Dirty river water filling my mouth; the tastes of oil and mud and rust; plastic zip-ties cutting into the skin of my wrists; lights on the surface of the water receding away from me. That’s what I remember from before I died. Then a long stretch of nothing, until a voice called my name.
Geraldine. The sound cut through the water, speaking right in my ear. Geraldine.
My second birth into the world of the living wasn’t unlike the first, sixty-three years before, a journey to light and air. I opened my eyes to the sooty night sky above the South Branch of the Chicago River, hacked out a lungful of water, and sucked in my first breath. Didn’t cry this time.
The voice called again: Geraldine, come this way.
My midwife was a sleek raven with fiery eyes, perched on the cement embankment, next to a ladder. I hauled myself out of the water under the raven’s watchful gaze, and then collapsed on the goose-shit-stained wall.
There was a rustle of feathers as the raven alighted on the ground next to me. Do you know who you are?
“Geri Clifton,” I answered. “Southsider. UAW Local 718, organizer. Sox fan. Dead woman, apparently.”
Do you know what happened?
There’d been three guys waiting for me when I got home from the picket line last night. I’d taken a boot to the head, and everything went hazy after that — except for the part where I drowned. That part I remembered clearly.
I wrung out my hair and said, “That motherfucker Saunders had me killed.”
Do you know what I am?
“A… raven?” I’d never learned the difference between them and crows.
I bore your soul across the waters, but your sadness and rage were too heavy to carry to the land of the dead.
I wondered if it expected an apology.
I am the wings your vengeance will take. The weight of your rage will be easier to bear, once it has more carriers.
“I don’t get it.”
The raven clucked at me impatiently. The men that killed you. Take vengeance on them, and you will be able to move on.
I opened my mouth. Shut it. Opened it again and said, “I need to get back on that picket line.”
They’d drowned me in the South Branch, not far from my apartment. I could get home, shower, put a fresh shirt, and make it to the rally spot at dawn. The raven flew beside me, scolding me. Geraldine—
“Call me Geri. Nobody ever called me Geraldine except the aunt I was named for.” Even she’d given up after a few years.
Those men beat you.
“I’ve had worse.”
They killed you. As if I’d forgotten.
“Don’t mourn, organize,” I quoted, and started walking.
The raven was waiting when I emerged from the shower, perched on a chair next to the dining table. A gun, as shiny and black as the raven’s feathers, lay amid scattered pamphlets and empty coffee cups. I didn’t know how either had gotten inside.
“Nevermore,” I replied. I tossed the towel I’d used to dry my hair over the gun. “I’m a godawful shot. And I’ve got a better plan.”
You don’t understand. Vengeance—
“Vengeance is boring. I want to ruin this guy and everything he stands for.”
Killing him and his minions would achieve that goal.
His minions had been three beefy kids, guys with empty wallets and heads full of toxic slogans. You believe a thing enough, you’d kill someone to make it true. I’d had to talk down rooms of laid-off mobs in the making, and I recognized the type.
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” I said.
The raven gazed at me for a moment, then rolled its bright orange eyes.
“Hey, nobody asked you to carry my ass back from the land of the dead. And I sure as shit didn’t agree to murder three know-nothing kids and an ugly mobster slash business mogul.”
The raven puffed up its chest, but kept quiet. My phone had drowned in the river with me, but I was old school, still kept a Rolodex. I pulled it out and started flipping. I knew a couple private investigators. They’d be able to find out who Saunders had hired. We could get them to testify against him — I had an idea that they’d be inclined to listen to the old woman they recently murdered. It wouldn’t take him down permanently, but it’d crack the foundations. And it’d send a message to those that had updated the corporate playbook to include an extra chapter on assassinating the opposition, instead of the usual COINTELPRO bullshit.
Are you not angry? the raven asked. It hopped into the air and perched next to me.
“Angry?” I slammed my fist down on the table. “I came of age through Nixon, motherfucker. I lived through race riots and the AIDS crisis and Reaganomics, and all the rest of that tired bullshit. Anger’s nothing new.” I knew all the different flavors of anger, the whole Scoville scale of it: the residual rage that warmed you on the picket line, the sour bite of having to shut your mouth and bide your time, the battery acid burn of losing battles while the whole world shrugged its shoulders.
But this is personal.
When wasn’t it? A butterfly flapped its wings, a white asshole in a tie drew a red line through a budget item, a family got turned out into the street, someone got their benefits stripped. The next time they tried this shit, it might not be to someone who was too goddam mad to stay dead. And there would always be a next time, another Saunders, another troll.
“Are you gonna help me, or haul my ass back to the river?” I asked. I knew a thing or two about passive resistance, if it tried.
The raven said reluctantly, We can try it your way.
“Welcome to the struggle, comrade,” I said. “Solidarity forever.”