“The bird in the tree does not mock you,” she says with the quiet assurance that came with age and study. Her smile creases the corner of her eyes into crow’s feet. You have never understood why wrinkles were called that. They looked no more like crow’s feet than the lines on the palms of your hands.
“You move too slowly for them to notice you.”
You bristle at that. You have always been the fastest in class. You’ve won ribbons out of the hands of competitors who underestimated you. If anyone is too slow, it is this old woman. “I’ve been coming to your lessons for four months now and still you haven’t taught me a thing that’s useful.”
She leans her head to the side. It reminds you of the crow in the tree that flew off a moment ago, after laughing its harsh call. You’re not amused, though she seems to be. “Perhaps you simply have not been learning.”
You cross your arms and have the urge to stick out your tongue at her, even though you are far too old for such childish things. “I came to learn earth magic and all you’ve talked about for months is the weather and the birds that have come to your garden and made me read books about identifying shorebirds that all look the same. They’re just little brown birds, who can tell the difference? Who cares? And now you think that standing here looking like scarecrows is somehow teaching? It’s ridiculous.”
She takes your rant that has been building in your chest like a festering boil for the last month and spilled out of you as if you were not in charge of your tongue without interrupting. She doesn’t cross her arms or look away. It is unnerving to be watched with some emotion you can’t put your finger on. It makes you angry though you couldn’t say why if asked. She doesn’t ask you.
“Everyone learns at their own pace. I had one student who took a year to be able to name the sparrows in the field and another who took two to identify all the trees on the farm.”
“That doesn’t matter!”
“Perhaps not to you, not yet. But it will.” She stretches her arms above her head, carefully so as to not hit you with her cane. “I think it is time for a nap. I will see you back at the house when you are finished.”
“How will I know when I’m done?” You want to scream, but don’t. You will keep some dignity even though there is no one around but you, your teacher, and the crow that is still sitting on a branch over your head.
“When you can recall what a flock of crows calls itself.” And she turns and begins walking back to the house without waiting for your reply.
You want to stamp your feet and yell, but she would hear and you won’t give her the satisfaction. Though you’re not sure if she would feel anything one way or the other. You look up at the crow and scowl. “I don’t suppose you know what she’s on about?”
The crow cocks its head to the side, in mimicry of your teacher. “Of course,” the crow says as you fall back, almost hitting your head on the side of the stone fence. “But you wouldn’t understand, not yet. I’m still not sure why she wastes her time on you. ”
Your voice is still not working as you watch the crow take to the air and join a flock, winging its way toward the farmhouse. But the word comes to your mind and you are relieved the crows did not want to act it out.
A flock of crows is a murder.
You reflect on that as you slowly rise and walk back to the farmhouse, not sure now at all where the world ends and the magic begins.