She has to brush by the crows to get in the building. They huddle outside, shrugging their angular shoulders, shedding black feathers, cawing menacingly at anyone who comes close and those who don’t. They are not only unafraid of her but intimidating to her. She knows they can’t hurt her, but she hates brushing by them as they cackle and ruffle their feathers, and she hates how they follow her inside, their little yellow talons clicking just inches behind the soft tread of her shoes.

It is more of the same inside the office. They gather around, squawking in a language only they know, shuffling around to pick up an occasional paper in their beaks and drop it elsewhere if it is not tasty or interesting. Many memos reach her inbox with the tell-tale “V” of whichever beak they were clasped in (she can’t tell them apart) if the crows got distracted on their way to her cubicle.

They don’t fear the phone, but they don’t answer it, either. That’s probably good for business; those caws of theirs can be pretty off-putting.

She has tried to befriend them. She has tried everything from friendly words to baked goods, but both get either ignored or pecked. She cannot win them over. So she steps over them each day, walks by them, tiptoes among and between them. At any moment one could alight and all of them would take off, flapping their big ungainly black wings, bumping around in the air, forcing her to duck so their feet will not snag wisps of her hair. They poop on the floor; the maintenance department must hate their company.

She wonders how they cash their paychecks. Do they arrive at the bank with those same little “V”s from their beaks? What do the crows spend the money on, if they live rent-free on telephone wires? She supposes the checks finance the cigarettes that dangle from their beaks throughout the day, enveloping their raven bodies in clouds of acrid smoke.

Who hired these birds, anyway? Someone who enjoyed lining cubicles with newspapers?

Every day it is the same.
She wishes they were office trained. Not just the poop thing but in being useful. Occasionally one will peck at the fax machine until something happens, or make a copy, or knock the phone off its cradle when it rings. And of course there are the memos, dumped in her inbox with a squawk of scorn and a flippant flap of wings before each crow heads back to the rest of its murder (and she can tell why a group of crows is called a “murder,” by the way – she can easily envision them committing one). But these are pretenses, a way to fake their place in the office. Their real place, their real community, is in their flock, and they are always together.
The early bird gets the worm. These birds prefer Dunkin’ Donuts.
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“The Boy I Never Knew”


He sat next to me for three years, in three different classrooms, but I never saw his face. He was always late, so even though I don’t remember what he looked like, I remember his chair next to mine, always empty first thing in the morning. Those hard pale chairs with the weird matte finish and metal legs. Those institutional laminated desks with other kids’ scribbles on them. Those squeaky, scuffed linoleum floors under our shoes.

I’d join the other kids, giggling and chatting, in the back of each classroom, as we took as long as we could to take off our coats and mittens and stash our lunch boxes in our cubbies, already bragging about the Ring Dings or Twinkies we’d brought in our lunches. Then I’d settle into my chair, the one next to the boy’s empty one. He’d come running in, out of breath, just before the last bell rang, when Mrs. Belmont or later Mrs. Evans or later Ms. Heath would be standing at the front, quieting us down so we could begin. He’d always duck his head and mumble “sorry” to whichever teacher he had that year. Sometimes the teachers would smile, and sometimes they’d frown and say something sarcastic like, “Thank you for joining us, Mr. Denny.” Then the boy would duck his head and dash to the cubbies and be back, out of his coat – always the same one, always too thin – in seconds. He wore the same plaid shirt, or had several just like each other, almost every day. All the Denny kids wore plaid and dungarees every day.
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Monday, 12:58 p.m.


“Good afternoon, Bandilay Industries, how may I help you?”

“Uh…Yo, is Tyreese in?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe there is anyone named Tyreese at this organization. I think you may have the wrong number.”

“Oh, uh, sorry.”


Monday, 1:19 p.m.


“Good afternoon, Bandilay Industries, how may I help you?”

“Oh. Um, is, uh, Sarah there?”

“Do you have a last name for Sarah? We have hundreds of employees.”

“Uh…No. Sorry, wrong number.”

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It was hard to tell how long she’d waited in the little room. There wasn’t much to look at on the industrial-yellow walls beyond a poster of a total hip replacement. It was creepy how easily it showed the replacement in four little cartoon steps. Take body, remove old hip piece, insert new hip piece, body whole again. She shivered, feeling the hairs spring up on her arms, goosebumps on her legs. The white butcher paper beneath her felt weird against her skin, too smooth and foreign.

Finally, a knock, and Dr. Merman came in and greeted her, glancing over the chart in his hands as the door shut behind him.

“Susan,” he greeted her, not “Sooz” or “Suzie” like everyone else called her, but the formal name, the only-on-her-license name. “I see you’ve requested a joint aspiration? Have you re-injured the knee?”

They both looked reflexively at her right knee, still bearing scars from the operation. Last year, complaining of pain and a weird ball of fluid, she’d sat on this very table, looking at that very same hip poster, as he poked around her knee, pressing in one spot to watch the fluid move eerily under her skin into another. He’d explained that she needed a joint aspiration, meaning he’d remove the fluid from around her joint with a needle and syringe. She’d nearly passed out when he’d held up the syringe to show her; she didn’t think needles came that big except maybe for elephants and rhinos. What he held was meant for big, huge things with thick skin. Not her.
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“Just a minute,” she’d been told, and so she waited.

“Soon,” they’d said, and the minutes ticked by.

“In a little while,” she’d heard, and the hours dragged.

“There’s no rush,” they’d admonished, and she made herself stop hopping from foot to foot and hold still.

The grown-ups were always busy. Even when they promised they’d come outside, there was always a new phone call or an email or a letter. She knew they had to do important things. She knew she needed to be more patient.

And so she put on her cape, and she played with the loop of string at the end of her kite, and she waited.

And waited.

And waited.
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“Never Look a Birthday Gift Horse in the Mouth”


In the seven years I’d been with my husband, I’d only known him as fearless. Jumping off 30-foot quarry cliffs with no hesitation. Trying seemingly inedible parts of animals and plants. Backpacking alone for a month through Spain and Portugal on limited Spanish and zero Portuguese. Speeding and sliding into figure eights on snow and ice for the joy of losing control.
Then he asked what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday.

I considered some options. “How about horseback riding?” I asked, thinking of the little corral with $25 trail rides next to Lincoln Woods. I’d never been one of those girls who pined for a pony, but I do love animals, and riding one through the woods sounded like a nice change of pace.
His face fell.

“How can you be afraid of horses?” I asked once I’d figured it out.
“They bite!” he insisted.
“Apples, not hands,” I retorted, but he was unswayed. He’d known of people suffering some pretty bad bites.
“How about this,” I said. “We’ll ride them, but we won’t feed them anything.” If there was some kind of opportunity to give them carrots or apples, we could bow out.
He agreed. Continue reading