‘I found a talus,’ said the rat. ‘That’s the missing piece, isn’t it?’
From the top of the old and blackened chestnut tree, the raven leaped and dove down. A moment before he hit the ground, the raven opened his wings with a sudden slap and the sound of a whip. The rat raised the little bone in her paws and the raven took it in his beak, then adjusted it with his right claws. It still smelled of blood, but the rat had cleaned the meat off of it. The bone was good: smooth and unbroken. The raven approved it and took it to the top of the chestnut tree, where a human foot was almost complete. The raven used his beak and claws to arrange the talus between the calcaneus and the navicular.
‘It’s perfect,’ he flapped his wings with satisfaction. ‘The first foot is complete.’
‘Is it a right foot or a left foot?’ asked the rat down below.
‘Does it matter?’
‘If you want to build a human being, then you will need a right foot and a left foot.’
‘You’re right, you’re right. Of course you’re right.’ The raven leaped thoughtfully around the foot that had been assembled with bones recently stripped of flesh. ‘Can you come up here and tell me which one it is? I have a laterality problem.’
The chestnut tree was the only tree in that field. Its trunk was blackened by human blood, for that field had staged the end of a human war. The fires of death had licked the battlefield with swords at first so brave, so brute, so gory. Death’s invisible flames danced and mixed guts and mud, human steel and human flesh. Arrows cracked like embers in the air. One more body on the ground, one more log on death’s hearth. Blue pain on the earth, black blood on the chestnut tree.
The rat climbed up and said, ‘It’s the left foot. Now we need a right foot.’
‘The hard part is to remove it from the boot, with so much flesh around it.’ The raven was being pessimistic. He didn’t like the flesh of feet. Hard, dry, all calluses.
As for the rat, she thought foot flesh was some kind of delicacy, with a very special smell. Even the trouble of separating flesh from bone and nail gave it a touch of chic.
‘Look for the peasants, the poor,’ she said. ‘The boots tend to be torn. It’s easier to remove them.’
‘But the bones under armour are usually in better shape.’
‘They also have tastier calluses.’ The rat licked her whiskers.
Finding bare feet was easier than the raven had foreseen. For a few weeks now death had left the field, and life swarmed back in. First came humans in search of shiny objects, usable clothes and boots, which made it easier for the kind of life that invaded the field after that: the life hungry for flesh, for a taste of carrion, the pleasure of sharpening the tongue on a tiny cartilage, rest the teeth on sinew, which you kept on chewing and chewing and chewing.
Even before the humans finished their swipe for wealth and boots, already the crows were chatting around, the dogs were sniffing, the mice scurrying with the rats, and one vulture tore off slices of an inner thigh, threw them up in the air, then let them fall directly through his throat into his stomach. He savoured the feat for a minute, then took another slice.
The raven flew over the vulture’s featherless head, and the rat ran past him, pointing foot after foot after foot. The field mice helped to dig up calcaneus, cuboid, metatarsal, but the perfectionist raven pointed at the proximal phalange, and: ‘It’s worn off.’ Or: ‘The lateral cuneiform is cracked.’
Until a dog sat down, swept the fleas from behind her ears, and said:
‘Why not replace this cracked bone by the lateral cuneiform from that beheaded archer back there?’
The raven liked the idea so much, that he searched the field for the most beautiful bones to assemble his right human foot on top of the tree.
‘But this distal phalange is from a left foot,’ said the rat.
‘I have a laterality problem,’ said the raven.
The crows joined in on the endeavour and helped the raven and the rat to take the little bones up the tree. Once the feet were finished, came the issue of the legs. How to carry a tibia or a femur to the top of the black chestnut tree? The dogs carried them to the black roots, but dogs don’t climb trees.
So the vulture came along and offered help. Powerful wings in slow motion, every flap a small hurricane. The femur climbed up in uncertain steps, on a spiral staircase of air around the tree. It fell down a foot, then climbed up a foot and a half, then fell then up, until it finally reached the top of the tree.
