SUNDOWN CLUB

MAGPIE

 

A SHORT STORY

WRITTEN BY TANNER JOHNSTON

I laughed through a mouthful of ham sandwich as the magpie swooped the man. He ran across Civic Park, his expensive brown leather suitcase above his head like a Spartan going tuck tail from Persian arrows, his tailored suit flapping behind him like the torn shreds of a white flag of surrender, his shoes, polished to a black mirror shine, kicking up dirt and grass as he barrelled toward the bus stop.

I’ve been there, everyone who has lived in Australia in the spring has been there, under the hateful gaze of those black and white kamikaze pilots. Those feathered missiles of claws and wings, tipped with a beak that can draw blood or poke out an eye. He’d make it, the bus was waiting for him anyway. All the man had to do was cross no man’s land and get to the trenches, get behind those glass doors into the safety of his metal bunker.

Like clockwork, the man dived inside and the bus driver closed the doors behind him. The magpie circled the bus. It pecked at the windows, scratched at the metal and picked at the rubber seals, until it gave up and flew off.

Eating my sandwich I watched as the bus left the curb and turned the corner of the park coming toward me on the main road, gaining speed as though the driver was afraid the bird might follow them. I looked through the windows as the bus approached and saw the man clutching his suitcase, his eyes closed, breathing heavily, an expression of pure adrenaline fuelled ecstasy on his face.

The sharp crack of glass. The screeching of air pump brakes. The rabid screeching of the magpie as it lower half thrashed about the shattered hole in the windshield of the bus. Thin lines of blood drew themselves down the glass webbed with cracks as the magpie’s body went limp.

 

The next day the man walked to catch the same bus. I wondered why such a well to do man with such expensive taste was catching the bus. Maybe he’d spent all his money on his clothes and accessories and couldn’t afford a car, each to their own.

But today the bus didn’t stop for him. In fact it drove past his stop entirely. The man hitched up his heels again and ran across the park, cutting the corner in the hopes to catch the bus as it drove by where I was sitting. If he ran fast enough he’d make it. I watched with interest as he ran, waving his arms about like a madman. He passed me on my bench munching my sandwich. He’d make it. The bus would see him.

The bus driver didn’t see him; but I did. I did as the man’s foot caught on the pavement. I did as the man’s expensive briefcase soared through the air. I did as the man’s body turned into a spray of red and his body folded like origami under the front of the bus. I did as a magpie sat watching from a nearby tree.

I couldn’t finish my sandwich that day.

I left when the paramedics arrived. Not much I could do, no point to hang around. Not much they could do either, truthfully.

 

I slouched through the car park of my apartment block, rummaging through my back pocket for my keys. The dry heat of springtime crackled on my skin but the memory of that grim red bus kept my insides icy cold.

As I approached the front door of my stairwell I spied two children, Sri Lankan, a boy and a girl, who belonged to someone that lived in my complex, though I didn’t know which neighbour. They were standing over the corpse of a magpie, the eldest of the two held a magnifying glass, igniting the feathers that lay attached to the bird’s corpse, both of them watching with the silent morbid curiosity that children have. It’s not right or wrong if you don’t know the difference.

There is a world of difference between an adult being swooped and a child getting the same. With an adult it’s funny, with kids it’s just frightening. But I let them be, that bird was dead, probably by the blistering heat, it couldn’t swoop anyone anymore.

I dragged myself up to my apartment on the third storey of my tall brick block and tried to drown out the memory of the bus with cartoons and weed. It helped.

 

I woke that night to the sound of screaming sirens and pulsing flashes of red and blue amid a sea of orange glow blasting through the slits in my Venetian blinds. I rolled out of my bed and peered through the largest slat beneath a broken blind to the sight of a raging inferno.

The apartment opposite mine was ablaze. Orange flames licked out of the windows like a fractured kiln. Heavy black smoke, highlighted in red and blue by the lights of the fire brigade rose up into the night sky in great plumes. Hell itself contained in apartment c-three-zero-one.

I threw on a jacket and went down to the central car park. The flames were under control when I reached the other neighbours that had come to watch with the same morbid curiosity of the children with the magnifying glass.

I found out from the neighbours, those who paid more attention than I to those that lived around them, that the apartment belonged to a Sri Lankan family. A mother, a father, and two kids, a boy and a girl.

 

I didn’t sleep after that. Whenever I got close images of magpies with hateful eyes of brown fire swooped into my mind and sent my consciousness running for the safety of lucidity with it’s hand above it’s head.

The last of these fits of dreamlike images happened just as the pink and gold light of dawn crested in through the slits between my blinds.

I awoke, covered in a fine sheen of cold sweat, to the sound of tapping on my third storey window. I reached out a shaking hand and drew up the blinds.

Standing on my windowsill was a magpie, tapping its beak against the glass. It’s head shot to the side and it’s unfathomably deep amber eye looked into mine. I looked so far into that eye that I saw my own staring back at me.

It stepped backward toward the edge of the sill. And then, with another glance at me, it tumbled backward, keeping it’s wings closed tight around it’s body.

I opened the window and looked down toward the concrete far below, to the mess of black and white feathers. And the hateful eye, that looked so much like my own, stared up at me.