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Crow Funeral – Alex Reece Abbott

Luke bear-hugs the playground, arms flung wide. ‘Really-good-holiday.’

Katie looks up from her phone. ‘That so?’ She nudges her new sunglasses up her nose. He nods.

The gardens are municipal, economically planted with straggling geraniums and snapdragons. A woman, her meaty forearms an inked canvas, drags a little, pink Lycra princess away from the playground slides.

‘For God’s sake, Tanesha, I swear…’

Luke plants himself beside Katie on a battered fake wood bench, dedicated to Gladys Sidebottom who, according to a small plastic plaque, loved this place. Scolding crows gather around a fallen bird, bickering and calling to each other.

‘Josh would have loved that swing, Mam. I could’ve pushed him really high.’  She stares at the picture on her screen. ‘Mam?’ He scuffs his sneakers against the dirt.

‘What Luke?’

He holds up his hands, trying to catch the idea. ‘Mam…do crows have…like…funerals for their dead?’

‘I don’t know.’ She turns her phone over. ‘But they never forget a human face.’

‘How come?’

She shrugs. ‘A lifetime of dealing with unpredictable people.’

The crows bounce and strut across the lawn. One preens his glossy chest, then rakes his beak with his claws and stretches his wings.

Luke puffs out his chest. ‘I’ll never forget a face.’

She shuts her eyes tight. ‘What colour are my eyes, then?’

‘Blue as that sky over there,’ he says.

She laughs and strokes his suede head. ‘Sure?’

‘Yup. Like Josh. Except if you’re sad, then they’re grey.’ He points out a puffy cloud, lazing against the Lakeland Mountains. ‘Like that.’

‘You’re good at paying attention.’

‘Yup.’ He swings his legs.  A thin blonde girl hovers on the promenade, a sports-bag on her shoulder. Was she ever that young? That alone? ‘Mam, where’s Dad?’

She plucks a long black feather from the grass. ‘Told you. He’s gone to see a man about a dog.’

He sniffs. ‘When’s he coming back though?’

‘Will you stop…’ Biting her lip, the person she thought she could be hands him the feather.  He twists it against the dithering sun, making the sheen dance. ‘Probably not a funeral, because – corvids are smart – they’re probably checking.’

He wrinkles his nose until the freckles join, eyes fixed on the murder of crows.

‘Checking what?’

‘In case a threat’s still hanging around their dead friend…so they can avoid it.’

‘Oh.’ He strokes the feather. ‘This is really really…perfect.’ 

Sharp caws cut the air. 

Katie taps Luke’s temple. ‘See they know. Crows remember.’

‘What if they remember by having a funeral? Like ours for Josh.’ He hurtles to the swings.

Katie studies the swaddled boy on her screen. Six months gone already. She takes out her compact mirror and checks her eye. 

‘Maaaaam,’ calls Luke. ‘What kind of dog is he going to see?’

A dark moon is rising on the horizon of her left cheekbone. She perches her sunglasses on her face. ‘One that’s a very long way away.’

Off the market, the glasses are big and cheap. They do the job.

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