One for sorrow

There are occasions that bring the keenness of the razor’s edge of luck we all ride into sharp relief, never more so than when an untimely death is sprayed across a beautiful day in spring, that season which stands for everything antithetical to a sudden, brutal end. As I drove to my first game of the season, top down, sun shining, nothing but good things to look forward to, my day took on a manichaean hue. The manichaeans believed that the universe consists of equal and opposite forces of good and evil in continuous conflict, and the Christian sects that adopted their beliefs effectively denied God’s omnipotence, and as a result burned in their droves – now the word stands for a black and white outlook of bipolar opposites.
It was a twisting flutter of black and white that fell from a tree that overhung the road a few short yards in front of my car’s relentless, irresistible progress. The two magpies were presumably fighting when they fell, their manichaean vortex neither good nor evil, but one tumbled flightless as the other found its air and swooped up at the last possible second. It simply fell like an autumnal leaf in front of my eyes. I knew its fate before it hit the road in front of my driver’s-side wheel, before I heard the click of its beak against metal, before it turned the warm promise of spring cold with its hobbesian death.
Good night mister magpie.
I saw its carcass in my mirrors as I continued on, sadly reciting the magpie rhyme: one for sorrow …
Its death reminded me of the tenuous nature of our existence. Of the sureness yet unpredictability of our demise. Of the absolute and chilling lack of reason behind our existence. It reminded me of our need to make it make sense, by any means.
It reminded me of the superstitious rituals surrounding the game of cricket, a game that could almost have been designed for the obsessive compulsive, with its relentless nature and its Mandelbrotian need to constantly attempt self-similarity, its trademark repetitions: the taking of the guard; the return to the mark. In a 40-over game over five hundred balls will be bowled, each one representing one play, each play seeking perfection but falling foul of one of an infinite number of possible variations.
This magpie had probably fallen from a tree during a fight hundreds of times. Only once was the variation to be a red sports car.
I promised myself I would bat for the memory of this magpie. It was, perhaps, inevitable that I should be bowled by a ball that hit the deck and shot along the ground and under my bat. My score? One, of course.
On my drive home, I saw no trace of the dead bird. Nothing. But shortly after my journey’s end I received word of the long-expected death, from cancer, of the partner of a good friend of mine. I’m not sure whether my magpie was him, or her.
One for sorrow, indeed.

2 thoughts on “One for sorrow

  1. Commiserations Pete. It’s odd how unrelated events can seem to echo eachother. I totally get why the Romans, and no doubt others, used the behaviour of birds as auguries. Greatly relieved to hear that you weren’t dismissed for a duck. Must have that spot of luncheon! x

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