José del Valle

photo Catherine Silks


José del Valle is a Cuban-born writer living in Rockville, Rhode Island.

Photo credit:  Catherine Silks

The Crow and Mr. Weinkie

Once there was a man named Weinkie, and he had a beautiful daughter.

     They lived in an old shack at the end of a cornfield, where the thick woods began.

     “I’m not living here the rest of my life,” Ingrid said -- for that was the daughter’s name. She stood in the shade of an old oak, in her high red boots, cursing, tugging at her skirt.

     But Crow heard what she said. From his perch high in a pine -- he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

     He sighed, and, turning, bumped into God standing behind him.

     “Hey -- a little space,” Crow said.

     “Stay clear of the Weinkie girl,” God told him.

     A hot wind blew. It was barely afternoon.

     “What -- it’s a sin to look?”

     “She’s off limits, Crow.”

     “But you don’t understand,” Crow said.

     “I never understand . . .”

     “But -- I’m in love!” Crow exclaimed.

     “But you’re a crow!” God said.

     “So make me a man!” said Crow, raising his voice a little -- and all the bugs went quiet.

     God pulled his hat down low over one eye. Then, walking away:

     “It isn’t done.”

     “But you’re God!” argued Crow.

     “It isn’t done,” God said.

     “But you made the world!” Crow whined.

     God plucked a leaf and twirled it in his fingers. “Talk to Owl,” he said briskly, and waved him off.




Ingrid hated the Plymouth. “I’m not going anywhere in that piece of crap,” she said.

     But Mr. Weinkie wasn’t listening. They were down the trail from the house a spell, where Weinkie made his livelihood. It’s where his still was, and the battered old jugs, and the fire that forever needed tending.

     It was a Missouri summer: hot and buggy. Filling a jug with whiskey, Mr. Weinkie exclaimed:

     “Oh, my God!” --  and wiped his face.

     “Daddy,” Ingrid said. “You never understood a thing.”

     She threw the couple sticks she was holding hard into the weeds, folded her arms, and stared off at the trees.

     Weinkie straightened, and turned to his daughter, his pant legs rolled up like he liked them -- up to the knee -- the worn-out boots untied, the tongues lolling.

     The August sun beat on his bald head like an old tambourine. The wind blew hot. He wiped again.

     Ingrid stared into the fire.

     “I’m gettin outta this,” she said at last, loud, so her father could hear.

     On a branch overhead sat Owl -- with Crow, peering down, lost in dreams.

     “Make me a man,” Crow moaned, watching Ingrid’s every move. Owl was thinking.

     “Ingrid is a daughter of the moon,” Owl said, auspiciously.

     Crow raised his eyebrows.

     “Ingrid . . .” Crow started to correct.

     “I say she’s a child of the moon,” Owl insisted. “That means something, Crow.”

     Crow did his best to get it. Seriously -- Owl? Owl was known around these woods for being a wizard -- the only actual wizard for many, many miles.

     Owl had a direct link to the Spirit of the Woods.

     And -- truth be told -- he felt sorry for Crow.

     “I’ve made --” Owl stammered, coughing. “I’ve made a number of men,” he said.

     ‘But I only want one,” Crow said. “One man. Me.”

     “Well,” Owl said. “I’ll have to consult -- to consult -- to make a couple calls,” Owl sputtered.

     “Tell em I’m waiting.”

     “Of course there’ll be a . . . a fee,” Owl added.





Where?” Mr. Weinkie shouted, as if over a deafening roar, still poking at the fire: “Where are you going?”

     “To the highway, Daddy,” Ingrid said, tugging her skirt. “And hitchin into town.”

     A bumble bee weaved drunkenly overhead.

     “Into town?” Weinkie cried, wincing in the sun. He stood up straight and looked, for the first time today, at his daughter.

     “Oh, mother of God!” he shouted, letting the poker slip from his hand.

     “Hitchin?” he shouted. “You know what happens to girls who go hitchin?”

     “Oh, my God!” Ingrid cried -- and stormed off, holding her ears, down the trail, headed home.

     A hot wind came up, and the fire leapt under the still.

     “I know more than you think, young lady!” Mr. Weinkie shouted after her. But Crow -- listening overhead -- doubted it.

     “I love her,” Crow was thinking. “I love her -- and I’m telling God!”




Now God lived somewhere outside the woods.

