I had long been expecting this assignment. Margery talked about jumping, about drowning. It was well documented. But this? She must have kept this down in the pit of her stomach. It’s most efficient that way.
The crow caws again, seemingly annoyed I’ve interrupted its meal. But her flesh hasn’t been pecked or clawed, only destroyed by an over-reliance on the pills perfectly round and meant to prevent such affliction.
I am usually numb to these scenes—they eventually all look alike—but something here makes me curious. At Margery’s left hand, I see a cracked coquina resting against her fingertips, thin and pale. It’s just one of the oddities in a strange array along that side of her body: chipped glass marbles, boiled bones, mottled bottle caps, a dead nestling—a tenderly collected trove of tabanca. It’s unfortunate that the sun is too low to catch on any of it, shadowed by Margery’s stillness.
Though drawn to the relics of this makeshift shrine, it changes nothing. I have a job to do.
Dismissing my initial interest, I begin to steal the altar’s idol as the crow calls out again and descends from its dais. It nudges at Margery’s right hand and pulls a coin from underneath her delicately domed fingers. The crow walks toward me, holding its head high with an august bobbing at each step. The coin gleams as it turns back and forth at the crow’s curious march. Some of the light diffusing from the token scans Margery’s face and illuminates her earring, a strangely endearing piece of cloudy, unpolished copper—soft-edged and speckled with rust.
The crow stops its walk slightly short of me, standing level with Margery’s ear. It spreads its wings in a regal and practiced display of its plumage, robust and glistening against the sun, yet dark as my attire. The crow ceremoniously lowers its head and sets the coin next to Margery, then stirs its syrinx into summoning the syllables of two caws strung together. I accept the coin knowing it’s not meant for me.
The crow lingers several seconds, surveying the relic of its memories. With one last caw, it wings away into a welling shadow and leaves me to my work. Before beginning again, I raise the copper—soft-edged and speckled with rust—to the rising sun, then place it gingerly under Margery’s tongue.
Steven O. Young Jr. holds English degrees from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Oakland University. A relative newcomer to publication, his first accepted piece of flash fiction appears in 101 Words.