Art Pact 174 - Complex Issue

Bill pecked at a seed, flipping his head up to throw the grain back into his throat with a little cough.

"It's a complex issue," he said, turning his head so that one gold-rimmed eye faced towards me. "I mean, I understand that the fox needs to eat. We all need to eat, it's a thing. I couldn't stand here gobbling down - what are these, grass seeds? Man, the food here is not what it used to be. Man, I remember-"

"The fox, Bill, the fox," I reminded him. He bobbed his head.

"Oh yes. I couldn't stand here gobbling down these grass seeds, if that's what they are, and condemn someone else for eating. I mean I could, obviously, but it would be the basest sort of hypocrisy. Am I right?"

Jim and Bruno nodded their heads enthusiastically, although as they were walking up the roof towards us at the time it might just have been the goofy way their necks worked. I flapped my wings a few times, ruffled my feathers.

"You're right, I guess. It's just..." I coughed. "I don't know how to explain it. There's a sort of a malice about the fox. Do you get that? That malice? The malice in the damn animal?"

"Malice, got it," said Bill. "Where are you going with this?"

"You eat seeds," I told him. "You eat them. They come off the trees or out of the grass and you eat them. It's not a big thing. The seeds don't flap away screaming. The seeds don't have kids in some nest somewhere. You don't bat the seeds out of the air or pounce on them on the ground and shake them all up until their bones are broken. You can't really say that the relationship you have with seeds is the same as the relationship the fox has with us."

Bill picked up one of his feet, examined it, let it rest on the rooftop again. It was the gammy foot, the one with just one long toe in the middle and the other two missing. It made me feel uncomfortable to look at it, and I wondered how he could bear to stand up on it. Wasn't it uncomfortable? I longed to ask him, but there was no way to say it politely. Perhaps I would just have to come out with it one day: Bill, what's it like having that messed-up foot? How did you get it? How do you walk around? But today was not that day.

"What about you and insects?" he asked gently.

"What about them?"

"Don't they have eggs in some nest somewhere? Don't they run away?"

"Not - I mean, I suppose they run away, but you can't really say that an insect is the same as a person."

"Really?" he asked. "Why not?"

"They're-" I stopped. "Well, you know! They're just seeds with legs, is all. Fine, OK, /sure/, some of them do look like people. But not all of them. Not those ants. Not beetles. Not woodlice, for heaven's sake. And anyway, looking like a person doesn't make you a person, does it? They can't feel pain, that is a fact."

"A fact, is it?"

"Yes." I plumped up my chest feathers and clacked my beak. "It's a well-established fact. Insects do not feel pain."

"Well if you say so," he said, but he shook his head sadly.

Anders appeared over the corner of the roof in a flutter of wings, sending Jim and Bruno scattering. Bill was not as skittish as his friends, though, and puffed up as Anders approached, staring the big crow down. Anders affected not noticing us until he was standing right beside us, then nodded a single surly nod.

"Whatcha talking about?" He croaked.

"The fox," Bill told him. Anders nodded.

"That arsehole," he said. "I'm not afraid of him. He can come up here if he can, the furry arsehole. I'll peck out his eyes, get that tail off him, give it to a girl."

Bill turned his head again, so that one golden eye was facing my way, and winked. I looked away, keeping my beak pressed shut so that I wouldn't start laughing.

"There's no fox that can take me on," Anders continued. "No fox in the world. I killed a cat once, everyone knows that. That cat didn't stand a chance against me, but he thought he was the boss of everything. I showed him. I showed him you can't mess with a crow and expect to be walking around the next day. I showed him that, right?"

I slowly nodded my head, hoping that Bill would rightly see a touch of sarcasm in my gesture and that Anders would be too stupid to notice. My father, may he rest in the air, brought me up never to speak ill of another crow: "Ravens, crows, jackdaws, magpies, you've got to remember that they're your people. That's the family you came up from, and no matter what you do in your life, you owe it to the great ancestors of crows. You're a jay, Robert, and jays are crows, and always will be, no matter what anyone says." But obviously my father had never met a crow like Anders, a bumbling bloated self-important idiot, a waddling fool with a head so full of padding instead of brains that his mother must have had an affair with a woodpecker.

"I'll show that fox what's what," he said. "He can't come around here like he's the boss of everything. He isn't the boss, there's no boss that runs around where I'm concerned, that's for sure."

"Right, right," nodded Bill, giving me another wink. "We were just saying it was a complex issue, but it's good to know that there's someone on the case, someone cutting through to the essentials of the matter."

"I'll cut him right up, you got that right," said Anders. A sudden wicked thought crept into my mind, the sort of thought that my father warned me against. I tried to keep it in, but it was a tricky one and slipped out through my beak when I wasn't paying attention.

"You should do it tonight," I said. Bill turned his head sharply to stare at me. "Yeah," I continued. "You should get that fox tonight. He'll never see it coming."

"Now hold on," said Bill. But it was too late.


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