The Crows at Golgoth Lake

The crows haven't left. Dozens descended upon the shoreline seven seconds after Ms. Pocrite smushed herself into the right side of the bench at Golgoth Lake. Dancing along the waterline, they pecked beady eyes into the billowing mist.

Snarling in response, Ms. Pocrite careened her neck into the damp air. Her eyelids melted to slits, zeroing in on the overgrown, noisy mass of blackened feathers. They dominated the scene for hours, strutting in front of her view, clogging up the would-be-empty lake horizon. Refusing to be bullied off her bench, Ms. Pocrite gritted crowded, yellowing teeth, determined to out-sit her company. Chuckling at her absurdities, the crows played along, dancing and pecking in the sweet and blossoming mist, as Golgoth Lake swelled with the sugary stench of April all the while.

To the left, a babbling child toddled to the edge of the water, her mother in tow. The crows whispered to each other, eager to meet the unfamiliar, curly-haired giggler. Her gingham, blue dress brushed the dew-soaked grass as she teetered down to greet them. The crows flocked around their new friend, vying for the attention Ms. Pocrite denied them. Her gaze no more than an enraged sliver of blue, Ms. Pocrite crossed her legs and arms. Though almost identical in age to the child's mother, her sagging clump of cheeks wrinkled themselves into layers of disgust, aging her by the second. The child tickled a crow, and her mother bent down, laughing at her daughter's chuckle, ever-falling dominoes of joy.

Ms. Pocrite pulled her rotted gaze from the abominable vultures, from the unnervingly jubilant child. For a fleeting flit of a half a smidge of a second, her heart closed up and eyes grew sloshy at the sight of the unusual vacancy of the left side of her bench. By the next morsel of a minute, she snapped herself out of momentary grief, ignoring just how empty the whitewashed, rusting boards of the bench appear without the once-familiar pair ruffled socks swinging themselves next to her.

Setting her jaw on edge, Ms. Pocrite resumed her scowl at the crows, at the child, at her mother. Spewing layers of resentment at their presence, their laughing, their grass-stained clothes and fluttering feathers, Ms. Pocrite wished to pummel the crows to dust, to enact violent injustice in front of the child, to force her to feel the inexplicable pain that would inexplicably be felt by her mother. Her gaze liquified, blurring her sight. Ms. Pocrite glared at the laughing pair and the gaggle of flying beasts, wondering how they could find within themselves the nerve to gather collectively in her presence while she was forced to ache so lonelily. At the sight of their love, jealously overtook Ms. Pocrite's insides, threatening to claw her to shreds.

Fed up with her withering gaze, the crows turned and laughed at Ms. Pocrite. Their cackles boiled over, tormenting her right back. An army, they marched toward her, hauntingly. The mother's brow crumpled, and she began to lead her daughter away from the scene, away from the callousness frozen in the air. But the girl in the gingham resisted, pulling away from her mother, racing toward the lake. Her mother shrieked, chasing her daughter down the shore, soon turning in horror at Ms. Pocrite and the approaching birds.

Then, the rocks. The daughter pelleted the crows with a fanfare of gravel, of sharp stones, of grass and glass, of everything on the shore. She called to them, urging them away from Ms. Pocrite, to halt their taunting. They squawked and flailed, running and dancing drunkenly away. And the shore fell silent at once, save one crow deadened by the weight of a falling stone.

The daughter bent down, cradling the bird. Her mother looking on, aghast, the even-tempered child promenaded to the bench. As the small girl approached, Ms. Pocrite's callousness washed out of her like a runnied egg, tears bleeding down her face. Her jealousy spewed out, the sight of the daughter calling her heart to bob into her throat, choking her with hope. Eyes blue, lashes short, hair tendrilled, she could have been the twin of her own girl she used to bring to the bench.

The gingham-clad daughter placed the still, bloodied crow onto Ms. Pocrite's lap. With small knuckles bloody, she pushed herself onto the left side of the bench, an anchor against the wrinkled woman's side. She gave her a squeeze, whispered something soft and kind, and then bounded away to her mother. Clasping their hands in each other's, the daughter and mother waved behind them. Ms. Pocrite waved back, turning her mouth up for the first time in months.

Golgoth Lake churned in a newfound stillness, gurgling in peace. A wash of tears peeling across her cheeks, Ms. Pocrite bent down to the animal, eating crow in silence.