CROW Excerpt


Chapter One


The buzzard knew.  He gave the first warning.  I was playing in the back yard while my grandmother stirred the iron wash pot over the fire.  She had gray hair and a bent back.  Standing, she looked like the left-hand side of a Y.  If she could straighten her back, she'd be taller than me, but since she couldn't, we were the same height.  I called her Boo Nanny.  She joked that I should call her Bent Granny.
	She took in wash from white people in town.  In our back yard, clotheslines were stretched four feet off the ground.  A higher line held pants and sheets.  Daddy had built a platform so she could reach.
	The morning of my last day of fifth grade, the weather was hot— not as hot as it would get in a few weeks, when sand scalded bare feet and doors swelled so much that it was hard to open them—but hot enough so that the salt breeze from the ocean did little to cool things off.  Boo Nanny wore a cabbage leaf on her head to protect her from the sun.  Holding the cupped green leaf to her head with one hand, she shaded her eyes and looked up into the sky, clear, but for some feathery clouds in the shape of seagull wings. 
	Several birds looped around in the high currents, too far away to cast a shadow.  They were black and shiny like crows, but as awkward as flying turkeys.  Their wings held fixed, the birds did the dead man's float in the air, drifting in lazy figure eights around an invisible circle, but never running into each other.  
Then one lit out from the group and swooped down, pulling its shadow across the yard, over the top edges of the clothes on the line.  
	Suddenly, Boo Nanny shoved me onto the sand and covered my body with hers.  The cabbage leaf flew off to the side.  Her bent back made her look fragile, but, in fact, she was strong from hauling heavy irons from the fire, and taking water from the well to the pit for boiling wash.  Still, I was startled by how fast she could move.
	“What’s wrong?” I said, alarmed, feeling the weight of her thin body on top of mine. 
	“Buzzard’s shadow,” Boo Nanny said, rolling off me and struggling to her feet.  “That ol' thing tag you, means you happiness done dead."
	“Did he get me?” I asked, worried.  “Did you see?”
	“I don’t know.  If he do, a mess of trouble be headed to our door," she said.	 
	Before Boo Nanny tackled me, I had watched the buzzard break off from the circle and glide down towards us.  The flat gray shape beneath it bent and unfolded as the buzzard passed over the fence and slipped away from us.
	I didn’t notice if the shadow had grazed my head or skimmed over any part of me.  But I couldn’t say for absolute sure that I hadn't been tagged.  The shadow left no outward sign.  What if I was a marked boy and didn’t even know it?  But I was more worried about Boo Nanny.  She had protected me by covering my body with hers, and if the shadow had grazed anyone, it was her.
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