Years ago, so long ago that my only copy was printed on a dot-matrix printer, I wrote a little piece about two crows who fall in love. It’s called “Arthur and Matilda”. I wrote it in my third grade class and used it as a way to teach my young ones out of my own writing. I showed them how to outline a potential story (prewriting notes). I shared my craft throughout the process (setting, character development, conflict, mood). I shared how authors often ask others for ideas and advice (author’s circles). I remember talking about how generative writing is; that one idea often leads to another to another – but one has to write to get the momentum going. Using an overhead projector (yes, I am that old), I went through my revisions in front of them. Then, along with everyone else in the class, I published my piece by reading it aloud.
I had forgotten about the story but discovered it in a file drawer in my closet last fall. I thought it might be a good idea to dust it off and keep it going. I looked through my old prewriting notes and there were other chapter ideas, some notes about my research into crows along with pictures of crows I had gathered from nature magazines. There were false starts and scratched out paragraphs torn from my writer’s notebook – my original drafts were all written by hand. This was probably back in 1994 or 95.
So this fall I started what might be the last chapter for a manuscript about these characters. I am not quite done writing it yet and have a bunch of middle chapters to go. I spend about 45 minutes per week on it in my current second grade class. Once again, I am teaching from my own writing, sharing passages, asking for ideas, discussing setting and character development.
I thought I’d share out this act of fiction a little at a time here on the blog. I’ll start with part of that first chapter, where Arthur and Matilda meet. Perhaps it will give me some needed momentum to keep working on this book idea.
Arthur and Matilda – Part One – At the Stump
Arthur the crow was old. He was so old that he didn’t even remember. Not that it mattered. All of his acquaintances had died or become lost to him. All of his family had gone. It was a curse, this old age. He often wondered why he was chosen to live this long, to see so much.
On Arthur’s last day he flew around aimlessly. He didn’t know that it was his last day but he had a feeling that the end would be coming soon. He wasn’t sure where he was. He didn’t care. He knew his time was short and he was glad for it. Glad because he felt that Matilda was close.
How he missed her. Like most crows, they had mated life. Since Matilda was gone, Arthur’s life had no real purpose. He still ate, preened his feathers and generally took care of himself, but he was no longer a young sparky bird. No. He was old and lonely and sad and longed more than anything to see Matilda. His Matilda.
Arthur spotted a stump below in a snowy field. He was tired and sore. He wheeled and swooped. Nothing fancy. There was nothing fancy in his flying anymore. His sharp talons gripped the stump. It was a tree that had been cut by humans. The top was flat and unnatural, and rose about his own height above the ground. The frigid snow and ice that capped the stump made his bones ache. He didn’t care. He wanted just to rest. Perhaps to sleep. He was simply too tired to go on. He didn’t know if he would ever fly again.
A gray mouse scuttled across the edge of a crusty snow bank where the snow had drifted before freezing. Arthur spotted it easily. That scene reminded him of Matilda. Most things did now. Matilda. She was close. Somehow he could feel her. Matilda, whose eyes shone like no other bird he’d ever known. Matilda, whose feathers were jet black and sleek, every one in place.
It was on a day not too different than this that he first saw her. As he sat on the snow-encrusted stump, he remembered…
Foolish mice, he thought to himself. Don’t they know how easily they can be seen in this snow? This will be easy. It was a juvenile mouse. Not quite a meal, but definitely an appetizer. With a flip of his right wing tip and a fan and curve of his tail feathers, Arthur dove sharply left. It was a tight, fancy maneuver. Arthur had always prided himself in his ability to make sharp turns, stop quickly, dive and swoop sharply. In all modesty, he was the best at flying. He knew it.
Wing tips back, tail feathers slightly fanned, claws extended, almost to the mouse, brown fur, snowy backdrop, frightened beady little eyes, a squeak of fright, then…
A shiny black flash in front of him, a rush of feathers and wind, and the mouse was simply gone. Arthur was so startled that he took a tumble on the rigid surface of the snow. There was a light dusting of crystals on top of the crust and it rolled off his weather resistant feathers as he stood back up. “What the…?”
Perched on a stump, looking down at him with the dead field mouse under her left claw was a beautiful young crow. A female. She was about his size.
She paused a moment examining him. “So sorry,” she said as she tossed the mouse up into the air. It rotated in the air above her head for a moment. “I guess you weren’t quite fast enough.” The small mouse dropped into her open beak. She gobbled it down in one swift gulp. Impressive, he thought. She turned her attention back to Arthur and looked down at him with curiosity. “You are pretty fast,” she said with some admiration. Arthur thought she might be smirking at him, making fun.
“That was going to be my breakfast,” mumbled Arthur, embarrassed at his tumble in the snow.
“Was,” she chuckled. “That is the operative word in that statement.” She eyed him critically, cocking her head to the left, then to the right and back again. “You braked a little too hard, Brother. That mouse almost got away from you.” Her black eyes sparkled. The sun reflected from her feathers.
“That mouse,” Arthur interrupted as rudely as he could, “never had a chance.”
“True,” the young female shot back. “It never had a chance as soon as I spotted it.” She looked past him now, as though she were looking for her next meal.
He ruffled his feathers and laid them neatly in place. “You got the drop on me is all,” he remarked casually, trying to seem nonchalant about losing the meal. “Anyone could have done that.” As he looked up at her, trying not to be too obvious, he noticed how perfectly black and even her feathers were, how smooth and muscular her wings and shoulder muscles were, how powerful she seemed. Sure she was pretty. Almost all young crows with the self-respect to keep themselves in shape were pretty. But this bird had something special. She was cocky and strong and apparently flew like the wind.
“You’re not as fast as you think you are,” he said.
“Oh Yeah? Maybe not, but I am a lot faster than you. I just proved that I think.” There was more of that boldness he found so inviting.
“Wanna race?” he dared.
“Sure. To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump. I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”
This was too much. “Oh, no. I insist. Ladies first.” This was all she needed. Like a streak she was off.
“What… Who is this bird?” he asked himself. With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.