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.

In the beginning, she had asked why they’d been hired. Weren’t they a nuisance to anyone else? But no one had answers, and they’ve become part of the office culture now, with everyone gingerly stepping between scattered feathers and lumpy white guano. She suspects others just don’t know how to get rid of them. Crows have no fear. You can try to shoo them away all you want and they’ll fix you with their beady little eyes and keep flapping at the water cooler until someone pours them some water. Her only saving grace is that water. The only time the crows don’t scare her is when they are trying to grasp cups of water in their feet and beaks. Belmont Springs, you are missing out on a great advertising opportunity. You don’t know comedy until a squawking crow has managed to smash into two or three bookshelves while sipping water out of your little cone cups.

But the water drinking is fleeting, and when the birds hurl the cups with a flip of their talons, she knows to be back in her cubicle, head down. Because next comes another round of smoking, and nothing quite creates a shiver in her bones like the onyx eyes of her office mates flashing in the flare of the matches they light, slowly and surely with graceful wings, in the sneering slur of their beaks.

photo by David Lee Black


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