If you had been there that night, the night it happened, you might not have even noticed. The strings and woodwinds shone fat and glossy in the concert hall's perfect humidity, and the brass instruments sparkled in the gentle light of the chandeliers. The music itself shimmered as well, lighting up dark places people hadn't even known were there.
You might not have noticed the small movement. It fluttered the fading sunlight stretching in through one of the high, arched windows that encircled the room like a crown. You would have been staring at the orchestra, or at the polished floor, or at the blackness inside your closed eyelids, as the music swirled around you. Had you opened your eyes or broken your fuzzy-glass gaze and looked up at the fluttering light, you would have seen the silhouette of the crow. But you wouldn't have heard it, because the crow didn't make a sound.
At least, not at first. It alighted on the ledge of the little window and folded its wings, flexing its toes as though it meant to be there a while. Some of the windows still held their colorful panels, but the crow had chosen one through which tendrils of ivy had pushed their way, dislodging the glass with a long-forgotten drop and shatter.
The crow seemed comfortable, somehow, and not just because it was a crow adorning a remote gothic hall surrounded by dark pine trees; not just because St Augustine's was a natural place for a crow to be. It seemed to be listening, cocking its head and stretching its black neck as far into the room as it could.
At intermission, the grand piano was wheeled onto the stage, black and sleek and curvy. The crow looked at the piano with one eye and then the other and ruffled its wings. As the audience applauded, a middle-aged woman sat down on the bench and placed her hands on the gleaming keys, stretching and bending her fingers. The crow twitched its own knobbly gray feet experimentally.
Then the conductor waved the orchestra to life again -- a romantic piano concerto, well-known to the concertgoers, who settled in their seats and breathed.
When the woman at the piano began to play, when the first smooth, icy notes reached the small, broken window in the ceiling, the crow froze. It stared, its dingy feathers raised just a little. It was listening again, but now it listened with its whole body. As the concerto progressed, the crow remained utterly still. It might have been a stone gargoyle, except there was something too bright about its eyes. They were fixed on the woman's hands.
If you had looked, then, into the crow's eyes, if you had been a ghost or a puff of smoke and had floated up to the ceiling to look deeply into those shiny black eyes where the brilliant white keys were reflected, you would have seen a despair bigger than those eyes could hold, bigger than the hall itself.
And you would have heard the faintest hiss -- an ugly, crackling hiss, as different from the pure, clear tones of the piano as it could possibly be. You might then have noticed the grubby beak was open very slightly. And you might have realized with a start that the crow was trying to sing.
But perhaps you were there. Perhaps you already know this story.
From Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.