Crow Call Read online
Text copyright © 2009 by Lois Lowry
Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Bagram Ibatoulline
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
First edition, October 2009
The display type was set in P22 Terra Cotta.
The text was set in Times Roman.
The art was created using watercolor and acryl-gouache on paper.
Book design by Elizabeth B. Parisi
For my brother, Jon
and in memory of my sister, Helen
- L. L.
In memory of Andrew Wyeth,
- B. I.
It’s morning, early, barely light,
cold for November. At home, in the bed
next to mine, Jessica, my older sister,
still sleeps. But my bed is empty.
I sit shyly in the front seat of the car next to the stranger who is my father,
my legs pulled up under the too-large wool shirt I am wearing.
I practice his name to myself, whispering it under my breath. Daddy. Daddy.
Saying it feels new. The war has lasted so long. He has been gone so long.
Finally I look over at him timidly and speak aloud.
“Daddy,” I say, “I’ve never gone hunting before. What if I don’t
know what to do?”
“Well, Liz,” he says, “I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve decided
to put you in charge of the crow call. Have you ever operated a crow call?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“It’s an art,” he says. “No doubt about that. But I’m pretty sure you
can handle it. Some people will blow and blow on a crow call and not a
single crow will even wake up or bother to listen, much less answer. But I
really think you can do it. Of course,” he adds, chuckling, “having that
shirt will help.”
My father had bought the shirt for me. In town to buy groceries, he had
noticed my hesitating in front of Kronenberg’s window. The plaid hunting
shirts had been in the store window for a month—the popular red-and-black
and green-and-black ones toward the front, clothing mannequins holding
duck decoys; but my shirt, the rainbow plaid, hung separately on a wooden
hanger toward the back of the display. I had lingered in front of Kronenberg’s
window every chance I had since the hunting shirts had appeared.
My sister had rolled her eyes in disdain. “Daddy,” she pointed out to
him as we entered Kronenberg’s, “that’s a man’s shirt.”
The salesman had smiled and said dubiously, “I don’t quite think …”
“You know, Lizzie,” my father had said to me as the salesman wrapped
the shirt, “buying this shirt is probably a very practical thing to do. You will
never ever outgrow this shirt.”
Now, as we go into a diner for breakfast, the shirt unfolds itself downward until the
bottom of it reaches my knees; from the bulky thickness of rolled-back cuffs, my hands
are exposed. I feel totally surrounded by shirt.
My father orders coffee for himself. The waitress asks, “What about your boy?
What does he want?”
My father winks at me, and I hope that my pigtails will stay hidden inside the
plaid wool collar. Holding my head very still, I look at the menu. At home my usual
breakfast is cereal with honey and milk. My mother keeps honey in a covered silver
pitcher. There’s no honey on the diner’s menu.
“What’s your favorite thing to eat in the whole world?” asks my father.
I smile at him. “Cherry pie,” I admit. If he hadn’t been away for so long, he would have
known. My mother had even put birthday candles on a cherry pie on my last birthday. It was a
family joke in a family that hadn’t included Daddy.
My father hands back both menus to the waitress. “Three pieces of cherry pie,” he tells her.
“Three?” She looks at him sleepily, not writing the order down. “You mean two?”
“No,” he said, “I mean three. One for me, with black coffee, and two for my hunting com-
panion, with a large glass of milk.”
We eat quickly, watching the sun rise across the Pennsylvania farmlands.
Back in the car, I flip my pigtails out from under my shirt collar and giggle.
“Hey, boy,” my father says to me in an imitation of the groggy waitress’s
voice, “you sure you can eat all that cherry pie, boy?”
“Just you watch me, lady,” I answer in a deep voice, pulling my face into
stern, serious lines. We laugh again, driving out into the gray-green hills of
the early morning.
It’s not far to the place he has chosen, not long until he pulls the car to the side of the
empty road and stops.
Grass, frozen after its summer softness, crunches under our feet; the air is sharp and
supremely clear, free from the floating pollens of summer, and our words seem etched and
breakable on the brittle stillness. I feel the smooth wood of the crow call in my pocket,
moving my fingers against it for warmth, memorizing its ridges and shape. I stamp my feet hard
against the ground now and then as my father does. I want to scamper ahead of him like a puppy,
kicking the dead leaves and reaching the unknown places first, but there is an uneasy feeling
along the edge of my back at the thought of walking in front of someone who is a hunter. The
word makes me uneasy. Carefully I stay by his side.
It is quieter than summer. There are no animal sounds, no bird-waking noises;
even the occasional leaf that falls within our vision does so in silence, spiraling slowly
down to blend in with the others. But most leaves are already gone from the trees; those
that remain catch there by accident, waiting for the wind that will free them. Our breath
“Daddy,” I ask shyly, “were you scared in the war?”
He looks ahead, up the hill, and after a moment he says, “Yes. I was scared.”
“Lots of things. Of being alone. Of being hurt. Of hurting someone else.”
“Are you still?”
He glances down. “I don’t think so. Those kinds of scares go away.”
“I’m scared sometimes,” I confide.
He nods, unsurprised. “I know,” he said. “Are you scared now?”
I start to say no. Then I remember the word that scares me. Hunter.
I answer, “Maybe a little.”
I look at his gun, his polished, waxed prize, and then at him. He nods,
not saying anything. We walk on.