Day of Omens

by Doug Ramspeck

There were signs.

Three crows in the backyard while I was taking out the trash. Perched there like silent occultations.

And the oak made a shadow-obelisk atop the winter grass. And three shadow crows were perched there in the shadow-tree.

Over breakfast, we couldn’t find our younger son’s left shoe. My wife’s footsteps were feverish on the floor. And even though the day had just started, we were exhausted.

As we searched, I heard the crows cawing from outside. Saw the shadow of the oak falling like an obelisk through the living room window.

And winter light darted their prophecies through our car’s windshield as we drove our sons to school. Our younger son wore an older pair of shoes. My older boy’s knee thumped my seat from behind like a kind of numerology.

“These hurt my feet,” our younger boy said.

My wife drove, dropping off our boys first. Then me. Then herself.

One, two, three.

Later, after dinner, it began to snow. My wife and I were both exhausted from the long day. The snow was mute. It fell against the oak where the three shadow crows had long since flown away.

Our younger son said, “Did you find it?”

The four of us walked the dog before dark. The last of the asthmatic twilight sputtered. I reached out to touch the oak as we passed. The bark was a strange carapace.

The boys fussed at bedtime and didn’t want to go to bed. Our younger son held the partner of the lost shoe in his lap, clutching it.

Our older son said, “I’m not a baby. It’s too early.”

“Too early,” our younger son parroted.

My wife said, “It’s not too early.”

One, two, three.

After that, my wife poured the wine. We sat at the kitchen table and I told her about the crows and the tree and the shadow-crows and the shadow-tree.

My wife said, “How can we be so exhausted all the time?” Our eyes were made of unbaked clay. Soft with sleepiness.

I dreamed three things that night:
• the moon came apart and fell to the earth as snow
• an obelisk of the oak held out its arms to catch the falling ashes
• a crow flew high into those ashes while gripping the missing shoe in its talons

I must have made noises in my sleep, for my wife gripped my elbow. I felt the soft repeat of squeezes.

One, two, three.

And when I woke in the morning, I felt exhausted. I heard the crows calling. My wife was standing by the bed. About to drop her socks into the laundry hamper.

Suddenly, instead, she lifted out the missing shoe. Waved it above her head. A triumphant flag.

And the truth? In that moment, we were almost giddy. In that moment, we experienced such a surge of unexpected energy it was unnerving. In that moment, we were unaccountably happy.

Doug Ramspeck is the author of eight poetry collections, a novella, and a book of short stories. His story collection, The Owl That Carries Us Away (BkMK Press), received the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and a starred review in Library Journal.
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