The Return of Crows

by: Justin Lawrence Daugherty

They said the crows fled the desert. They said anywhere crows will not live is nowhere for anyone to stay. But Aurelio knew of life in the desert. He’d heard of mountains of bodies, sweating and stinking and writhing, in the desert. Stories of men and women out there, leaving behind their half-lived lives and torn-open marriages for the openness of the desert, the danger. He knew how a thing only realized it was alive when it felt closeness, a touch, a body against its skin.

He knew where the people were, where the crows had returned.

He heard nightly the mother’s moans, the naked offerings of her body to anything that would come to save her. He heard her wails. There were whispers at night outside the trailer. Boys trying to climb to the window to see her body, to witness her attempt at exorcism. To exorcise what a body possessed that could create such horror, such suffering. Nightly were her wails, boys and men gathering in the world outside, rattling trash cans and fences and cars and the trailers. Their tongues thick with saliva and longing, their spines straightened, their fingers outstretched, their sexes alight with need.

And in the desert where more bodies gathered, seeking warmth, grasping at skin and sweat and often blood. Aurelio, the lizard-boy, afraid to go out to find these bodies, to witness their chorus, if only because he was afraid of what would happen to the mother inside if the gates were opened.

What men will do if they do not fear God.

He heard the crows, found evidence of their return in picked-apart bones, in eyeless sockets, in bits of meat left in streets, on rooftops, in swimming pools, on cars. He heard their wicked song.

Nightly these dirt-covered men and boys, stamping the loose earth, pushing, pulling, clawing at the too-thin walls of the trailer. Nightly this lizard-boy’s desire to head to the desert, to reach out and touch just one of those bodies, to press a finger to muscle, to fat, to press a palm against the working machine of skin and bone and organs, to reach a thumb inside a jaw and feel the granite-bite of teeth.

Nightly the murder of crows, seeking the dead in the desert, hungry. The crows aware of how life broadcasts itself in violence, in screams, in sex and sweat and pumping organs filled with blood, in noise, in the rush of feet against the ground.

Nightly the standing at the threshold, the closed door, the mother beckoning for answers with her moans and wails, the wolf-like men and boys outside, awaiting invitation. Nightly the lizard-boy, Aurelio, with hands pressed to the door, reluctant. Aurelio at the door, fearing what he might let in, fearing what might be outside.