by Dixie Jo Jarchow
Kayla walked to the corner store and bought him cigarettes.
She winced as she inhaled too deeply. He’d really kicked her hard last night. He’d brought over one of his friends and they’d been partying. Kayla still had a booming headache from it. Then, his friend tried to kiss her. She’d pushed him away. He reeked of tobacco and motor oil.
“It’s okay, Kayla,” Russell pushed her towards the guy. “I don’t mind.”
But she just couldn’t. She hid in the bathroom and the man eventually left, disgusted. When she came out, Russell threw her on the floor. He stood over her like a giant. Then, he’d pulled back his leg and kicked her hard enough to knock the breath from her lungs. Not just once, but a bunch of times.
“I owe him a lot of money, Kayla, and we gotta pay him one way or another. It’s not like you’re a virgin or anything.” He left then, slamming the door, It rattled in its frame in the same terrified rhythm as her heart.
Kayla turned the corner and saw a group of boys in the alley, throwing stones at something. The pain in her ribs forgotten, she ran.
“Stop it. What are you doing?” She yelled.
Their circle opened, fear and shame mixed on their round faces.
“Oh, you wicked, wicked beasts,” she ran forward and picked up the large bird, unmindful of its sharp beak or razor like claws. Black as the deepest shadow with one cauled eye, the bird was exhausted.
“It’s a raven. They’re bad luck,” one boy called after her.
“It’s a crow, you jerk,” she retorted bundling the unresisting bird into her plastic grocery bag on top of the cigarettes.
She got back to the apartment and gently spread the bird’s wings. “You’re a beauty, ain’t you. The purple dances in the sunlight on your feathers. Don’t look like anything’s broken. Maybe you’re just tired,”
She put an empty shoe box on the wide ledge of the only window in their apartment. The old fashioned window opened in the center like doors and were Kayla’s favorite part of the apartment. She poured a tiny bit of milk into the lid of a jar and soaked some stale bread in it. The crow ate, keeping his good eye fixed on her.
“Maybe Russell will let me keep you for a pet. Would you like that? You and me, besties?” She giggled when the bird cocked his head, as if listening to her. He seemed content to rest in the box.
The door banged open and Russell stood glaring at her. He had a black, swollen eye and a bruise that ran from his broken nose to his chin. Clots of blood edged his nostrils and he breathed heavily through his mouth. He closed the door softly and Kayla began to shake.
“I took a beating because of you, girl.” He said quietly, taking off his worn leather belt.
“For me?” Kayla’s thoughts darted unfocused. What had she done? Was it the boys in the alley?
“If you’d screwed Josh, even once, maybe just a blow job, this wouldna happened, but no, you didn’t want to,” he made his voice a falsetto, mocking her. “We’ll see if I can beat some sense into your stupid head, you cow. Then, next time he comes around, you do what I tell you.”
Kayla stared mesmerized by the full arc of the swing but when the belt hit her, tearing the tender flesh along her back, a buzzsaw rang through her head. The pain blossomed through her growing larger and larger. Wetness pooled around her feet, was it blood or had she peed herself? Her eyes rolled back in her head and she tensed for the next blow.
PLastic rustled, “Thanks for the smokes, babe.” He lit up.
“What the fuck is that?” He roared. The crow moved his body to look at Kayla and then at Russell. “Are you some little pet of Kayla’s? Did I say you would have a filthy bird?” He sucked on the cigarette, making the tip glow and moved toward the bird, holding the lit end like a stick.
“Stop it. It can’t fly!” She screamed.
“No? Let’s help it then.” Russell picked up the box and bird and threw them as far as he would out of the window. They both strained to watch the box as it plummeted to the street, but before it hit, the crow burst out, powerful sweeps of its wings gaining altitude.
Russell turned his back to the window, and plugged the smoke back in his mouth. “See, all better.”
The back of his head exploded with black feathers, hair and blood. The impact dropped him to all fours. He rolled over moaning and clutching the back of his head. There was blood on his hands when he pulled them away. Kayla’s teeth chattered in her mouth and she fought to keep air moving in and out of her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused.
Then the screaming began, bouncing off the walls and reverberating through the tiny room. The sound amplified to a wailing crescendo then cut off in an abrupt silence.
Kayla heard the clicking of claws on the sill.
She opened her eyes. The room had been painted spatter red and bits of flesh adhered to the rough walls. Russell lay on his back on the floor, his face a pulped mess of bloody holes. His intestines glistened from a gaping cavity in his abdomen.
Russell lay on the floor, his face a mass of ragged holes. A sheet of blood crept across the floor toward Kayla.
“Caw!” The bird looked at her once, cocking its head and leapt from the sill, caught a thermal and floated away from the world, never looking back.
Kayla crawled over to the body and curled up with her arms around it in the spreading blood.