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"The Magpie"

by Eric Carwardine

Sound carried easily on the still, cool air of that March morning. A thunderstorm in the night before had flushed away a week of hot, sticky humidity. I knew immediately what I had heard, as I slowly ate my breakfast. I hoped I was wrong, of course, but nothing else I knew of could produce such a sickening sound.

It was a Saturday, and a shopping-trip was called-for. I washed and stacked the dishes, and was about to leave the house when there was a timid knock at the front door. Upon opening the door, I was confronted by three of the neighbourhood children. In the hands of one of them was an obscene mass of flesh and feathers. I had not been mistaken about the source of the noise I heard; twenty-thousand volts has a disgusting effect on the body of a young bird. The children had seen the magpie fall from the transformer in the street, and had brought it to me. They knew we fed the local birds when a long summer made food difficult to find.

'Can we bury him, mister?' asked the youngest, in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

'I think we should' I replied 'before the ants find him'

The little burial party walked solemnly to a flower-bed in our back-yard. I fetched a spade from the shed and soon had a rectangular hole dug amongst the plants. The child holding the dead bird placed it carefully at the bottom of the hole, and I invited them to replace the sand which I had dug out. For the children, that was the end of the incident. I watched them in silence as they trouped down the garden path, and out of my sight. Death seemed to hold little trauma for them.

But something else seemed to be needed, as I gazed at the patch of turned earth. It didn't feel right that a life could just vanish without trace. I found a large rock, and placed it on the grave-site, vowing to return to that spot when the days grew shorter, and the wind was in the North-West. When the first drops of Winter's rain moistened the soil I would return and remove the rock and plant beneath it a handful of wheat.

And as Summer's heat faded, and Autumn turned to Winter, the wheat would send down roots, and find the body of the dead bird. And as Spring warmed the earth the magpie's molecules would move upwards along the growing stems of wheat, and come to rest in the swelling ears.

Under Summer's merciless heat, the heads of wheat would turn crisp and golden. When the time was right, I would take several of them in my hand and crush them to release the precious grains. Scattered in my garden, they would soon be found by a hungry dove and swallowed eagerly. And as the startled bird took flight it would take with it the molecules of our magpie. Our magpie would return to the skies.

So you see, Mum, nothing ever really dies. It's molecules just move apart, and become a part of something else. May the soaring bird help keep your own spirits alive.

With all my love.


The End