The Magpie, short story by Patrick McAteer at Spillwords.com
Vivek Doshi

The Magpie

The Magpie

written by: Patrick McAteer

 

He decided to buy her a bar of some chocolate. He went to the supermarket and began to fill his basket. It was busy despite the early hour and each person was in their own little bubble as they plotted out their zigzag route through the aisles. He had plenty of other things to buy but when he came to the sweet section, the chore of shopping suddenly became something pleasant. He seemed to be taken in with all the different shapes, colours and patterns. It took him some time to decide but based on the size, he decided on a bar of chocolate made with Alpine milk and sporting the image of a lady from the Victorian period. This product was carefully placed in the basket. It joined the array of fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy products, some jelly and a pretzel. It was also soon joined by other products and then it was placed on a counter, pushed to one side and then placed in a basket. Finally the chime of a check out machine and then it found itself being carried out into the street. The sound of traffic passing and trams grinding their way forward was new. It tried to take in the glow of the sun as it attempted to make its presence felt through a sea of grey clouds.
Then it was carried up a flight of stairs, a key was turned and the contents of the basket were lifted out and placed in various cupboards. There did not seem to be a place reserved for it and so it sat on a window sill near a desk until such a time came for it to be packed into a brown envelope and there it lay with a sheet of folded paper until it heard the sound of scribbling on the envelope. It was carted off in this cushioned envelope to the post office and here it was weighed. The soft pressure on the outside was that of a stamp being applied. It was placed into a tray and as the day progressed there seemed to be more and more letters and packages being placed on top, so much so that it could hardly breathe. This was a nightmare compared to the tranquillity of the Ghana rain forest where its roots lay.
Then the tray was lifted and carried outside to a postal van. It happened so quickly that the bar of chocolate felt itself go into a shudder! Then silence ensued, followed by the sound of the tyres against the street betraying a certain sense of movement. It was true, they were in fact on the move. After a while the wheels ceased to turn and the box was unloaded and carried into a large warehouse. This was the sorting office and it was here, addresses were read, followed by letters and packages being sorted into different bags. Following this, the package was unceremoniously dumped into a sack of mail. There were lots of different sounds in the sorting office but all of these sounds could not smother the sounds coming from within the sack itself. It was more a cacophony of sounds. The bar of chocolate could now hear the contents of the letter which was brushing up against, in the cushioned envelope. It seemed to being read by the Victorian lady on its packaging. It was a love letter, written to a lady who the writer had not seen in over six months. It spoke of being lovestruck, sacrifice and longing, as well as hope and endurance.
It had never occurred to the bar what might have been written but now knowing, it entered a period of deep thought. Then the mist lifted, the bar of chocolate became aware of the different accents emanating from other pieces of mail. One of them was a letter from the tax office. Another was a bill. Oh, and that is interesting, someone is writing to someone to tell them how life is like, having moved to a strange country. Then there was one which was completely silent…. The bar wondered if there was a secret message or if indeed the letter was empty. Then the contents of a letter were heard and its heavy tone regulated all other sounds. The theme, a sorrowful one, told the story of a body which was washed up on the Atlantic shore in a rural part of the north west of Ireland. It was that of an Italian sailor. He had died as a result of drowning, when his ship was struck by a mine. One of the local folk had found him and discovered his credentials in a little leather pouch he had in his pocket. As he had a cross around his neck, the locals decided to give him a Christian burial. The letter they had written was enclosed in the envelope. It was directed to his next of kin.
Then conversations went on until the bag was thrown again onto a lorry and it drove until the early hours of the morning, with each piece of correspondence having its turn to be heard. The lorry then reached an airport. Here the sacks were thrown into a container and a small truck raced across the concrete to a waiting plane. The pilots looked tired and worn as they steered the machine into the dark sky. The drone of the engines was enough to cause all the letters and packages to finally fall silent. Upon landing each awoke with the screech of brakes. The sound of Italian voices pierced the morning air. Horns hooped, engines rived, tyres screeched and then somehow at the end of all of this, a hand came and fished each item out. The process of sorting and bagging began, the sound of a bicycle bell tinkling, a clap being lifted and the item being dropped into its last casket.
The next tinkle was that of an elderly couple sitting on their balcony as they stirred the sugar into their espresso. Out of the blue they were visited by a solitary magpie, which stood in the yard below. As soon as they noticed it, they saw the postman wheel his bike onto the street. The letter had been delivered. It was not long after that tears began to flow. Their son who had been gone for so long would never return from the war. Their only consolation was that at least he had been given a Christian burial. Then at a different location a young lady had just been shouted at by her boss at work. Soon after, she made her way home, as she did, she spied two magpies sitting on a telephone wire. The letter with the chocolate was waiting for her when she arrived home.
Somewhere in a church, a priest sat in a confessional. He was a bit fed up as no one had come that day and so he left a few minutes before his time was up. As he made his exit through the wrought iron gates, the church bell began to toll. He turned his head to see seven magpies flutter from the tower into the clear sky. The letter waiting for him was from a man in a foreign country who had something to confess. It was not possible to do this in his country of residence as his command of the language was poor. So he had written down his sins and asked the priest for absolution. His secret would be kept, as having read and prayed, the priest tossed the letter into the fire. The man was a thousand miles away but he felt his guilt lift as the clouds of smoke rose into an Italian sunset.

Patrick McAteer

Patrick McAteer

Single parent from Birr, Co. Offaly living in Germany for the past ten years. My son is thirteen years old. I was married for seven years in Turkey before this unceremoniously ended in 2009. I studied German and Geography in Ireland and later did an MSc in England. I have a CV which is so long that it is like the sleeves of that jumper I once put on a hot wash setting in a washing machine in a shelter for Irish youth in London. Thankfully it was not my jumper but someone got shouted at! Suffice to say I have been teaching English for most of the last ten years but one of my former jobs was clearing leaves from drainpipes for schools in South West London.
Patrick McAteer

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