FICTION: Nesting

When I return to my empty room, I open the window and let the heat flood in. The crows are tapping again. They vibrate the house, cracking the rotten wood above, picking apart the roof. Instead of feeding them peanuts like normal, I just lay beneath them and try to spread out. My new singleness feels wrong, like a heat wave in late autumn. But this sort of thing is the new normal, people tell me.

My lamp is turned down, my makeup off. Under sheets I am too hot for, a blush of sweat. Doubt, too, about the smell of my housemate on the pillow. About the two tiny flecks of translucent semen I still haven’t wiped from my headboard.

Back when baby fever first kicked in, he jokingly called me a semen hoarder, describing the many vials I might be hiding in the back of the fridge.

“But I can’t have a baby with a man who’s married to someone else, ” I said, and then, inevitably, “We’ll figure it out.”

When the crows used to swoop above us in bed, I’d always close the blinds. I didn’t want them to see us, naked and human, doing something we shouldn’t. His wife sleeping down the hall. I always assumed the crows knew, and that’s why they came in the first place.

Crows are known for their intelligence, for supposedly being as smart as a three-year-old child. They use their intelligence when gathering nesting materials, pilfering electrical wires, metal coat hangers, twine, strands of stranger’s hair, fishing line. Crows are the real coveters. They are also known to mate for life.

The day I broke up with my housemate for the second time, I found a slim black feather on my doorstop, as if an offering. An incentive to migrate.

I am still here, in this house, with that feather tucked under my mattress. Sometimes I imagine the infant we will never have, the one not quite as smart as a crow.

The day the crows arrived we built a bonfire like a nest, left out peanuts on the porch. We never should have started it. We never should have invited anything in, because now they expect it. The salt and the crunch.

For their babies, I do not stop. I admit, I want to keep them near.

The truth is, even though I am a liar, I am not a coveter of anything but unspoken desire. I should have laid it all out for him that night by the fire. My ravenousness. Still, I would never steal any part of his body, even though on some primal level, I am sure I probably want to.

On some primal level, so many things, though. My burning bladder trying to mark territory that is not mine. Her scent and his. The rent money and the nightly meals and even the eye contact, because when I look away, it feels primal. My body requires so much mothering, and I am doing my best to provide it with my mind. A head full of uncanny, feathered thoughts. At least I am trying.

Above me, I can hear them cawing. So many negotiating voices. How do they learn to live with each other, return to their murder time and again, despite the drama? When I watch them leave their nest it is always with such purpose, as if an empty space in the air is just asking to be filled with something wildly black and beating.

When I move, it is usually apologetically. Guilt for the slope of my neck, for the fresh air I am using up. I cannot entertain the guilt of a mother.

With a spit-wet tissue, I rub the dried semen off the wall, and the material comes off easily. I throw it away in the bathroom down the hall, splash water on my face, and when I pass his room, our eyes connect through the door crack. He’s sitting alone on his bed. I walk slowly enough to catch a pulling at his lips, a rustling of his eyes.

I close the door to my room and lie beneath the crows again, who do not seem to expect my housemate to join me. I can still sense him sitting there, on the other side of the wall, and I do not expect him either, anymore. To check in, or say goodnight. Because I asked him not to.

Overhead, the crows don’t seem to expect anything other than air. I curl up and whisper to them, asking them to stay, but they just keep moving. They do not stop to look at me.

Ariel Kusby is a writer and bookseller based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Entropy, The Adroit Journal, Luna Luna Magazine, X-R-A-Y, Portland Monthly, and elsewhere. "Nesting" is an excerpt from her first novel, which she is currently working on. To read more, visit

Image: Bird's Nest, Vincent van Gogh, 1885

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