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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

little gifts

The gifts started off small: safety pins, washers, the odd shiny pebble.

“It’s a crow thing,” Felicia told me as we fed the shelter cats during one of my afternoon shifts volunteering at the shelter. “It’s their way of thanking you for the food.”

A thanks had been neither asked for nor expected. I wasn’t Snow White. I fed the crows because my niece Jill liked to watch them hop around in the backyard, imitating their calls as best as a two-year-old could. It was cute. I told Jill about the crow gifts because I know they would thrill her, and we kept the shiny odds and ends in a little dish on our shared dresser.

“It’s unhygienic,” my brother complained. “Birds have all kinds of parasites and shit.”

I would clean the gifts thoroughly, I assured him; and I would make sure Jill didn’t try to pet any of the birds, lest they attack her in self defense. I knew that crows were capable of that kind of thing, mobbing perceived enemies en masse. It was hard to imagine “our” crows doing that, though. I’d never been much of a bird person. Wild birds in particular were just part of the scenery, little more than background noise. So it was a little unsettling the first time I made eye contact with one of the crows to detect a clear intelligence in its gaze. It was sizing me up as much as I sized it up, and I wondered what kind of thoughts were running through its little bird brain.

I’d taken to spending the cool autumn mornings after dropping Jill off at daycare reading in the papasan on the back patio. The crows had gotten comfortable enough with my presence to hop around chattering to each other within just a few feet. They lingered on the bird feeder and at the water dish. The sun glinted on their inky black wings and their curved beaks. It was one of those misty mornings that had made me fall in love with Oregon.

I took to the papasan with my battered copy of The Hobbit. When the fog curled low around the mountains behind my brother’s place it was easy to imagine a dragon lurking unseen in some cave, smoke streaming from its nostrils as it guarded its hoard. It would be a slow day, as slow as most of my days in Oregon had been thus far. That was why I’d moved out there, wasn’t it? For slow days. The official story, of course, was that I’d come to help Caleb out with Jill, the dutiful older sister. Most people seemed to buy it. Our parents knew better, of course, but they seemed content to look the other way as long as my savings held out. I had about four months left, I figured, maybe if I lived like a dragon.

I was running through calculations, my page held open with a finger when something landed with a little clink close by. A crow settled on the bird feeder, but it paid no attention to the seed before it. The crows had been fairly quiet that morning, sticking to the stress along the fence in order to stay out of the faint mist. The crow on the bird feeder looked at me. I looked back. The crow cawed, and I thought the sound was almost expectant. When I didn’t move from my seat, the crow flapped its wings agitatedly and swooped down to land on the patio floorboards. It pecked at something that skittered with a metallic glint in the watery light. I lowered my book, frowning. The crow seemed to have figured out that I was in no hurry to get up from my seat because it picked the thing up from the floor and took to the air once more.

I could only manage a startled squawk as the bird flew straight at me. My first thought was that Caleb would be a smug asshole if one of the crows attacked me after all. The second was a slightly offended ow as something bounced off of my head. Wings fluttered and the crow was gone, disappearing into the trees.

What the hell? I thought.

The thing that the crow had dropped on me slid from inside my book to my lap. Sighing, I set the book aside. I rubbed the sore spot on my scalp as I picked up the little metal object. I’d expected another washer, or a bolt or something.

Instead, I found myself holding a ring in the palm of my hand.

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