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Old country ways

A chatter, then a chink, made me turn round. Flash of feathers, black and white, and it had gone, out the kitchen window. I stared at Gerald’s gold ring, still spinning in the soap dish.

I knew exactly what it was. Whose it was.

Magpies are thieves. Everyone knows that, except her. Dirty pied pests, my father called them. Jack the gamekeeper knew how to catch one in a cage to lure more in. Larsen trap, he called it. Always worked.

What does she know of country ways like that? You can’t just take in a magpie, like a lost kitten. Birds are born to fly free or die. Not to be put in the kitchen with the dogs. Must have been scared rigid, poor thing. And now it’s out flying, it’s a nuisance.

Pssht. I could have lost that ring forever. Like Gerald.

I go round to tell her. Frieda. All apologetic. She loves magpie George, she says. Wants to ‘do the right thing’ and keep him. That’s not the right thing, I say, under my breath.

She fancies him perched on her shoulder while she does her painting. Birdshit streaking down her long floral dresses and in her long red hair, no doubt. She wouldn’t care. Arty type, living on her own. Now she wants company. But birds aren’t company.

Maybe she’s after a familiar, I joked to Pat. I saw the look flit across her face. Must have been thinking the same. Frieda growing those herbs, dyeing her weird clothes. Feeding the bird on milk at her own table.

Don’t worry, Pat, I said to her, I’ll sort it out.

I tell Frieda the bird scares me. Brought up to fear them, I say, must be old country ways.

Don’t worry, Jean, she says to me, I’ll sort it out. I’ll build a big aviary, a bird palace for my George.

As if I’d be impressed with that. It’s still keeping a bird on its own, in a cage. Just because she’s got no family. I’m on my own, too. But I wouldn’t do that to a bird.

I began to leave out food. After a few days, it was visiting regularly. I even poured milk for it. Greedy bugger. I kept Gerald’s ring hidden, mind.

It didn’t take long.

Frieda comes round, with her sad-but-happy face. “I think he’s found his freedom,” she half-laughs. “At least you’ll have peace now, Jean.”

I will. I know where George is. Deep in the wood, near Jack’s place.

© Laura Parker

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