The crows arrived at the hospital in mid-January and congressed in an empty parking lot for approximately one month. Thousands of birds flecked the salt-thawed pavement, moving in particulate waves but never really leaving, sometimes screaming, sometimes spectral and mute. Their arrival coincided with the unofficial end of the pandemic. With our permanently altered senses of humor, we could only laugh about the death omens. Nurses are a superstitious bunch. I’m compulsive, which is almost the same thing.
My grandfather keeps wishbones and stale bread in his freezer to feed the crows. He and my grandmother live across the river from the hospital, and while I can’t know for sure if the hospital crows were the same crows that ate his leftovers, I do wonder if they had any way of communicating among themselves about the man who lives nearby, who serves bountiful scrap banquets at sunrise, with charcuterie boards of gristle and beef ligaments, potato peel crudité and marrow for dipping.
One night, I dropped my ID badge somewhere in the parking lot, in the snow. It would have been inconsequential if it’d happened to anyone else, except it happened to me, and I don’t lose things. It’s a fact of my existence, checking: the stove is off, the door is locked, the car is in park, the lights are off, the door is locked, badge, wallet, keys, phone, the door is locked. That day, I couldn’t stop checking things at work. I no longer trusted myself. My coworker, Laura, noticed. She said, “maybe the crows took it and made a shrine. Maybe you’re their God now.”
It became obvious—I was the granddaughter of a king.
Soon after, the crows began swarming. They became more abundant, their convocation now zealous. Nurses jogged from their cars to the entrance to avoid the frantic sound of feathers scraping together as they flew overhead in mobs. I never had to run. Our arrangement was unspoken. My grandfather would continue to feed them, and while I walked outside, they would stand in the parking lot and worship me.
March came, and the crows finally left. Their absence wasn’t immediately apparent until my badge reappeared. Dirt was embedded in the plastic cover where melted slush condensed over my name and face. Laura handed it to me. She said, “the crows brought this back. They said thanks for the building access.” She left out the part where it was found in the parking lot, not the crows’ lot but the staff lot, pressed into the face of a melting snowbank like a placard. She didn’t say that part. She didn’t have to.
Chelsea is a writer and evening shift nurse from New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and two tuxedo cats. Her work has appeared in Beaver Magazine and is forthcoming in Many Nice Donkeys. You can find her on socials @chelfmarie.