So there’s this man. He goes to restaurants and other businesses that have large kitchens and he buys up their used cooking oil—the stuff from the deep fat fryers and anything else, I suppose, and he takes it away to turn it into biofuel or something. Modern alchemy.
One day this man goes to a Mexican restaurant that keeps their used cooking oil in big metal drums out behind the building. But the restaurant was careless and did not cover these drums, and when the man went up to it he found two black birds—crows, or baby ravens, overwhelmed, in the oil.
I don’t know more specifics about the scene than that—I don’t know if they were struggling to keep their heads up or if it took him a minute to realize they were still alive; had they even gone under the surface and were maybe just still twitching?
All I know is the man somehow maneuvered them out of the drum of oil and into a plastic bucket where the oil could run off of them, and then he brought the bucket to the wildlife shelter where I volunteer.
At first we weren’t sure exactly what kind of black birds they were: they were literally soaked in oil, and it was two rounds of washing, not an easy operation, before they were clean enough to really examine. The smaller of the two didn’t make it, largely because the other bird, in its desperation, stood on his head the whole time they were in the bucket, and the little one might have had trouble clearing the cooking oil out of his lungs.
The surviving bird was taken to a clean cage and offered a plate of grapes and crickets and soaked dog food.
Because of their shape and beaks at first we thought they might be baby ravens, but given time, the surviving bird proved to be a crow—I almost said ‘a common crow’, though I really don’t think there’s anything common about it.
Something about this story has felt like a fairy tale to me from the start. The crows in the vat of the cooking oil—the black feathers and round eyes up through the viscous gold oil—the odd echoe of spontaneous generation, the crows rescued by a passer-by.
It has taken almost a month for the feathers of the surviving crow to be clean enough for him to fly again, and there’s still talk that he might get one more bath before release.
He has since been moved to a larger mew with thick branches about four feet off the ground. He can fly back and forth and can look out through the wire mesh at the outdoors, feel the winds starting to come up with the change of seasons.
This past Friday I went in to clean his cage, clear away the grapes and dog food he had left from the day before, check to see that the rat problem we’re experiencing hasn’t spread to his building, though for some reason I think he could probably defend himself against any marauders. He’s already gone from one reality into another like a survivor from another world, and he’s come through it.
He wasn’t happy that I was there as I leaned down to clean, and was hopping madly from one large branch to the other all the way across the mew, short bursts of flying high over my head.
I kept wondering, if I knew the right question, if I asked correctly, would he give me, what—three wishes?