They always seemed like birds to me — they way they flitted from group to group and always moved in flocks, the cute little twittery laughs, the endless muttering of vapid conversation, and the way they shied from anything new as if it were a voracious predator. But they were nice enough. They did seem to care if someone was hurting, and would coo and offer advice until they got bored with trying to fix you.
Stephanie had red hair. Her clothes were black and deliberately tattered. She wore her makeup dark and her hair natural, neither straightened paper-slick nor curled. They tried including her occasionally, but since she wouldn’t change, they gave up every time.
The worst were the Christians, who were determined to save her from hell by making her a soft, fluffy, pastel girl who read the Bible and didn’t question.
“Oh, my gosh, what is that?”
“The Satanic Bible, my boyfriend lent it to me.”
“Satan is evil! You shouldn’t be reading that! Why are you reading that? Are you a Satanist?”
“Actually I haven’t read any of it, I just thought it might be interesting.”
“Well if you read that you’re going to go to hell. Think about it this way; would you willingly jump into a lake of fire? Willingly?”
“I was just curious…”
“I can’t believe you were going to read that. What’s wrong with you? The Bible says to have no appearance of evil, and this is more than an appearance. And God and Satan can’t be with the same person.”
“Well, if God is such a snob, I’m not interested in him. At least Satan doesn’t have all these rules.”
So they’d give up for the time being and leave her to “think about her fate.”
It’s time for class and Stephanie is late, which is a little unusual. I remark to someone about it and they say,
“She’s probably just slacking off.”
. . . but I’m worried, because she has seemed even more reserved and distant lately. I’m scared that she might have decided this was too much for her. She told me that she had tried to slice her wrists, telling God that if he cared about her he would stop her — and she was disappointed when God didn’t intervene. I asked how it was that she didn’t go through with it, and she said her mom walked in at the moment she was going to do it. When I told her God sent her mom to stop her, she thought that might be a possibility, but wasn’t what she wanted.
Now, she’s fighting with her boyfriend, who is the only one who makes her feel loved, she says. So I worry.
Fifteen minutes after class starts, Stephanie walks in with a blue crate in her arms. The class descends on her in a rush, anxious to see if she has a puppy or something else worthy of attention. Exclamations of disgust ensue, and the class breaks away as quickly as they crowded.
I hurry over to Stephanie and help her set the crate carefully down. Inside is a crow, wobbling even though it is propped against the side. A lid of some sort has been filled with water and placed on the floor of the crate, pitiful in itself because the crow is in no shape to drink on it’s own volition. I glance at Stephanie and almost gasp; tears are slipping down her cheeks.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Some boys were torturing it,” and I realize that some of those tears are tears of rage. “It’s wing was broken, so it couldn’t fly away, and they were throwing rocks at it.”
From across the class, “Just let the ugly thing die” — spoken by one of the girls I had thought of as compassionate.
“They would be so concerned if it was a little canary, but since it’s not cute and fluffy and a ‘pretty’ color, they want it to die,” I fume. Stephanie nods.
Mr. Bercham tells us to leave it for the time being and join the class in vocal warm-ups. We do.
After class, I go to get my things, since I have to run or I’ll be late to my next class. Stephanie goes to check on the bird again.
I jump when I hear Stephanie say that, and as I am turning around to go back into the classroom, I hear, “Good riddance.” “Nasty old thing.” “One less crow makes the world a little better, anyway.” I look at my watch and realize I have one minute to be on the other side of campus, so I change my mind and head that way.
The next day I’m again wondering where Stephanie is, and today Mr. Bercham apparently has decided he’s not going to allow the usual twenty minutes of aimless milling before class. He calls us all over and starts fiddling with his papers like he always does before he calls roll. Then he tells us that Stephanie walked out into her backyard yesterday, onto 575, and she left a note telling her parents to invite her chorus class to her funeral. What he doesn’t tell us is that she signed her note “Crow.”