Where's your wife?
Oh, magpies. I had literally forgotten all about magpies. Somehow, I don't remember their having been around during any of my research trips; the last time I recall watching them was when I lived in Devon twelve years ago. As they've started flocking into my college's courtyard--perhaps because our resident children were in school today?--I've started seeing them again.
(See him? These are the chimneys at the top of the building I face when I sit at my desk.)
Last night after dinner, my new neighbor-friend and I swapped magpie lore. "When you see one magpie," I said to him, "aren't you supposed to get someone else to acknowledge having seen it, too, to be sure it's really there and that you're not mad?" He hadn't heard that one. "But," he said, "I do seem to remember that when you see an odd number of magpies, you're supposed to greet them by saying, 'Hello, Mr. Magpie! Where's your wife?'" But if you see an even number of magpies and you say that, then you're in for years of horrible luck."
Because I could only see one magpie in the yard from where I was sitting, I called out, "Hello, Mr. Magpie! Where's your wife?" Obligingly, he stood to verify that the magpie did exist and that I wasn't mad. But he couldn't see it. "Clearly, you're mad," he said. "It's not a problem," I replied. "We've known about this for years." He's now alerted me to even more magpie lore.
This morning, a single magpie once again walked into the yard. "Hello, Mr. Magpie!" I cried. "Where's your wife?" And then a second magpie walked out. Damn, I thought. Many years of bad luck, coming my way. But then there was a third magpie, and so all was well. And sure enough, when I checked my pigeonhole in college, there was a slip alerting me to the fact that I had "one parcel (large)" waiting for me at the porter's lodge--my $69 box! And so it is that tonight I will sleep under my beautiful mama's beautiful quilt. It has changed my entire space, as I knew it would--that's why I mailed it over.
On my way home from my second trip (this time, with phone number in hand) to the surgery where I am now a registered patient (and beneficiary of the National Health System), I saw my last magpie of the day, painted on a construction barrier.
Do you know Josh Rouse's "Sweetie"? You should.