by Penelope Shimoyama-Spencer
The crows were back. Yuka was in the kitchen washing dishes when she spotted one perched on the fence behind her garden. The crow’s sleek black feathers shimmered under the glare of the afternoon sun.
Yuka felt the big crow’s eyes searching through the window for hers when it let out a mighty cah-cah-cah. She tucked a loose strand of white hair behind her ear and leaned a little to the left because her bursitis was acting up again. Five more crows landed on the fence.
The biggest crow lifted up into the air and landed in the garden. The others followed. They immediately set to tearing and crunching through Yuka’s slender Japanese cucumbers, light green bell peppers, and tiny edamame pods.
Yuka ran outside swinging a yellow broom in the air with her dog Yogi at her heels. The little brown terrier ran straight at the crows, barking and snapping into the air until the last crow lifted just out of reach. She returned to the air-conditioned living room where she watched for crows from the couch.
Yuka’s brother Tomo sat down across from her as he fiddled with the television remote. He was visiting for two weeks from Tokyo where he and Yuka had grown up.
“The crows are back,” she said.
“Hmm. . .” Tomo replied.
“I’m going to catch one. The leader,” she said.
Tomo rolled his eyes and continued pushing buttons on the remote. Short unruly grey and white tufts of hair made a half circle around his bald crown
“Why do you want to watch television?” Crazy old fool, she thought. “You don’t even understand English,” Yuka said.
“Don’t you remember the story father told about the monk who caught the crow that was eating carp from the temple pond?” he said.
Tomo smiled when he heard the pop of the television coming on.
Yuka ignored Tomo. She wished Jim were here. He’d understand. He’d back up her plan. Tomo was getting on her nerves. He’d been pestering her about getting rid of her late husband Jim’s things. Jim had died the previous year, yet Yuka kept everything as if he might return. Tomo didn’t like that she kept Jim’s slippers next to the front door.
* * *
When Tomo went outside to smoke his cigar, Yuka was at the other end of the patio setting up a trap. A wooden sake crate stood at an angle held up by a ruler. She tied rope to the bottom of the ruler, and then led the other end to a spot behind the hot tub where she could keep an eye on the trap without being seen from the garden. She squatted down with the end of the rope in hand and yanked. The box slammed onto the cement patio. Yuka smiled.
“Tomo, go back inside. You’ll scare them away,” she said.
Tomo took a couple more puffs before putting out the cigar and heading back into the house. Tomo doesn’t understand, she thought. Jim would never look at her with those eyes. As if she were a child playing with toys. This was serious. She’d show him.
Yuka scattered bits of corn and peanuts under the box and waited. It was nearly five o’clock. Beads of sweat rolled down her neck and she wiped her brow. She got up and watered the garden. Jim loved the vegetables from her garden, especially the tomatoes. Keeping everything in place made her feel like his spirit was still with her.
* * *
The next day Yuka crouched behind the hot tub and waited. She fidgeted with the rope, kneading and rolling it back and forth between her fingers until she pulled too hard. The crate hit the patio. She was about to give up when she spotted the big black crow perched on the telephone wire across the street. She quickly shuffled back to her spot behind the hot tub and waited.
It wasn’t long before six crows descended on the garden. At first they went for the young vegetables. Yuka bit the side of her mouth with anticipation, hoping they’d take the bait. A small crow hopped over to the edge of the patio near the crate. Then the biggest crow hopped over and nudged the juvenile away.
Yuka held her breath and tried to keep her body still. When the big crow was positioned squarely under the box she yanked the rope. There was a violent rustling of feathers followed by a labored cah-cah. The other crows took off. Yuka exhaled and relaxed her legs.
Kenji lifted the crate as Yuka covered the crow with a thick bath towel. She held the wings flat and close to his body so he couldn’t move and put the bundle into a pink dog carrier. The crow puffed up his feathers and scrambled to the back of the cage.
Kenji put his hands on his hips and smiled.
“What are you going to do with him?”
Yuka leaned in for a closer look.
“You’ll see. He won’t be back,” she said.
* * *
After the dinner dishes were washed and put away, Kenji settled in for a John Wayne video while Yuka went outside to deal with the crow. Gypsy moths darted around the glow of the single light bulb. The crow shivered and pressed against the back of the cage.
Yuka began banging an old pot and frying pan together in front of the cage. Yogi snarled and barked at her side. Afterwards, Yuka yelled Japanese obscenities at the crow between banging the pan on the top of the carrier until she spotted Tomo watching from the window.
That night Yuka dreamt Jim had returned, but he couldn’t see or hear her. He sat at the kitchen table in his robe and slippers reading the paper like he did every morning. But when she checked, his slippers were also at their usual spot by the front door. Yuka sat up. Her heart beat so hard she felt as if she was being chased. She jumped out bed to check the slippers.
In the morning Yuka followed up with another round of barking, banging pots and pans, and yelling. When she peered into the cage the crow trembled.
“Tell the others. Don’t come back,” she said.
Yuka struggled with the metal clasps. The crow swayed. When she reached into the cage with the towel the crow fell over. Its eyes were closed and his tough black claws stuck straight out.
Yuka gasped and stepped away. She poked at the crow with an old chop stick. It didn’t move. Yuka hadn’t meant to hurt the crow. She wouldn’t want Jim to ever know about this. Something twisted in her heart and she wanted to cry.
Tomo helped Yuka bury the crow by the side of the house. When they returned to the house, Yuka looked at Jim’s slippers. The next day she got a box from the garage, put the slippers inside, and then went upstairs to begin packing Jim’s things.
Patricia Shimoyama-Spencer lives and writes in San Francisco. She was born in Yokosuka, Japan, grew up in Oklahoma City, and is a graduate of Rutgers University and the University of San Francisco. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories.