Monday, October 13, 2008
A Tidings of Magpies
Harold didn’t generally open the shop on a Monday, but this being special circumstances meant that he wanted to be in town anyway, and if he was in town, the shop may as well be open for business.*
He walked down to St. Marples as soon as he’d dealt with the morning’s mail and checked his regular blogs online. He stood there for a long time, staring at the flock of magpies that adorned every available surface.
“Didn’t this used to have a fence around it and be covered in graffiti?” he asked. “I also recall there was a condemned notice on it.”
“Things must have changed for the better,” I said, noting that the grave that had contained Ebul in 1978 was conspicuously absent. “Getting your name on the deeds wasn’t the only thing I changed when I was back there.”
Harold nodded, lost in thought. “What’s the collective noun for so many magpies?” he asked. “I’ve never seen so many magpies at once. I don’t even think the counting song goes above ten and the must be three or four dozen at least. If I was Felicia I’d think you’d dosed me with Ketamine.”
“A tidings,” I said absently. “Odd, grammatically, but you can see the etymology.”
“Why aren’t there any pigeons?” said Harold. “And why isn’t the building covered in bird poo?” I followed him through the mock graveyard where he instinctively avoided the patch of ground where the assassin had died. The great oak door was locked and he gave it a sharp kick.
“Because they’re trained not to,” said a familiar voice as the door opened, “and no pigeon will trespass on magpie turf.”
*which meant Julie was deprived of her Monday morning lie-in. Not the best person to be around, an over-tired Julie.**
**When someone is holding back the Portal of the Dead by their will alone, having her get up too early is not always a wise move. Last time it happened we had the ghost of a suffragette chaining herself to the railings outside the shop. We told her that women had been given the vote almost a century ago but she insisted that they were going to waste whatever brain God had given them and vote for Sarah Palin.***
**We’d never even heard of her at that point. Who had, outside of the 30 people who live in Alaska? We made ‘Monty Python’ jokes instead.