     If I could keep this to fifteen minutes, he was thinking.

     It was morning, and already hot.

     And there, suddenly, was Crow, outside the Weinkie’s, peeping -- obviously -- in the window.

     “I thought you’d never get here,” Crow said, irritated.

     “I got held up,” God said. He found a log to sit on.

     “So . . . what, Crow -- you’re peeping in people’s windows now?”

     “Oh, my God!” Crow cried. “You’d think I was asking for the world!”

     But God was sticking his finger in the bowl of his pipe. He knocked it three times against the log.

     “I want to be a man,” Crow said pleadingly. “Not a crow! I want to walk up to the woman I love . . .” he began -- but choked it off. Crow swallowed hard.

     God frowned.

     “What you’re asking for . . . is a magic trick, Crow,” God said, in his calm, reasoning voice. “Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or sawing a lady in half.”

     He looked at Crow and tried to smile.

     “I don’t do magic tricks, Crow.”

     The trees almost rustled. It was smelling like rain.

     “You’ve never been in love,” Crow said finally, staring into the trees.

     “I’ve never been a crow, either.”

     “It wouldn’t kill you --” Crow started, but the screen door slammed.




“I’m calling Child and Family Services!” Ingrid shouted.

     It was raining. Her father lay stretched out in the driveway, his jug overturned in the grass.

     The Plymouth idled. Ingrid had the car door open, the buzzer buzzing. The rain was light but steady.

     Crow, in a birch nearby, took in her every word.

     “I’m taking the car,” Ingrid growled, nudging her prostrate father sharply in the ribs with the toe of her bare foot.

     She wore a shirt too big -- pink-colored -- and purple-dyed, cut-off pants. Her hair was fixed up tall and shiny-black, the way Crow liked it.

     “Get out of the way!” Ingrid growled.

     Crow watched.

     “Why don’t you move!” she prodded -- but the old man was unconscious. With an effort, at last, she rolled him clear of the car.

     Crow bristled, brimming over with -- what? He didn’t have the words. He could hardly breathe.

     Then, without another thought, he leapt -- swooped -- diving straight down toward Ingrid, and, somehow skillfully, whizzing by her, just touching -- barely touching -- the smallest wisp of her hair.

     And Ingrid screamed.


     It was a high, startling scream -- nothing Crow had ever heard. Birds flew off.

     Then, suddenly, as if by magic, Ingrid had a garden rake clutched in her hands, which she was swinging wildly, crazily, in the air.

     “Get away!” she shouted. “Get away -- you dirty, horrible bird! Get out!”

     She missed Crow by a mile.

     But he flew off anyway -- and flew, and kept on flying.




Owl had a big book.

     “It’s borrowed,” he said.

     “I think I know it,” God said, browsing the title. Crow stood edgily, a bird-step behind.

     It was early evening. They were high in a tree, outside Owl’s house.

     “Crow,” Owl began -- but Crow was looking off, into the treetops, bristling. He huffed. The three exchanged awkward looks.

     “Making you a man,” Owl began, “is going to be cost -- to be cost -- to be difficult,” he said finally.

     Crow winced. Does Owl have the goods here? he thought. He was wondering what the hell God was doing here.

     “Owl invited me,” God, turning to him, all but hissed -- and if looks could kill.

     But Owl went on, his beak in the big book.

   “The good news” -- said Owl -- “is I found a spell!”

     Silence -- and more awkward looks.

     “Crows are written right into it,” he added reassuringly.

     Night was coming on. Bugs were buzzing. All this nonsense was getting to Crow.

     “Look, Owl --,” Crow began.

     “But it’s a spell,” Owl continued, “which requires a little . . . tweaking.”

     “Tweaking?” God said.    

     ‘Really, it’s a piece of cake.”

     “What kind of cake,” God said.

     “Actually -- more like a turnover,” said Owl. “The spell’s written, see, to turn men . . . into crows. ”

     There was a moment or two of silence. Something stirred under the leaf canopy.

     “I’ve seen it a dozen times,” Owl said.

     “Oh, my God!” Crow burst out.

     “Hocus pocus,” said God.

     “The source is impec -- is impec -- it’s unimpeachable!” Owl sputtered.

     God glowered and turned his back. This was already more than Crow could take.

     “I think the whole thing is . . . is scurrilous,” Crow spilled out.

     “I’m washing my hands of it,” God said.

