I went to work early today. The sun was barely peeking over the mountains.
All the men were called to meet with the foreman first thing.
“No more work,” he said. “There’s no demand for corn. Collect your pay and go home.”
We stood in a line, staring. He wouldn’t meet our eyes.
I jammed my shovel into the ground and walked away. Opened the creaking door of my pickup and drove, gravel dust flying from my wheels.
How do I tell me wife? We have two kids to feed.
An acre of ground, a cow, some chickens. A garden.
We’ll eat. My wife will see to that.
I am a man.
I provide. Protect. Defend.
I came through a war. I survived, although damaged.
The acrid smell of nitrate lives in my brain with the deafening sounds of explosions.
The tang of blood and screams of my brothers in arms dying. A field of battle. Destruction.
I’m not what I was.
But I can repair the fence.
Patch the roof.
Clean the barn.
Paint the house. Can’t, we have no paint.
Milk the cow.
Plow the field.
Plant the seeds.
I’m not what I was.
But I can do what I can.
I am a man.
I will survive.
Raven Feather ruffled his coal black feathers before turning to face the morning sun. His one snow white feather was stark against the black. He hated that white feather. It ruined his image. Its symbolism went against everything he was. He was fierce, mean, tough. He led a murder of violent crows. He was Raven Feather, not Mostly-Black-Except-for-One White Feather.
Preening, he tried yet again to pull out that hated feather. He grabbed its base with his strong beak and yanked; his daily ritual to try to rid himself of this symbol of peace. Raven Feather was not a peaceful crow.
His black feathers smelled of acrid dust. He liked that scent. But the white one smelled fresh and slightly citrus-y. Even its scent offended him. Crows don’t smell fresh, he thought with disgust.
It didn’t even taste right, he thought. It tasted like a flower. Ugh. He preferred the taste of insects, mice, rotten fruit. Not flowers.
The white feather felt soft in his beak. Not coarse like his other feathers. Coarse like his personality. There was nothing soft about Raven Feather. This white feather was ruining his image. He made up for it by being extra cruel.
He yanked again. The feather came out! He shook his head and opened his beak. The feather fluttered to the ground. Finally, he thought. Raven Feather spread his now all-black wings and flew off, satisfied.
Two weeks later, a small white feather broke through his skin and grew again.
He didn’t want to look at himself in the mirror. He couldn’t stand up straight enough or hold his head upright to see in the bathroom mirror. So, he didn’t look. But he was told he needed to shave.
He placed a hand-held mirror in his lap and geared himself up to look. He didn’t like what he saw. He was old. His hair was white, and too long. “At least I have hair,” he said to himself. His eyes used to be grey. Now they were cloudy and softly focused. One eye wouldn’t open all the way. Time for another Botox shot to deaden the muscles that constantly fought to close that eye. His face had fallen. His remaining teeth were yellowed. He looked not just old, but haggard. Like someone who didn’t care.
His hand shook as he brought the razor to his chin. He scraped the razor over his face, taking care not to cut himself. It seemed to take forever to finish. At last, he decided he was done and put down the razor down. It didn’t matter to him that he had missed places. “No one wants to look at me anyway,” he muttered.
“Not true!” His daughter was there. She was the one who had made him shave. Next, she would make him go out to lunch. He used to like going out to lunch, especially with pretty women. He thought his daughter was pretty. But now, he hated leaving his room. He didn’t want anyone to see him so old and bent over. He was ashamed.
“Dad, you could have a harem if you wanted. All the women at this retirement complex would love to hang out with you. Betty just asked about you.”
“I can’t see any of them. I can’t lift my head enough. I just talk to the ground.”
“Do you think they care about that? They all like you. You are charming.” His daughter knew her encouragement wouldn’t help, but she had to try. She looked him in the eye. “Promise me you will go down to dinner tonight.”
He tried to cross his gnarled, arthritic fingers in his lap. He had no intention of leaving his room after they got back from lunch. “I will try.”