The Three Crows
As the afternoon wore on, the old woman wondered when the calling of the crows would herald the arrival of her visitor for she had seen the tell-tale three crows the day before.
A soft breeze tickled the back of her neck as it slid in through open windows. Age had brought the woman comfort. She was no longer afraid of the unknown, of dangers unseen. She kept the windows and doors of her small cottage open during the day. She loved the feel of fresh air on her wrinkled skin, reminding her of a long-ago time, of youth, of innocence, of a life well-lived.
The old woman did close her doors at night, however. Though she rarely felt fear these days, she was still reluctant to become food for some wild animal while she slept, and had never enjoyed the concept of pain.
As she aged, she was grateful that her journey had been quite gentle.
She hummed softly to herself as she washed her supper dishes, the tune older than she, the lyrics faded into the mists of lost memories.
Outside the kitchen window, more crows began to gather and she knew her time as limited.
She dried her hands on a threadbare towel and shuffled into her sitting room. She turned her attention to her shelves, upon which rested her modest collection.
She smiled as she began polishing each item in turn, items collected thoughtfully, each containing meaning she would be unable to convey if asked, but that she felt deep in her bones... meanings from important moments in her past.
A gold locket... A handkerchief with the initials A.N.B. embroidered in one corner... A silver coat button... A flint arrowhead... she dusted and fussed over each thing in turn, her eyes twinkling as she recalled memories she’d replayed thousands of times before over her long years.
She replaced the final item, an unsent love letter, on its shelf and she heard it. The crows had all gathered and started the announcement of her arrival. She smoothed her skirt and ran her arthritic hands over her hair to settle the strays, tucking them into the high bun she favoured for both aesthetics and convenience.
She settled into her favourite chair and set it to rocking gently. She sighed deeply, relief washing over her.
Her visitor didn’t knock. He knew he was expected.
As he entered the sitting room, the old woman’s eyes sought his and she nodded to him, her mouth relaxed but expressionless.
The visitor spoke first, “You know why I’m here?”
The old woman nodded.
“You’ve been expecting me for some time, haven’t you?”
Again, the old woman nodded silently.
“Mind if I sit?”
The old woman shrugged, eyes never leaving her visitor, and still she didn’t speak.
The visitor settled himself into the seat beside the cold fireplace and turned to stare into its blackened emptiness.
Resigned to what was to come, knowing it would be painless - that was the promise - the old woman sat in comfortable silence and closed her eyes. Though she knew it was time, she was in no hurry. All urgency belonged to her visitor.
The old woman woke suddenly from a gentle, pleasant dream or, perhaps, a memory, to find her visitor now standing over her... a soft, reassuring smile on his face.
He whispered, “It’s time.”
The old woman nodded and accepted the visitor’s outstretched hand to help her to her feet.
“It’s been a good life,” he said. “Full of adventure, love, generosity... but now it’s time.”
The old woman nodded once more and, with one swift, silent movement, ended the life of the man before her. She bent, picking up her trinket, a signet ring, and placed it on a shelf among her other memories.
As she shuffled to her bedroom, the old woman began to hum once more, idly wondering how long she would wait until she again saw the three crows.