This snap fiction story (what’s that?) spread its wings when I spotted a limping jackdaw in my neighborhood.
Here’s the quick snap I took and the story it hatched. Enjoy!
The Charcoal Satrap
Does he have a name? Nobody knows.
The beech tree says he comes to it at night, huddling against its trunk to rest his weary wings. The tree is proud and grateful: it is the center of his domain, it is his fortress, his canopy.
Has he ever loved? Nobody dares to ask.
The grass welcomes him when he alights. It presents him with crusts of bread, a worm or two, the occasional vole. The grass will not speak of rendezvous or secret coos—it only listens and forgets.
Does he have a voice? Nobody disputes it.
The wind sings his praises, carrying his call far and wide. It will rage sometimes, and then again absent itself. But the wind knows he is its master; it only passes through his realm, oblivion-bound.
How did he maim his leg? Nobody saw it happen.
The passers-by see him, and marvel at his resilience. They understand his suffering, but he refuses their pity. He has forgotten the time when his leg was good; he sees himself not as cripple but as able; he lives in this very moment alone and pursues nothing but dominion over his patch of land. Every cellular nucleus in his frame knows that when these rushed, absent-minded bipeds’ ancestors were but tiny rodents, his were dinosaurs.
Does he wear a crown? Nobody can confirm it.
The dogs and cats have never seen it, and they protest their fealty. He hears their snarls and growls, but pays them no heed. Perhaps, think the cat and the dog, I am the true sovereign here, and he is my fool. In which case, too, he rules.
What would we do without him? Nobody sees the future.
And so The Jackdaw hobbles and caws—with the heart of a raven, the cry of a crow. The pain has become him, and as he forgets the injury, so he forgets himself. He exists out of time, a vortex of will, a charcoal satrap. Until one day, when we will not see him, and then not find him, and then miss him and, ruefully, smile.
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