CLAWS OF GRIEF
Calliope E. 10th, - Berkeley, CA
I wake up to Mom’s sunken eyes peering over me, her face creased with worry. It is then that I notice the pool of sweat I lie in. My heaving breaths are cut short by the cawing of a singular crow perched on the outside of my window. I find myself frozen in a staring contest that concludes promptly when I shudder, and he abandons his post and victoriously takes flight into the overcast, October morning.
“You had a bad dream again, didn’t you?” Mom assumes more than asks, from the terrified expression plastered on my face.
It has been five months and 26 days since the funeral since I've been in her room since I’ve cried. I figure that Mom would’ve stopped scrambling into my room by now because the crows haven’t stopped bothering me for five months and 26 days. Sometimes the dreams aren't as bad. Occasionally the little black terrors pass over my head if I hide well enough. But other nights consist of screaming as the birds reach out their claws to scrape off what I thought was thick skin, but proves to be no obstacle in their quest for my brittle bones. The worst, however, is when the crows peck out my eyes with their beaks. I can see my body being picked at, mutilated by a mass of matted black feathers and beady eyes. Last night I dreamed of the latter.
The clock reads 6:00 AM and I don't think I can go back to sleep so I decide to get up and get ready for school. I started my third year of high school one month and 23 days ago and my grades already dipped below average. The inability to sleep through a full night has most definitely contributed to this.
It doesn't take much to convince my mom I'm fine–I think her mind is more occupied with Dad and his inability to escape the sorrowful comfort of his bed–she quickly pads back down the narrow hallway to their room, leaving me to shower and change my sweat-soaked sheets.
I don't like to look in the mirror anymore because I see my sister’s face in place of my own reflection. So naturally, I shielded the mirror in my bathroom with a combination of old Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel posters.
Yohan wakes up a couple of hours later and I hear him lumbering toward our shared bathroom so I quickly slip out into the hallway in an attempt to beat him there. Instead, we collide and I steady myself on the wooden railing by the stairs.
“Are you gonna be ready to go in thirty minutes?” I ask him, peering down at his messy, jet-black hair. I try to avoid looking at my little brother most of the time because he, like me, looks exactly like Celeste, the oldest of what was once a trio.
“Yes,” he answers groggily; his dark eyes are all red and puffy like he’s been crying but I choose not to press him about it. I know my screaming scares him, just like everyone else in the house.
The local elementary school sits a 15-minute walk from our house, two blocks away from the high school, and six blocks away from the middle school. If we walk fast, Yohan and I can make it there in 12 minutes, which we often do because he takes too long playing with his Cheerios and more times than not, leave home in a hurry. That's alright with me though; I can’t wait to flee the house each morning because inside, the air hangs thick with the smell of grief.
Still, outside poses a whole new challenge as the crows have been following me ever since her funeral. They wait for me in the old maples that line our block, hidden amongst the unyielding branches, concealed by the rustling leaves that begin to turn a fiery orange around this time of year. Their watchful eyes stalk me as they perch in a murder along the telephone wires.
Today, as Yohan and I are walking to school, the fall chill feels different, and for the first time in five months and twenty-six days, there isn’t a crow in sight. The elementary school begins class earlier than the high school so after dropping Yohan off, I sit down on a wooden bench deep in the woods behind the school grounds. The ground sludges from the previous night’s rain and little white mushrooms germinate from the ground. A sudden, quiet rustling in the vegetation startles me, and out flies a singular crow, dark as night. He lingers on the rotting backrest and begins to speak to me.
“She is here if you want her to be,” the crow’s voice is a low scratch of a sound. This time I do not run from him, I stare into his curious eyes not daring to flinch.
“How do you know?” I ponder.
It is then that I hear her voice, at first just a kiss on the back of my neck, then growing louder and louder until her melodic tone envelopes the area. I look down at my scuffed boots and peer into the puddle that had not been there before. Gazing into my own reflection for the first time in months, I still see only her. But this time she is crying. Her eyes rain, spewing thick streams of tears convening at the bottom of her chin, running down her neck in a great river.
After a prolonged period of time, the voice finally ceases. I glance over at where the crow once stood, and find he is no longer there. And as I return my gaze downward, I feel wet, hot tears on my cheeks and in my lap. I am crying just like the girl in the puddle.
Sometime later, I’m not sure how much, I emerge from the woods, my clothes rumpled and caked with mud. Searching for something in the sky, I notice that the clouds have burned off revealing a tremendous blue. It is a beautiful day to mourn.
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Students 6th-12th Grades