I am a girl again at my childhood home in Michigan. A summertime deluge has drowned the yard and water pools everywhere. I wade through the puddles, exploring and enjoying the unique experience of living in the middle of a pond. A duck and her babies paddle by, and I hear a rustling in the long grass in the corner of the yard. I worry that a duckling has gotten tangled, imagining him struggling futilely to escape and catch up to his mother. I feel sick at the thought and hurry to free him, but when I part the thick green grass I see a glimpse of glossy black. The thought flashes through my mind, "No duckling, this!" and I reach in, bravely, and pull out a young crow. His feathers shine in the brilliant light of after-rain, and I notice the bump on the top of his beak. A yearling crow, I think, not this year's crop. No mother caring for him now. He flaps, only once, and then settles into my arms.
I carry him to a dry spot under the apple tree and set him down. He cocks his head and stares at me, examining, questioning, but makes no move to escape. He wants me to do something, I think, and then notice a loop of black plastic over his neck and one wing. "Poor boy," I say, reaching forward. He obligingly holds still while I free him, and hops once toward me as I pocket the plastic loop. His shoulder rubs against my knee. His air of comraderie enchants me, and there is a brief moment when I feel as though he knows the joy I feel in this, or any, friendship.
I know I must free him, but as I pick him up I feel something else underneath his feathers. A wire harness encases his body, so tightly that I know I won't be able to get it off myself. The crow and I take the bus to the zoo. He nestles under my jacket, quiet and calm, and no one knows he is there but me. I can feel his thoughts. His name is Nine, and somehow he is the friend I have never had. At the zoo, a young man hands me the tool to cut the wire from Nine's body. I part the feathers and, looking at the twisted wire biting into the sad birdskin underneath, say "I don't want to cut him." The young man looks into my eyes and says "You won't cut him. You'll free him."
When I finish I say sadly, "Now I need to let him go." My heart aches at the thought. Nine lifts his left wing and hops toward me. The man places his hand under the wing, showing me the stunted growth. Tears seem to fill my chest till I'll burst with the sadness. I look up at the man. "He'll never fly, will he."