Chapter no 56 – The Night Heron

Where the Crawdads Sing


The Barkley Cove graveyard trailed off under tunnels of dark oaks. Spanish moss hung in long curtains, creating cavelike sanctuaries for old tombstones—the remains of a family here, a loner there, in no order at all. Fingers of gnarled roots had torn

and twisted gravestones into hunched and nameless forms. Markers of death all weathered into nubbins by elements of life. In the distance, the sea and sky sang too bright for this serious ground.



Yesterday the cemetery moved with villagers, like constant ants, including all the fishermen and shopkeepers, who had come to bury Scupper. People clustered in awkward silence as Tate moved among familiar townspeople and unfamiliar relatives. Ever since the sheriff found him in the marsh to tell him his father had died, Tate simply stepped and acted as guided—a hand behind his back, a nudge to his side. He remembered none of it and walked back to the cemetery today to say good-bye.

During all those months, pining for Kya, then trying to visit her in jail, he’d spent almost no time with Scupper. Guilt and regret needed clawing away. Had he not been so obsessed with his own heart, perhaps he would have noticed his father’s was failing.

Before her arrest, Kya had shown signs of coming back—gifting him a copy of her first book, coming onto his boat to look through the microscope, laughing at the hat toss—but once the trial began she had pulled away more than ever. Jail could do that to a person, he thought.

Even now, walking toward the new grave, carrying a brown plastic case, he found himself thinking more of Kya than of his dad and swore at that. He approached the fresh-scarred mound under the oaks, the wide sea beyond. The grave lay next to his mother’s; his sister’s on the far side, all enclosed in a small wall of rough stones and mortar embedded with shells. Enough space left for him. It didn’t feel as if his dad were here at all. “I should’ve had you cremated like Sam McGee,” Tate said, almost smiling. Then, looking over the ocean, he hoped Scupper had a boat wherever he was. A red boat.



He set the plastic case—a battery-operated record player—on the ground next to the grave and put a 78 on the turntable. The needle arm wobbled, then dropped, and Miliza Korjus’s silvery voice lifted over the trees. He sat between his mother’s grave and the flower-covered mound. Oddly, the sweet, freshly turned earth smelled more like a beginning than an end.

Talking out loud, head low, he asked his dad to forgive him for spending so much time away, and he knew Scupper did. Tate remembered his dad’s definition of a man: one who can cry freely, feel poetry and opera in his heart, and do whatever it takes to defend a woman. Scupper would have understood tracking love through mud. Tate sat there quite awhile, one hand on his mother, the other on his father.

Finally, he touched the grave one last time, walked back to his truck, and drove to his boat at the town wharf. He would go back to work, immerse himself in squirming life-forms. Several fishermen walked to him on the dock, and he stood awkwardly, accepting condolences just as awkward.

Head low, determined to leave before anyone else approached, he stepped onto the aft deck of his cabin cruiser. But before he sat behind the wheel, he saw a pale brown feather resting on the seat cushion. He knew right away it was the soft breast feather of a female night heron, a long-legged secretive creature who lives deep in the marsh, alone. Yet here it was too near the sea.

He looked around. No, she wouldn’t be here, not this close to town. He turned the key, churned south through the sea, and finally the marsh.

Going too fast in the channels, he brushed past low branches that slapped at the boat. The agitated wake sloshed against the bank as he pulled into her lagoon and tied his boat next to hers. Smoke rose from the shack’s chimney, billowing and free.

“Kya,” he yelled. “Kya!”

She opened the porch door and stepped under the oak. She was dressed in a long, white skirt and pale blue sweater—the colors of wings—hair falling about her shoulders.

He waited for her to walk to him, then took her shoulders and held her against his chest. Then pushed back.

“I love you, Kya, you know that. You’ve known it for a long time.”

“You left me like all the others,” she said. “I will never leave you again.”



“I know,” she said.

“Kya, do you love me? You’ve never spoken those words to me.” “I’ve always loved you. Even as a child—in a time I don’t

remember—I already loved you.” She dipped her head.

“Look at me,” he said gently. She hesitated, face downcast. “Kya, I need to know that the running and hiding are over. That you can love without being afraid.”

She lifted her face and looked into his eyes, then led him through the woods to the oak grove, the place of the feathers.

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