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Seen through Feathers

by Kat Beyer

Every now and then the Scottish winter yields up one halcyon day, and our little university town is packed from ancient wall to ancient wall with holiday-makers. I had to work round hundreds of strollers and brisk grannies with ice cream cones just to turn in my essay.

I decided to skip lecture and go walking on the cliffs. I packed a flask of tea, a sandwich, and a jumper ('sweater' to my fellow Americans) in case winter changed its mind.

I got to my favorite picnic place, a hollow in the sandstone high above the waves, and had my tea and sandwich. I left the crumbs off to one side for the birds, which is why I didn't expect what happened next.

There were ravens all around me all at once, with black feathers and scholarly eyes and sharp, sharp beaks, flapping and calling out and there was no way out of them except over the cliff. I didn't even have time to cover my eyes. I thought the kind of stupid thoughts one thinks at times like these, like, "Why ravens instead of seagulls?"

The sun flashed through their wings, through the barbs of their feathers. And then I remembered about my ex-boyfriend, about our last shouting match--and then about my parents' last shouting match--and then about the mean things said at my grandmother's funeral--and then all the sorrows and all the angers together, as insistent as the waves below.

I felt something tapping at me, like someone trying to wake me up, and realized it was a beak. A raven was very gently pulling something out of me in the midst of all the flapping and all the noise. Then another and another went to work, still cawing and calling.

Then they were gone, flapping away with all the sorrows and all the angers in their beaks. I had nothing but the open air.

I couldn't believe it, so I sat there a long time. At last I took the cliff path to the next town over, needing to think. A woman met me on the path, her wild hair very dark, and said, "Well done. That was the first bit. Now you're ready for the next;--" and walked on, before I could tell whether she meant the path or the birds or something else entirely.

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