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Flash fiction: The Lament of the Magpie’s Wife

October 28, 2015

The Lament of the Magpie’s Wife

I thought that I knew all about magpies. My mother had told the story of my grandmother’s wedding ring enough times. But I believed that this was different, he was different, that I was a treasure which would not tarnish.

All silver tarnishes with time.

My grandmother was washing up, so the story goes. She loved hating doing it. Her hands were red raw from the near-boiling water, scalded by the harsh yellow soap she insisted on using. They were ugly useful things. The pretty tiny glass stone in the cheap goldish metal was a lovely useless thing and did not go with the washing up. So she placed it on a soapdish above the sink. While she was scrubbing at the tools of the kitchen, she liked to have the window open so that she could watch the birds. She liked the small birds best. They pursued their business of feeding, loving and fighting with a seriousness that she found absurd. But today, well today there was a flick of a black and white tail, a tilt of a head and the gleam of an eye.

One for sorrow.

“Good Morning Mr. Magpie, how is your lady wife today?”

Grandmother observed all the courtesies. Yet the second she turned to get the tea towel, the wily thief stole her treasure from the soapdish. As the blue black wings soared away, the ring glittered nearly brightly as his eye.

All magpies steal. And they never have enough. I can’t believe that I forgot that.

I was a treasure begging to be stolen. As a child I would always take the games too far. When climbing trees I was the one perched on the slightly-too-thin branch furthest from the ground. There was no haunted house, so-called witch’s cottage, or older teens’ hideout that was safe from me. I would need to go look, to touch the age-raddled wall or sniff the empty beer bottles and fag-ends left in the leaf mould. As I grew I grew restless. I ached for wider skies and new faces. But as I wished to spread my wings my world became more restricted. A girl will always be bound as she grows to a woman. We are too monstrous to be left free.

I met him when I was old enough to be trouble, but not old enough to know better. I wanted more than I had, but was too afraid to find it. I was sitting at the dance, in a group and yet apart. I wore a dress that glowed as bright as my hair. I can never be sure about my looks. Men called me beautiful. When they wanted me. Women called me flashy, or obvious. Was it the brassy notes in my goldish hair? My eyes that were too big, too green? I knew that I was watched when I entered a room. I glittered. So did he. His velvet coat was so dark a blue it was black; his eyes so dark a black they were blue.

He asked me to dance.

He held me too close.

My breath came too fast, my heart beat too readily.

I was a treasure begging to be stolen.

He asked me to fly away that night. I pretended to refuse. A week later I was on a train to Gretna Green.

His house was small, damp, wooden. But it was filled to the brim with plunder- gold and silver, sparkles and shimmers. There were expensive marble statues next to tinsel covered cushions, mirrors and tin, rubys and glass. I loved it when I first saw it. We would laugh and dance naked, the fire reflecting from our skin, our eyes glowing in the mirrors and silver around us. When he smiled my world stood still, his teeth so white against the tan of his face and the black of his beard. His belly was covered with hair as soft as feathers. We tasted and took and gave until the dawn.

We were happy for a while. But all silver tarnishes with time. He stopped listening to me. He was gone all day and came home with little but bread. He left me while I was still damp with his sweat, aching from his touch, his eyes looking through me as if I wasn’t there at all.

I tried everything to keep him. I put on rouge and powder, gilded my eyelids and made my lips glisten. I worked to bring him trinkets and presents to show him my love. I would wrap myself in his silks, wear his velvet coat with nothing else. His eyes would snag on me, but they never stayed.

He stopped coming home every night. So one day I followed.

She was a treasure begging to be stolen. She glittered like glass and gold in the sunlight. His velvet coat was so black as to be blue: his eyes so blue as to be black.

Magpies steal. And they never have enough.


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  1. Leona Medlin permalink

    Nice one!

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