– Nonfiction by Janice Vis-Gitzel –
I tell myself that storms intrigue me, that I have my best thoughts amid thunder. I like the rain. I tell myself that these are the reasons why I climbed from the upstairs bedroom window, why I hide in rooftop shadows where shingled slopes meet. I watch the horizon grow murky with cloud cover, and I tell myself that I’m waiting for the storm.
It’s not a lie—I am waiting.
The air around me is waiting too. It’s frigid and fragile, filled with a chill of inevitability, a tense tranquility that’s breaking under the promise of a late-fall storm. The sky is treading on thin ice. I know about thin ice: I know it always breaks. But knowing how long the break will take, how long you have to get away, to get out—that’s not something I’ve learned yet. And not something I want to think about right now, so I tell myself that I like the rain. But when lightening cracks the sky and the rain begins, it’s cold and hard, and it’s harder to believe that I like the rain. I pull my knees to my chest, wincing as my bare legs grade against the gravel of asphalt shingles. I’m not dressed to be here. It was an impulsive, reckless, necessary decision to climb out that window.
Something harsh and nasal breaks raindrop patter. My neck pivots and chilled water slips down my spine. I sink into myself as I notice a feathery figure a few houses down. A crow, perched on a roof-peak, is staring at me. I stare back, suspicious. He shifts his beak up slightly—a sign of acknowledgement, maybe, or arrogance. Hailstones tumble from the sky, dusting rooftops, tremoring on the shingles before melting away. The crow doesn’t tremor, doesn’t flinch. He simply stares. He seems so aware of me. But I am here to hide. It is frightening to be seen. I can’t tell if my fear is from him, exactly, or if it’s a part of me, or if it has formed somewhere between us, in the shared gaze that knots us in a moment of uncertain recognition. Or maybe it’s just the storm. The rain grows heavier. There is animosity in the air today, I think, in storms above, storms below. Is in the crow as well?
Thunder tumbles somewhere behind, and I turn instinctually, as if I’ll glimpse the violence of the screaming heavens. I see sheets of clouds and shivering hailstone, now growing larger, colder. When I turn back, the crow is gone. That, too, is frightening, though I can’t say why.
But no—not gone.
The biting rainwater dripping down my back melds with something deeper, some knowing. The crow is still here. Hiding, lost, spying maybe? It shouldn’t matter. It does. My gaze traces the outlines of the rooftops, seeking but not finding. I shift, intending to move to the other side the roof, to find him again, but a sweep of wind scatters hailstones in my face. It’s too cold. I should get off this roof, should climb back through the window. It could be dangerous to be up here. But then, danger comes in many forms. Wet shingles are slippery. I could be dangerous to move. And the crow is still here, somewhere. I am bound to this bird, somehow. Does he feel it too? Perhaps he is tricking me, trapping me. Or perhaps he is as alone as I. Perhaps we are both hiding in storms tonight. Or perhaps there is nothing here but a strange encounter in a strange world.
Lightening cracks the sky again, not so far away, and an identical fork copies it in the distance. The sky is breaking, I think. More lightening. A twisted alchemy. A bellow of thunder. Or a summoning. The thought pulls my gaze back to the crow’s perch and he is there again, staring again. He calls, a loud, long awe that carries something across rooftops. There is animosity in the air, I think, but maybe not in him. Maybe. I don’t know for certain.
And then, whether because I want to know or because I don’t know what to do, I ask the crow about his purpose, his secret intelligence. I ask him why he is out in a storm, about what sent him. He stares. The sky flashes. The lightening is too close now. Being on the roof—it is absurd. But the crow is still here. My questions grow louder, impassioned, quiet inquiries descending into an intense interrogation. I ask the crow if knows about thin ice, about breaking. But the crow doesn’t move. I find I am angry, angry with the crow, and angry with the world that is so very, very cold just now. And still, the crow doesn’t move.
Except—maybe—one of us shivers, and I suddenly become afraid. I close my mouth, feel embarrassed by my outrage. The crow is strange, but he is here and so I must be too. This is not logical; this is imperative. And so the crow and I sit together, stare together, for minutes, hours, eras. I think about the depth of him, his perfect stillness, about unbearable resilience. The wind walls and the rain is ice, but I have known ice for a long time. My legs are numb, unnatural blue splotches emerging between the bright pinks of skin scraped raw. They will hurt later, I know, but not just yet.
How long does it take for the world to break? How long does it stay broken? Can you mend it by tying yourself to a crow?
He screeches again, shorter and sharper. He spreads his wings and takes off from the roof, leaving me in the storm with a torrent of relief and regret. I have been released; I have been abandoned. There are too many storms, I think. I don’t want to lie in wait, and I don’t like the rain.
About the Author – Janice Vis-Gitzel
Janice Vis-Gitzel is a non-fiction writer and a PhD student learning in and from the Great Lakes region, where she spends most of her days lost in a forest or lost in a book. Her creative work has been published in Glass Buffalo, The Artifice, and Spooky Gaze, and her first chapbook will be published by swallow::tale press in late 2022 .
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