One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
by Rachel Trafford
Have you ever noticed the way magpies walk more than they fly? Oil slick feathers catch the light as it struts, ungainly and charismatic on the tarmac road, almost an evolutionary parody. A dinosaur ancestor mocking the big apes we dress up not to be. As if to say this was always his world, you’re just allowed to live in it. Almost without thinking, you salute him. One for sorrow.
If you sit in the same chair in the same window framed in time for thirteen hours a day, you start to notice the magpies. The monotony of a job that feels like all the worst manifestations of the word remote. The toxic cycle of boredom and then, the dopamine rushes of outrage; you are addicted because at least you feel it gives your labour some value.
The 8.59 a.m. fight or flight. The 10 a.m. realisation you’ve used all your motivation for the day. Somehow making it to lunchtime and standing over the kettle as you eat something out of a packet, the serrated edge of the tuna can you opened looking friendly. Two for joy.
People go by on the pavement below every day, like prizes on The Generation Game. Here’s what you could have won: Man With The Pants With Seventeen Pockets. Woman Dragged Along By Pug In Too Small Dog Coat. Dad That Jogs.
And still you sit. And still you ‘work’. Three for a girl. Four for a boy.
“If you sit in the same chair in the same window framed in time for thirteen hours a day, you start to notice the magpies.”
But then there are the magpies that mock you from the road. Big Stupid Ape. Dream job? Why did you ever dream of labour? Ape. You aren’t better. At first, there’s maybe one or two, but over the days at least six congregate. Don’t they say birds have a sixth sense, like going silent before an earthquake? Circling for the carrion.
Their constant chatter distracts, making you look up from your screen. The magpies are closer, standing on the neighbouring wall, hopping ungainly from brick to brick on tripod feet. Salute, salute. Were they always so loud? Hurrying, you shut the window and pull down the blinds to try and concentrate. Like pretending to be asleep with a parent hovering over you with eyes boring into you: you know what’s waiting for you behind the shutters.
The next morning, you sit at the same desk, in the same chair at the window. Your hands rest on your closed laptop whose opening would pronounce the start of yet another ending. You look down and wonder how long your nails have been dirty and how you haven’t noticed what the ends of your own fingers looked like. The blinds are still down, making the room dim and warm like an incubator. You realise this is the first time you have breathed in months. As in really breathed, deeply like you deserved it.
Getting up, you move across the room towards the door and down the stairs. Where did you go all this time? Where have you been? As you walk down the hall you think you hear them. The chatter is louder, more urgent this time. Or maybe it’s just your pace. You open the door. Seven magpies or maybe more are in the road and sitting on the step is a mangled bundle of wire and ribbon. Five for silver, six for gold. Seven for a story yet to be told. All the world is wondrous.
Across the street goes Man With The Pants With Seventeen Pockets, Woman Dragged Along By Pug In Too Small Dog Coat, and Dad That Jogs.