by Sue Johnson           

On the day we moved into our cottage a magpie flew across the garden – a black and white spoon shape swooping low over the apple tree.

‘I hope that thing doesn’t live here,’ I said to Rob.

The magpie perched on the fence and stared at me with its elderberry dark eyes.

‘It’s probably looking for a nesting site, Katie. Look there’s another one. Two for joy, remember? And if one flicks their tail at you, then that’s lucky.’

‘My Granny said magpies were witches in disguise and always brought bad luck,’ I said with a shiver.

‘This is a new start for us, Katie,’ said Rob hugging me and patting my bump. ‘Look how well things have gone so far.’

I’d discovered I was pregnant on the day we’d signed the contract for the cottage. Everything had felt right then. Now I wasn’t so sure.           

‘D’you think we’ve made the right decision?’ I asked after the removal men had gone and we sat amongst the tea chests drinking yet another mug of tea.

‘It’s a bit late to say that now,’ said Rob, trying to be patient. ‘We’ve got a lot of work in front of us – we know that. But just think – one year from now – our baby’ll be out there in his pram under the tree. It’ll be great – you’ll see.’

That night we ate curry from the take-away and sat talking and making plans until the stars faded. Rob almost managed to convince me that having magpies in the garden could be lucky for us.  

‘Two for joy, Katie. That’s what they’re trying to tell us.’

I smiled and tried to ignore the uneasy feelings that kept bubbling to the surface.

Rob started work on the cottage. The magpies were busy nest building in the fir tree at the bottom of the garden.

I tried to ignore them and concentrated on weeding the overgrown garden. After all, as Rob said, what could they do to us?

A week later disaster struck. There were problems with the drains. The central heating boiler blew up and there was a massive leak under the bath that damaged the ceilings downstairs.    

My stomach felt curdled with anxiety. I was constantly on edge, dreading the next thing that could go wrong. Even Rob stopped talking about ‘minor setbacks.’

I felt mad every time I caught sight of the magpies building their nest. There was something smug about them and I wished the tree would blow down in the next storm and that the birds would go away and leave us in peace.

Feeling tearful, I went out to tackle the overgrown front garden, ignoring Rob when he told me to be careful.

‘It’s not fair,’ I said as a magpie swooped low overhead, ‘nothing ever goes wrong for you, does it?’

I turned quickly, lost my footing on the uneven crazy paving, tripped over a low wall hidden in the undergrowth and fell heavily to the ground.

Rob looked white faced as he called an ambulance. I knew before I got to hospital that it was too late to save my baby.

After I came home from hospital, I sat on the sofa in the sitting room, listlessly flicking through magazines, ignoring Rob’s suggestion that I might feel better for a bit of fresh air and a walk round the garden.

‘Not all the time those creatures are out there,’ I said.

‘You can’t blame them for what happened, Katie.’

‘I told you they’d bring us bad luck,’ I snapped.

Rob took me to Cornwall for a holiday that we couldn’t afford, but we argued constantly, barely noticing the beautiful scenery around us. We were both so miserable that we came home two days early.

The first thing I saw when we got home was the female magpie sitting smugly on her nest in the fir tree.

I went into the cottage and slammed the door. Why should she keep her babies when I’d lost mine?

I knew I wouldn’t feel happy until I got away from here. That’s why after Rob left for work today, I started packing my things.

I was just closing a suitcase when I heard a commotion outside. Two crows were attacking the magpies’ nest and the parents were trying to protect their eggs. There was something desperate in the female magpie’s cry that tugged at my heart. The noise was deafening as the battle raged.

My packing was forgotten as I urged the magpies to keep trying. Barred black and white fought against black. Black triumphed and a crow snatched an egg from the nest, carrying it away like a trophy. I saw the pale egg fly through the air and smash on the path in front of me.

A short time ago, I’d have cheered at the thought of there being one less magpie in the world. Now I cried for the stolen egg, the distraught mother and my own lost baby.

Rob came home from work early and found me sobbing on the bench in the overgrown garden.

He sat and held me and we both grieved for our lost baby.

‘We’ll work something out,’ said Rob. ‘I know things haven’t been easy but give our love another chance.

I looked up at the fir tree. The magpie was sitting back on her nest flicking her tail. The crows had gone.

I smiled at Rob through my tears.

‘We’ve got to give this place a chance. Like you said, it’ll take time. And we can’t give up on what we’ve got together.’

I looked up at the tree.

‘After all, they didn’t.’

I had a feeling that by the time the magpies had their next brood, Rob and I might almost be parents ourselves. After all, the magpie had turned her tail to me – and that meant good luck didn’t it?

Sue Johnson is a poet, short story writer and novelist. Her other interests include reading, yoga and walking. Sue’s work is inspired by fairytales, eavesdropping in cafes and exploring the countryside near her home. She is a Writing Magazine Home Study Tutor and also runs her own brand of writing workshops. Further details of her work can be found at Follow Sue on Twitter @SueJohnson9