One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker Read Online (FREE)
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AFTER HE TOOK HIMSELF OFF TO JAIL
I was leading the cows to the milking shed when my pa shot Mr. Webber. It was the end of the season for blackberries, and the fence beside the shed was thick with the vines my ma had planted years before. The evening air smelled of berries, rich and sweet in the way that makes you close your eyes when you breathe in the scent. You can’t help but do it; the smell takes ahold of you and calls to your heart, and it makes you think of all the good things that have passed and all the good things yet to come, so you close your eyes to shut out everything else that’s real, everything that’s drab or sorrowful, all the things that hurt you like the thorns. That’s what I was doing when I heard the shot—standing with one hand on the gate and my eyes closed, thinking about those berries and how, after milking was done, I’d pick a whole basketful and share them with my brothers and my baby sister, sweet and good with cream on top, the cream still warm from the cows.
But the moment the shot cracked the air, I opened my eyes and my hand. The pail of grain fell, and the cows pushed me aside to lip up what was spilled. I knew right then that something terrible had happened, something that would change us all forever. And I knew it was my fault—at least some—for I’d been the one who told my pa that the calf was missing, and he’d gone off to search for it. If I’d never told him, if I’d gone to find that calf myself, it would have been me who seen what no one should have seen, and I would have left it all alone. Never said a word, just drifted off like a ghost through the dusk, with no one any wiser.
But instead, it was Pa who found them, under the poplars by the river, and now Substance Webber is dead.
I can’t say just how I knew it was trouble when I heard that shot. Pa fired his Henry rifle all the time, at coyotes and eagles who came for our stock, and at bears to shoo them away from the places where my brothers and sister played. Maybe I heard a new sound in the rifle’s voice. Maybe it was like a shout of pain torn from my father’s throat, worse than the time his horse slipped and fell on him, and his leg was broke in two places. Maybe it was just because my ma had been missing all evening, and I finally wised up enough to think it strange. She slipped off toward the river once she saw that all her children were fed and the chores were underway. It was a thing she’d done for days now, but until the rifle sounded, I’d never thought twice about it. I was big enough to care for the little ones without being told.