Eczema
by Clare Dudman

The three crows were at Melissa’s funeral. I was in the mood for noticing everything. It seemed as if everything had become louder, brighter, sharper – and yet I didn’t feel I was really there at all but looking at it, a spectator, uninvolved, too numb to care. It was a small affair – just Laura and a few people from her office and a couple of the long-standing neighbours - so the crows stood out. They were silent, hooded as usual in their black scarves and cloaks, their faces hidden in shadow, one of them with a pair of black plastic-framed glasses protruding over the opening for her eyes. ‘Crows’ had been Melissa’s name for them. She had seen them move in a fortnight ago when everything had still been all right. She had called me to the window – she had been in her favourite spot, perched on the arm of a chair, a place where she had liked to think she was invisible from the street, hooking back the net curtains just a little with a finger. Melissa liked to think she knew everything – that no one in that street was able to twitch an eyebrow without her taking note. But in fact all she ever saw was the detail – the important things that should have concerned her the most, she missed.

“Robin!” she’d called, “New neighbours.” Her voice had ended with a little surprised shriek. It had been the start. I realise that now. I think maybe I knew it then. It was that shriek rather than her words that made me rush in to see what was wrong. Her face had the pale radiance of the moon and she was rubbing a place in the small of her back.

“I think I must have strained something,” she said, “strange, maybe I moved too quickly.” Then she’d smiled at the thought of that – that she would ever move her large cumbersome frame any more quickly than was absolutely necessary - and twitched the curtain again. “Look, three of them, all of them covered up in black, just like crows.”

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