Consider the crow. Charlie Butterworth does. In this case, the Carrion Crow. But as far as he’s concerned it could be any of the corvidae, hooded crows, rooks, ravens and jackdaws. They’re all clever bastards, he thinks, taking in the solitary specimen that’s been here every day this week, patrolling the bountiful patch of tarmac beneath a towering pylon, a lustrous blue-black silhouette busying itself by the roadside. The bounty, in this case, is dead meat: road-killed rabbit, badger, pheasant and the odd smaller bird. Even a fox yesterday.
What does go on in their heads, Charlie wonders, that makes them so smart? Look at how this one waits in the same spot each day, buoyed by the promise of a speeding metal hulk to catch unaware some less intelligent beast, its sorry carcass soon-to-be smeared across the fatal surface, a visceral smorgasbord for crow to pick at.
Look now at how crow darts to its feast, ever alert, constantly processing the data about its surroundings, assessing for threat. Or for opportunity. See how expertly it judges the approach of Charlie’s car, how it aborts its meal as the danger approaches, an escape act fine tuned with just-in-time perfection. If only Charlie had crow’s insight, its instinct for threat and opportunity, he might still be with Shelley, he thinks. But no, he’d been unaware of the danger posed by their neighbour, Craig, nor his neighbour’s crow-like eye for an opportunity.
What does go on in crow’s head, he asks, that makes it so sure? Cocky cunts. Yeah, yeah, they’re clever. Quick learners. But how big can their brain be? No bigger than a fucking baked bean, surely. Nah, they’ve got ideas above their station and Charlie blames the writers, the artists. He blames Hughes, the Grimms, Porter. And Poe, if you want to include Ravens – and why shouldn’t you? Magpies, too. He lays the blame for their deluded sense of grandeur at the door of folklore and mythology.
No, it’s no surprise, muses Charlie, that they think they’re such a good bird, such a wise bird, what with so many expectations heaped upon their shoulders – metaphorical shoulders, Charlie says to himself, with a sour laugh. After all, messenger of the gods or trickster? Protector or thief? Ghost Spirit? A fine résumé, for sure. But does this justify their swagger? Yesterday, for instance, Charlie’s crow didn’t even bother to jump out of the way at the approach of his car. Crow’s brain, tiny though it is, was able to predict – based on previous experiences – how close Charlie’s car would get, and to weigh the risk of not moving. It did the maths.
And today, like yesterday, he spots the bird a way off, unflinching, bold as fuck. He knows that the crow will not give an inch and he fancies that it’s giving him the eye. An all-seeing, all-knowing eye. A mocking eye. “You fucked up, Charlie my son”, says the crow. “You couldn’t do the maths, and now she’s gone. You tit.”
Charlie knows, without doubt, that if crow was bigger, had opposing thumb and finger, that crow would rule. Crow would be God. Or Satan. Charlie is having none of that, though. He says life’s not like that, all pretty patterns, neat and predictable. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Just look at him and Shelley. They’d had good times, hadn’t they? He’d thought Shelley and he were happy. He was, she wasn’t. One minute things added up, the next they didn’t. That’s life.
“Do the maths on this, you cunt”, mutters Charlie under his breath and, at the last moment he shouts “Charlie equals God!” as he grips the steering wheel and jerks it, with his whole being, to the left.
Crow Maths was originally published on 6th October 2017 in Glove LitZine