What the Magpies Are Saying by Rebecca Field

I see them in the hospital car park, fighting over something dead. They shriek and cry like children in a playground snatching toys from each other. There are three of them, I realise. Three is better than one. Three is a crowd, third time lucky, three for a girl the magpie rhyme says, but I don’t want to know that kind of information, not yet.

The doctors told us we had options. Options to not bring another child like Toby into the world, is what they meant, when all I wanted was another child exactly the same, only with that one tiny broken part fixed. We’ll support whatever choice you make, they said. But they don’t have to be the ones to make it. Easy to offer small servings of kindness before we walk out of the room and the next couple comes in. I wanted them to make the decision for us, to tell us what to do to make it right. But easy options are for other couples now, not for us. Do your families link up in any way, they’d asked? I’d wondered if they were trying to tell us we were incompatible somehow, that it was our fault for being together when maybe we should have sensed that something wasn’t right and broken up years ago. Maybe if you’d stayed with Michelle or Hannah or anyone else you would have had healthy children. I’m sure your Mum thinks that. She always seems to look at me with suspicion, as if she’s wondering whether I was eating properly, resting enough.

You take my hand as we walk into the clinic and I think about what they said about the test. I think about whether my bladder is filled enough and whether it will hurt and about the needle they showed me. I think about how small the baby is now, how close that needle might come to touching her face, if it might graze the tip of her nose, if the doctor’s hand might slip. I think that I should be the one protecting her, not putting her life in danger. I don’t want to think about what happens after, how we’ll decide what to do next.

You might have some spotting, they say afterwards. You should rest at home today, take it easy. The midwife smiles and tells me to call if I have any worries. Her name badge says Joanne and she has a plain gold band on her wedding finger and earrings in the shape of small stars. I wonder if she has children of her own, what she thinks about me, if she saw something on the scan she didn’t tell us, but I can’t read anything from her expression. We head back to the car park and I walk like I’m balancing a box of eggs on my head.

When we get there, I look for the magpies. I’m looking for a sign, an affirmation that we’ve done the right thing. I wonder how long I’ll have to wait for an answer. You ask me how I’m feeling and start up the car.

As we pull out of the car park I see them, hopping together by the side of the road. ‘Look!’ I say pointing, ‘There they are!’ Yes, you say, two. Two is for joy. I look at you and smile. You smile back and in that moment neither of us thinks about the one that’s missing.

Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca was highly commended in the 2018 NFFD microfiction competition and tweets at @RebeccaFwrites.

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