by Cécile Barlier
I seem like a perfectly normal person. No one suspects I count wiggling worms as I go to bed instead of counting sheep. Oh! I know! This is not a good strategy! You’re thinking, “Why is she counting wiggling worms when she can count sheep like everyone else?” Why? Well, here’s why: I am not alone in this. And then automatically you think: “Ah! Her husband’s counting wiggling worms as well! That explains it! They both do it! Something they must do in France! Like eating escargots! Counting wiggling worms! Of course!” Well, no people… Not my husband… My husband reads Swann’s Way, if necessary. It’s the crow. And not just any crow… This one wears boots. See! You would never have suspected that by just looking at me. My looks don’t tell you anything! You would confide in me; you would entrust me with your children, maybe even your portfolio! I could house sit for you! The fact is, no one suspects that there’s a crow in boots breathing down my neck all the time, tailing me like the Peter Pan shadow, that he is right there as of this moment…
And your next question is: “Since when? Since when did the French lady lose it to the point that she started seeing a crow in boots?”
As if it was an easy question… Oh boy, if it was that easy… Let me tell you. There is no such thing as:
Day 1: You don’t see a crow
Day 2: You see a crow in boots all the time.
It is an evolutionary process, not a Big Bang!
It starts with a dark spot in the corner of your eye, and you don’t think much of it. You just go on chewing your pork medallion and ask for salt please. Oh wait…maybe you don’t say “please,” and there’s an odd pause before your son hands you the salt. Your son is so used to you saying “please” that he’s a bit startled by this omission. And now you’re slightly disconcerted too. Could you have been distracted by this dark spot in the left-hand corner? Oh! Of course you keep this to yourself! Why make a fuss! It’s only a dark spot in the corner of your eye leading to a slip of your tongue.
A-ha! But by then it has already become more physical…
Then a week later you’re washing dishes in the sink, and your husband dries them. You notice something murky in the right angle of your vision. And did I mention that your husband is to your left? Umm…
It’s definitely bigger than last week’s dark spot. The outline of some oblong unit topped with two yellow dots and a white triangle. Because it takes a good percentage of the scope of things around you, everything else starts to look tinier.
Day by day your whole scale is shrinking under the push of that awkward thing. By now you know it’s him: the crow in boots! You hadn’t noticed the boots at first because you were so focused on the upper part of his body: the beak, the ever-dangling worm, and the crossed eyes. Oh, but this one is unique! He wears les boots… And you immediately go to your closet with a big garbage bag and gather every single boot you’ve ever worn in your life and throw them in your trunk and boom…to Goodwill.
“Well,” you ask, “Did that work?”
Well… What do you think?
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Now…she didn’t really make that much of an effort to get rid of the crow.”
Make an effort! Man, I try! Efforts are what I make all the time! That’s the problem! Nothing’s effortless anymore! Because I have to work around him! Or underneath him! Or to his left! His right!
I only have this tiny little bit of space anymore… So I must keep everything really small…
“Like what?” you want to know.
Like I make small talk with my husband. And we make small love. And I make small stories for the kids. And small dishes for Christmas. Like we’re a small family of four.
It doesn’t stop there.
“No?” No, it doesn’t.
Sometimes the crow talks on my behalf; he takes the floor like one takes a stick.
He has this very hoarse voice and keeps on talking and talking. It’s hard to stop him. Especially at the office… The crow likes nothing more than my work meetings. His absolute favorite are brainstorming sessions. The crow excels at that; he can brainstorm the hell out of anyone. He is perceived as creative by my clients and coworkers, but really what he does is repeat things he’s heard in a hyper-pedantic way. Because he has this peculiar raucous voice, it sounds new.
Plus, remember, he has the boots. And all of them like the booty style.
Does it sound to you like everyone got so used to him, they think it was always like that?
No. It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when I had things to say myself. It wasn’t a lot and it was mostly polite and took a long time to come out, but it was mine and mine alone. Back in those days no one really cared for what I had to say, and I did most of the listening, but I had the space all to myself.