     Crow flew off indignant. A fog was rolling in. God was gone.

     Owl ducked his head between his wings and closed the book, to the flash of heat lightning.

     “I really don’t know what they expect of me,” he muttered.

     Over the trees the moon rolled out, like the supermarket grapefruit Ingrid cast into the weeds, swollen and yellow. And old.

     “A crow into a man. Seen it a dozen times.”




He was mulling over the usual: success, ambition, failure. Starting to nod off.

     Bleary-eyed, Crow looked out, from his perch in an oak tree high over the woods, at the sky finally lightening. Morning. He hadn’t slept a wink.

     He could see the Plymouth far below, in what light there was, and the rooftop of the house, and the field of tall, nearly ripe corn stretching to the horizon.

     The mosquitos whirred below.

     I’ve been here before, he was musing -- meaning: I’ve been in love.

     But who hasn’t?

     Something like a hot breath rattled the upper leaves. An orange smudge appeared in the sky, far in the distance. Crow was sleepy.

     Life, he was thinking -- life’s just not fair!

     Who am I? Really? Why was I born a crow?

     And who said?

     God? he wondered. God! -- the man can barely find his way home!

     Then he thought about Ingrid, what if Ingrid had been born a crow -- and he almost fainted.

      What’s so hard about making me a man? Crow cried out, into the empty air.

     Where do butterflies come from? he wondered.

     Even tadpoles turn into frogs.

     And Weinkie’s rooster -- from a piece of shit!

     And Ingrid! What about her? Oh, my God -- look at her father! Bald-headed old geezer . . .

     The woods below him exhaled.

     Am I so bad? Really?

     . . . Now with his eyelids heavy . . .

     Is it really so hard?

     The bugs were going quiet. A crane, preposterous, his long legs dangling behind him, sailed by overhead.

     The few wimpy, wrung-out morning clouds had vermillion on their bellies.

     Vermillion, Crow was thinking. Vermillion -- and he dozed off.




A snap woke him. The snap. His eyes opened wide.

     It was the limb he was on.

     Then the strangest feeling he ever had -- of a great dead weight pulling down.

     Crow was falling.

     Swish went the leaves of the tree as he went by.

     He thought about -- what? What could he think about? He went to open his wings, but it was too late.

     Then it was over -- as suddenly as it had begun.

     He was on his back now, looking up -- up at the oak, with his perch at the top, and the blue, cloudless, empty sky.

     What the hell?

     Crow felt pain. But where?

     In his back. . . .

     It seemed his fall was broken by a dense tangle of stickers. And now he was stuck. Pinned down somehow.


     He let a second or two pass. . . .

     Then he thought he’d try rolling, slowly, off the bush. How cumbersome! What agony!

     With a hell of an effort, and a mighty crash, Crow found himself face-down -- pierced, but free -- in some weeds.

     He lay there a moment, just breathing. Then the rest came more quickly.

     First was the hands.

     Crimminy! Crow thought.

     Then came the arms.

     And the knees.

     And then the pants rolled up to the knees.

     And, then -- God almighty! -- the boots!

     “Aaa!” Crow screamed. All at once he was on his feet, crashing through the underbrush, his boot-tongues flapping.

     “Aaa!” he screamed.

     Bushes tore at him -- nettles, and thistles, and brambles.   

     Saplings lashed his face.


     Suddenly there was a clearing -- the clearing -- where the old house was, and the driveway, and the Plymouth.

     Crow lunged forward, heading for the house.


     Bang! went the screen door. With a shove of his shoulder the front door burst open.

     And standing there -- with her mouth agape, a toothbrush in her hand, her startled eyes big and aghast and shiny -- in her bra and underwear ------ Ingrid!

     “Daddy!!” she screamed horribly. “Daddy!! Oh, my God!!

     But Crow couldn’t stop, wouldn’t, wasn’t comprehending. Without pause or a word of any kind he stormed past her, boots pounding, toward the first place he saw -- a hole, any hole, to hide in, to think in: it was the bathroom. Crow ran inside, and slammed the door behind him.

     The house went deathly quiet.

     Ingrid couldn’t move.

     Even the refrigerator held its breath.

     In a corner, after a minute, a cricket took up a song.

     “Oh, my God!” Ingrid said at last, returning the toothbrush to her mouth, then pulled it out to say out loud:

     “I’m gettin outta this!”

© The Acentos Review 2015