The vulture had to rest between one leg and the other. Meanwhile, the mice brought several pieces of skeleton for the raven to choose. He turned bone after bone in his claws, examined them closely with his magnifying eyes. The finest radius, the most richly arched rib, those he passed on to the crows, who polished everything with their beaks.
To raise the ilium into the air, the first vulture called for the help of a second vulture, who asked:
‘But why do you want to build a human being at the top of a tree?’
To which the raven replied:
‘One dead human being on the top of a tree is the certainty of no living human beings ever bothering us here again.’
The crows helped the mice to place the spine together. One vertebra at a time (previously selected by the raven) the crows placed them in the naked paws of the delicate mice.
‘More to the left,’ the rat guided from another branch, where she had a clear view of the operation.
The mice painstakingly lowered one vertebra after the other. It so happened that one of the crows made a mistake, brought a vertebra out of order, and the rat only noticed it after four other vertebrae had already been placed upon it.
‘No,’ said the raven. ‘If I wanted a flaw, I’d have chosen a hernia.’
The crows raised the vertebrae once more, and the mice removed the unwanted one.
There was a bit of a discussion about the order of things. The vultures wanted to bring up the sternum first, but the mice and crows were excited about the rib cage.
‘It will be more difficult to place the sternum with the ribs in the way,’ said the first vulture.
A third vulture came along and, though the crows were in larger numbers, nobody wanted to argue with three grown vultures. The sternum came first.
The raven took his time with the ulnas. Many were broken, others were distorted by the dead men’s lifestyle. Most were simply ugly. Such a simple bone shouldn’t be this irritating. At last the raven chose an ulna for each arm and went on to examine the skulls.
The animals had gathered hundreds of skulls under the chestnut tree. It was everybody’s favourite bone, filled with brain, juicy eyes, some healthy little cartilages, bulgy tongues. Hundreds of skulls, and the raven examined one and each. The mice liked smaller jawbones, the crows wanted the zygomatic bone buried deep, the dogs asked for a non-prominent occipital condyle. It was a serious thing, the choosing of a skull. All those holes saying things, imploring for life even if only life in bone; swallowing throat-less screams. Human skulls are all sad, beakless and snout-less.
Several days went by while the raven looked for the right skull. The rest of the skeleton was assembled up there on the black chestnut tree. The animals watched and waited, full of expectation, until the raven finally chose a skull with smaller orbits than the rest. It gave the impression that the skull was squeezing its eyes to see better, to face dangers. The dogs, even the vultures, admired the raven’s choice. This skull was bold instead of sad.
Two vultures solemnly took the skull to the top of the tree. They had assembled the bones in a way that the arms were open. The crows and dogs moved their heads up and down as the skull climbed up in the air. The rat herself was waiting at the top to place the one last bone. She rotated it and brought it carefully down.
It fit perfectly.
Just as the raven had foreseen, no human being came close to that field ever again. They circled away from the macabre chestnut tree, with hundreds of skulls at its roots, and a skeleton on top with arms open wide. Even more macabre was the fact that it had two left arms. The raven had made a mistake while choosing the bones. All the animals in the woods, even those who hadn’t been present at the making of the skeleton, ran to that field when hunted by humans.
‘They have something similar, don’t they?’ asked the rat.
‘Who?’ asked the raven.
‘The humans. They have a dead being with open arms, which everybody fears.’
‘They do,’ said the raven. ‘It’s called scarecrow.’
by T. Aguilera
T. Aguilera was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1980, five years before the end of the military dictatorship. Many of her earliest memories are about things she didn’t understand: her grandmother’s death, Tancredo Neves’ coffin, the fall of the Berlin Wall and, when she visited Germany in 92, the fact that such a feeble wall could have caused so much trouble. She read more and more about other people’s explanations for the world: ancient mythologies, long buried beliefs from gone civilizations which we could only glimpse at. In 2010, she did an MA in creative writing and started writing in earnest. She finished a book she had started at 14 and published it as an ebook. She wrote and illustrated a children’s novel which will be part of an adorable project to incentivize reading among children in Brazil this year. She has translated some of her work to English which you can check on her website www.writingturtle.com