Now there’s hardly a sentence where the crow doesn’t put his oar in.
Oh, you start sounding just like him…
You’d like me to go on with my life with him? Get used to him?
Don’t people remember me because of him? Oh! Her! That’s right! The lady with the crow. They don’t say that because they don’t see him, but that’s really who they get: her ventriloquist. And who’s the dummy? Tell me.
Can you tell when I speak with his voice? A voice that comes straight out of his stomach. No! You can’t tell us apart from the accent; he has the French accent too…
I’ll give you a hint: He curses a lot. I hate cursing. I avoid any of the really bad ones starting with labiodental fricatives.
He seems to have a blast, especially with those; he has no limits. And that’s what people appreciate most: the no-limits aspect of him.
They love it! It’s disgusting.
But it’s the kind of disgust that you completely get used to. Imagine morning sickness every single day of your life.
I haven’t been pregnant in a while…of course there’s little chance now with the crow in the center part of the marital bed.
He’s between me and him. Not too long ago I had my hopes really high because my husband needed to change spots in bed due to arthritis from a soccer accident. Changing spots in bed is extremely challenging after twenty years of marriage, and I thought the crow wouldn’t survive that. The crow hates change in general, but worst of all he hates any change to his space: any disruption to his nest, if you will.
Well, what I didn’t foresee is that he didn’t have to change spots since he sleeps down our middle anyway. My husband and I had to switch around him.
Now you reflect on all this and give it a try: “Maybe all she needs is a vacation so that the crow can vacate her?”
Well… Did I say that in the car he sits on my husband’s lap who doesn’t seem to mind? And as we drive for hours to our vacation rental, all I can think of is: I wish we had a big, old car accident where he’d be thrown through the windshield along with his boots.
Then I smoke like a chimney without opening the windows in the hope that the crow will get disgusted. He doesn’t. Mostly the car gets filled with smoke, and we all snorkel in there; the crow likes all members of the family. It makes me guilty and miserable, inflicting onto the children and my husband what I only mean to inflict onto him.
The usual outcome is for me to wish I could lay on my husband’s shoulder and take a nap, but then it dawns on me that he may be the one wishing for that.
And then just when you’re about to give up on me, you throw one last question outside the box: “What about the children? Out of them comes forth truth, redemption, etc.”
You’re right: my children. Me and them, we try to keep him at bay when we’re together. And, yes, I suspect they know of his existence. They see him coming is another way to say this. At least I’d like to think that. I’d like to think that they hate him, that his presence makes them sick. But I can never be sure.
The other day he made this bad joke, and they both laughed like there was no tomorrow. And there is no tomorrow. It kills me.
One day I’ll kill the crow. I’ll grab him by the neck and swirl him around with his boots on.
Because of his stupid bird feet, the boots will unlatch first and land somewhere. It won’t harm anyone. Because before that I’ll make sure it’s just me and him: a fair duel.
I’ll close the doors to the apartment when the kids are in school and my husband at work. I’ll stay home pretending to be sick, and I won’t have to pretend much.
I’ll smoke in the kitchen, and it’ll make him come. Smoking, I finally figured, works like a summons.
“Crow,” I’ll say, “it is time.”
“Time for what, you [something with a voiceless velar plosive]?”
And I won’t bother with an answer; I’ll just grab him by the neck and swirl. He’ll die strangled under his own weight, even if the boots will get out first. He won’t die in style as I won’t allow it.
I’ll get dizzy myself from swirling, but it’ll be a good dizziness from a good deed.
Hopefully in the swirling, I’ll recover a bit of my mind.
His boots will get swallowed in the kitchen walls like in the quicksand.
I’ll curse once for good measure. Politely, if you will.
Then I’ll let go of him and he’ll be sucked into the walls after his boots.
Later the kids will come home and ask what’s for dinner, and I’ll ask them about their homework. It’s not funny, Mom, they’ll say. And I’ll say, well, I’m not funny, you know. Then, my husband will enter the kitchen and ask if I feel better, and I’ll say the first thing that will come through my recovered mind.
Category: Fiction, Short Story