The Language of Silence by Peggy Webb
It was the blackbirds that first told Ruth something was wrong. At exactly the stroke of noon, they landed in the corn
field and commenced eating her corn as if they’d been the ones to stand in hundred degree heat and chop the weeds out with a hoe.
In eighty years she’d put up with many injustices, but she’d be damned if she was going to stand in her kitchen mixing cornbread in
a stone bowl while a bunch of black-feathered demons deprived her of a whole crop of corn. She jammed on her calico bonnet then
jerked up a soup pot and a clean wooden stirring spoon and raced out her door, spry as any woman in the Ozark Mountains twenty years her junior.
And she’d box your ears if you said different.
Don’t ever tell Ruth Gibson she’s too old to live by herself. She aims to live to a hundred, all alone thank you very much,
and Lord help the man who tries to stop her. Not that one would. The only men she’s ever allowed on her farm are her granddaddy,
God rest his soul, and Ray Boy Turner, who has been taking care of her place for might nigh fifty years. If Ruth has any say in
it - and she plans to have plenty - Ray Boy will be there another fifty.
The screen door popped shut behind her, sounding like somebody had shot off a double-barreled twelve-gage. But the crows paid the sound
no more mind than they did the distant backfiring of Ruth’s ancient Chevrolet as Ray Boy navigated down the winding road toward town.
“Shoo!” she yelled at the crows. “Git outta my corn.” A hundred pairs of beady eyes turned on her, giving her the all overs.
Still, she stalked down the middle of her corn patch banging her wooden spoon against the pot as hard as she could. As the birds beat upward,
the sound of wings caught Ruth high under the breastbone and wouldn’t let go. Hundreds of blackbirds rose against a sun-bleached sky, pulling
her out of her skin so she could look back and see nothing of herself left behind except a pile of bones covered with her bonnet and her blue cotton gingham dress.
Lost in a cloud of dark feathers, borne high by a murder of crows, Ruth found herself dissolving - her thin lips, her gray hair, the pink of her muscles. Finally she was nothing but a wisp of smoke with a beating heart and a pair of sharp blue eye. Ghost-like, she traveled forward and backward at the same time: backward to the year of the Great Depression where her half-sister Lola was forever young, forever fearless, forever dressed in circus spangles as she subdued golden-eyed tigers, and forward to see Lola’s granddaughter with her neck twisted sideways, blue eyes staring sightless at her bedroom walls.