The Plus Side of Entertaining Magpies
The following story is not about Denice Dillworth. It is about Jack.
As far as we’re concerned Denice has only two contributions to the story setup.
She is late fixing breakfast for Jack.
Her one wish before she may peacefully be laid to rest (she is perfectly healthy by the way) was nevertheless preemptively granted this morning. She has lived to see (graying temples not withstanding a heartthrob still) Doctor Rayce Manning reunited with his first wife (Vixen de-jour) Margarette Thornburg.
Boo-hiss if you will but you can’t deny these two the crown when it comes to old fashioned daytime soaps.
Sonorous symphonic syrup of redemption and love’s triumph still soared in Denice Dillworth’s ears. Knowing after she turned the television off and fixed a bowl of food for the dog she could lay down and just die.
Pursued to Rome and caught suddenly in Doctor Mannings passionate grip Margarette resisted pitifully. “Listen to me, Margarette” said Doctor Manning. He rarely let his guard down like this. “I am astounded to find I never truly knew my beautiful wife. Despite the lawyers, despite the years lost, despite all we have done to each other, I still and will always love you.”
The famous daggers in Margarette’s eyes on a camera close-up were betrayed as silvery blades beginning to melt and pool. And with the ruins of The Coliseum for a sunset backdrop all of Rome burned again with a kiss.
Eyes rimmed red Denice Dillworth stepped outside with Jack’s breakfast. Sniffling, miserable, happy, she grumbled to herself, “We’ll just see how long it lasts this time Doctor Rayce Manning.”
From the top of creaking the porch steps she called, “Here Jack. Yip, yip, yip. Come and get it.”
Only a faintly wooded echo gave the least answer. Birds afield continued to trade song. A fly buzzed. The dog was old and wandering and slowly going deaf. Denice called again.
Below, nothing moved upon the red dirt road. Along the meandering footpath down to the pond, there was only a swirling cloud of self-absorbed gnats. “Now where you gone off to old boy?” She deposited the bowl of food on the gravel drive and turned to go back in.
At the foot of the porch steps lay a tennis ball. Turning the ball under her thumb, the ragged yellow skin was still wet with saliva. He couldn’t be far. Denice tossed the ball and went inside, the screen door clapping behind.
Under the porch, a dusty shaft of light fell upon the dog’s shaggy coat. It was cool, mostly dark there. Jack pumped his nostrils. The scent promised milk and a touch of bacon fat in his kibbles today. Inching forward on his belly until the sun touched his nose, he waited. Jack was a patient dog. He always had been. And there were considerations.
Afar and out of the treetops three black birds with white gilding lifted and soared.
Jack eased back into the shadows and crouched, his gaze riveted on the bowl. It would be any moment now.
And one by one, magpies dropped from the sky landing like paratroopers on holiday.
Around the bowl, they bounced in, bobbed and strutted. Wings half extended they balanced on the edge of flight. Wise fools at dance, they goose-stepped and slid. All chatter and haw, daring each other, one jumped on the rim of the bowl.
More magpies dropped in from above. Under the porch, the dog’s muscles rippled and ached for release.
Black feathers gleamed iridescent green and purple in the sharp sunlight. The bird tweezed a morsel out of the bowl and held it aloft. The others squatted in readiness for something–anything.
The prize was displayed, and the challenge made. With a flip, the morsel was in the air and gobbled down.
That was all a dog could take. Like a Bull from the pens of Pamplona, Jack burst into the open.
Huffing and growling, he dived in on the birds. Bucking, he lunged up at blurs of black and white, wind and wing. His jaws clapped hollow on the quick thinning air there, and there again! So close.
All trick and no fight, they were ragged shadows in a swirling updraft. It made Jack dizzy. And in another instant, it was over.
A fluff of feather turned lazy somersaults over the ground.
Alone now, circling the dog bowl, Jack rocked to a standstill. Staring down the only thing left at which he could direct his energy he woofed once at the full dog bowl. It was pure frustration and nothing personal.
Jack sniffed the food. The warm milky smell reminded his belly of something. It was like the desire to eat. Only the feeling remained vague–too vague.
A minute longer looking at his food, he wagged his tail. Under the porch and into the shadows, he submerged to reset and wait once more.
An early version of this story was previously published on StoryPony.com and Medium.com