Crows and Sorrows
It has been drizzling forever -- or that is how it seems. The November sky is bloated with grey clouds. Collar up and beret on, I make my way down Regent Street, dodging pedestrians and puddles.
A sign on a shop-front says: ‘Do ravens drink the tears of flightless kites?’
I frown. No idea.
I hesitate by Café Rève but don’t fancy a mid-morning latté, even to escape the rain.
A man approaches in a black raincoat, lapel and cuffs fraying. He has that look in his eyes, like he has been spun-wash in worry and grief. He stops. ‘I’m lost,’ he says.
‘This is Regent Street,’ I say.
‘Not that kind of lost.’
His brow furrows. ‘I don’t know where the Street of Ceaseless Sighs ends.’
‘That doesn’t help.’
‘Sorry.’ I lower my head and walk off.
Why do I attract these sorts? Aidan told me it is because I’m lost too -- a migrant of my own existence.
‘If lost people always find me, how can I be lost?’ I said.
Aidan grinned at that. He didn’t smile much. His mood was like his hands, cold and pale.
The drizzle eases a little. I turn left into the park. A crow flies overhead, flaunting its blackness.
A sign on the park fence says:
Welcome to Castle Park
Please Do Not Feed the Crows or the Sorrows
I look away quickly.
I walk down a path lined by lime trees with no leaves; their silhouettes are stark and sombre against the grey light. Ahead, beneath the bandstand, are a group of people gesticulating wildly at each other. They seem to be dressed in costumes: soldier, waiter, nurse, doctor, bride, policeman, footballer, clown, banker, homeless man. As I approach, they all turn to face me. ‘What are you lot up to?’ I ask.
‘Rehearsing a play,’ says the clown.
‘About despair,’ says the bride.
‘Isn’t it about dog-fights?’ says the soldier.
‘We can’t agree on what the play’s about,’ says the clown, raising an eyebrow. ‘Except all themes begin with ‘D’.’
‘No,’ says the doctor. ‘It’s about bewilderment.’
‘Isn’t it about Being?’ says the homeless man.
‘Haven’t you got a script?’ I ask.
‘Fed up with scripts. We’re making it up as we go along,’ says the clown.
‘Who isn’t?’ I say, and stride off.
I come to the little stone bridge where Aidan and I often played pooh sticks. He always won -- he did at most of our games. This didn’t make him happy: games were a serious business.
After pooh sticks, we’d stand on the bridge, staring at the narrow river, which carries the reflections of the willows beside it and the clouds above it. Sometimes he’d take my hand and place it on his heart, on top of his brown merino-wool coat. ‘You know, Beth, like the river, the eternally voyaging sadness runs all day, all night.’
I’d look away. What can you say to a lover who says that?
Aidan told me that during his operation, the surgeon found many things in his heart: his father’s trilby; a photo of his only child, Amelia, aged ten; a book of Sylvia Plath poetry; pebbles from North Norfolk beaches; a bankruptcy declaration; bottles of malt whiskey; tickets from the Leonard Cohen concert where he’d met me, where our affair had begun; his divorce papers.
The surgeon removed them all, but Aidan said the heaviness he’d felt in his heart was replaced by a large hole he couldn’t seem to fill.
I walk on, past a bench with a little plaque saying: ‘Dedicated to Fleeting Glimmers of Frost.’ Aidan and I liked that; we used to sit here.
A swell of grief. The park is too full of Aidan. I was right to end the relationship -- the black hole of his heart should come with a ‘Warning: Danger’ sign -- but I miss him badly.
I head out of the park quickly, down St Peter’s Street, and stop in front of the church. A crow perches in an old yew tree; it seems to be competing with the tree over darkness.
Inside, the 14th century church smells of mould and meditation.
There are carved and painted figurines on the walls, the stories of the saints. Paul is having his vision on the road to Damascus; Jesus appears with angels, Paul’s eyes stare in awe.
I shake my head. When did redemption ever happen so abruptly?
I go over to a wooden shelf; old glass bottles full of tears are aligned on it. One bottle is labelled: ‘Tears for drowning seals.’ Another: ‘Tears for lost futures.’
A wave of sadness. I turn and walk up the nave.
A woman who has been praying stands up. Her red overcoat is an affront to the grey day. She has white bobbed hair, keen blue eyes and a profusion of crows feet. She looks directly at me. ‘Hold on to the glow-worms, my dear,’ she says. ‘There are always glow-worms, even on the darkest plains.’
‘Thank you,’ I say.
She touches me gently on the arm and walks off. I watch her leave the church -- calm, dignified.
Suddenly the church is flooded by light. The sun must have come out. I look downwards -- it is almost too bright to bear.
Near the altar on the stone floor -- a mosaic of colour, an ephemeral patchwork of green, red, blue, yellow, orange. Coming from the stained glass window above.
I gaze down at the colours. I don’t believe in God, but I do like living in a world where light streams through stained glass and paints spontaneous artworks.
I find myself smiling quietly.
I wander towards the door, stopping to drop a coin in the Donation box.
Outside, it has stopped raining. The crow launches from its perch in the yew. ‘Kraah kraah kraah’ it calls, affirming life with a cold flinty cry.
Katy Wimhurst studied social anthropology before doing a PhD on Mexican Surrealism. She has also worked in publishing, but now suffers from M.E./CFS. She has been published in various magazines, including Bust Down the Doors and Eat All the Chickens, Theguardian.com, GlassFire, Serendipity, Kaleidrotrope and DogVersusSandwich. She was a winner of the Tate Modern short story competition TH2058 in 2009. Her story "At Hiverblue Lake" appeared in Issue #52 of The Cafe Irreal.