in my chest. I retreat back to the cold wind that whips around the porch and I stumble down the three wooden steps. I stuff my hands in my pockets and hunch my shoulders.  

I don’t look up. There’s no need. I know the crow is near. 


NOTE: The above work of fiction came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins challenged us to respond to the Van Gogh painting “Wheatfield With Crows” and write what moved us. An interesting note is that the painting is believed to be the last work of the celebrated painter.

A heart-shaped box of chocolates on Dyer hill

What could possibly become of a cold winter’s day, one impossibly large hill and a frozen box of chocolates?

When you’re 13 years old and you stare down Dyer hill, the snow still falling, your gloved hands wrapped around the sharp metal blades of your wooden sled, your heart is going to race.

Five slippery steps on the thin white powder, the ice-covered blacktop lurking below, then throwing the Western Auto Flexible Flyer out before you, the thump of your chest landing on the wood and then speeding head-first into a cold wall of winter.

Before you leap, you sneak a peek.

The girl with the freckles, the one who can throw a football farther than any boy and run just as fast, is watching. You begged your mother for the $5 bill and then read card after card until finding the Valentine that was just right – not too mushy, not too dorky – and the heart-shaped box of chocolates that you plan to leave in her mailbox when darkness descends.

Her blue eyes sparkle, the red scarf dotted with flakes of white to warm her lips, and your heart races and you run and you run and then you leap.

Editor’s Note: “A Heart-Shaped Box of Chocolates” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write a bit of flash fiction, no longer than six sentences, detailing a season and a moment during that season.

My love of grass

Fat Tuesday has me hungry for fine fescue

The lawn at Woodbend on a late April afternoon. Photo by Michael Banks

Most just shake their head and walk away. “No, no, no.”In fact, they are so adverse they’ll suddenly stop and turn, telling me their disdain is so great “I pay $50 every two weeks just so I don’t have to do it.”

They cannot comprehend my love of mowing my grass.

There’s something about sitting astride the bright green John Deere and hearing the motor catch when you turn the ignition. The slight shudder as the sharpened steel blade engages, in its wake the spring smell of fresh-cut fescue.

Maybe it’s about being in control. I follow the same path, a geometric pattern created some 15 summers past, only altered when the red buds grew tall and the azaleas wide and heavy with their showy whites and strawberry reds. My blade sweeps once and then again, shearing the blades to within 4 inches of the brown soil. Not 3 inches. Not 3 ½. But 4.

As with any love, there are tests. In the late summer heat, the sweat runs from your brow and you taste it on your lips. A cloud of red clay dust often blows, my Deere now brown, and the shards of crabgrass cling to my exposed ankles.

Yet, I sit and mow. Horizontal then diagonal. Always staying within the lines.

And on a Mardi Gras Tuesday, a day after thunder rumbled, lightning cracked and the rains fell, there is a ray of sun dancing upon my window frame. Beyond I see the clover and chickweed green and spreading, the fescue tall and waving in a cold wind.

I think of spring and my Deere.

And there is comfort in that.  

Editor’s Note: “My Love of Grass” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write of a love that is often neglected, a quieter love we all crave for comfort. We were told to focus on the concrete, grounded in actions and sensations, to bring the reader right there so they can feel the love first-hand.

Beanee Weenees in the parking lot

They’ve met for a year in the vacant parking lot. He’s always brought Beanee Weenees. She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees.

Editor’s Note: The following is an example of flash fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were given an example of flash fiction and encouraged to write from what inspires us.

The car door creaked and groaned as a 15-year-old Buick tends to do when he opened and closed the door. From the yellow plastic bag, he pulled forth a dented cup of Beanee Weanies. He smiled as if he was handing her a handful of sapphires. 

Sure, she likes the taste of hot dog chunks and gravy and beans. Her mistake was in telling him. Since that first time they agreed to meet in the back corner of the vacant Food Lion parking lot, it’s always been Beanee Weenees. For 30 minutes, they’ll sit in the Buick and hold hands. She’ll slurp and listen as he talks of tomorrow.

She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees. 

Today is exactly one year after their first lunch date. The box holding the ring holding the quarter carat feels heavy in his pocket. When, he wonders. He decides definitely after she’s had her Beanee Weenees.

The last toast

A man chooses to stop drinking. What gets left behind, what is lost?

The following is a short piece of fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. On the eve of the presidential inauguration, the prompt was to examine what ends when something new begins? What gets lost, what gets left behind?

The Last Toast

Today is the day I stop drinking.

Seven words skewered in pencil on the back of an overdue electric bill from the City of Decatur.

The words a promise I’d made to myself some six hours earlier. Now the empty fifth of Kentucky Tavern on its side, a small pool of the brown elixir lingering in the glass on the nightstand, a remnant of the night before.

There’s a momentary urge to bring the cool glass to my lips to feel the burn of the whiskey as it hits my tongue, that sensory overload only topped by the feeling of warmth that spreads through my torso.

I’ll miss it. 

We had our falling outs, particularly that DWI three years back and those hungover mornings where I lay curled in bed instead of cutting wood. And, of course, there’s Rebecca. She said I loved the drink more than her.

For a while now, it’s been just me and the whiskey. And, for a while now, that’s been just fine.

Oh, we had our fun. 

That first sip when I was 14, the bottle passed from my daddy as we sat on the tailgate of the pickup truck waiting for the doves to rise from the brush. My welcome to manhood moment.

That late summer night down in the back woods of the Chattahoochee, three dates in with Rebecca, sharing the pint in the back seat of my Pinto, that hot spice sticking to my tongue, my lips numb.

Plenty of graduation celebrations, keg parties, afterwork socials, snips on lunch breaks, morning pick-me-ups, afternoon get-me-throughs.

We became good friends. Maybe too good of friends.

Comes a time when a man’s got to do what he thinks is best for him. And for me, that’s leaving you, whiskey.

Don’t you come knocking again on my door.

Please.