Issue #8

The Magpies

By Lauren Cooper


One for sorrow, two for joy

Three for a girl, four for a boy

Five for silver, six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told.


Good afternoon Mr. Magpie, how are your children today?


Superstitions are often used to bring good luck, or ward off bad luck, but the protagonist of this play uses the magpie superstition in an entirely different way. When her marriage is breaking down and communication has collapsed, this superstition seems the perfect way to deliver a message to a husband who has never understood her.






WOMAN – mid 20s, beautiful

HUSBAND – similar age


A kitchen. At the back of the stage are kitchen work surfaces with a sink in the centre of the back wall. Next to it is a protruding breakfast bar coming towards front of stage. CD player on floor.

Enter WOMAN, from right, carrying bin liner leaking blood onto stage. Puts bag in sink and has her back to the audience. She washes the contents of bag. They must remain concealed from audience.

WOMAN speaks as if confiding in the audience when facing sink or the audience. But when she turns to the side to speak, it must be as if she has temporarily left reality and is in her own world, unaware of her surroundings, particularly unaware of the audience.

All turns must be rigid movements, but look effortless and simple.

WOMAN: He knew before he married me. I was honest with him from the start. Thought he could save me. Thought he had saved me. But apparently not.

Turns to right (the side she entered from).


Turns back to sink and continues washing.

Sometimes people say it in a joking way because you’re different, interesting even.


But he didn’t mean it like that. I guess he’s met the inner me though. Got to give him that.

Turns to left.

But he knew that!

Turns back to sink.

And he said it’d be ok. That he loved every part of me.

(Muttering) Stupid. Stupid.

Long pause whilst washing.

I guess they all pretend that they’ll be there for you. When you cry they’ll hold you a little while, rub your back until you have to stop crying.

Turns to left.

But you need to cry!

Turns back to sink.

But don’t let anyone know that. They can’t know that. They can’t know It.

(Getting louder with each word)  Smile. Smile. Smile.

Turns to left.

(Long scream/shout) SMILE!

Turns to front, shouting angrily.

You better fucking smile!

Arms straight down, face down. Lights down for a short moment. Then lights up as she turns to right.

Say cheese.

Turns back to sink.

Once we were in the park; me, Kathryn and Janie. We were about 9 years old.

Picks up a towel, dries hands, leaving contents in sink. Sits at breakfast bar. Speech is now more casual, as if having a catch up with the audience. She trusts them, as if they are her friends.

We’d played on the swings and then we sat on the bench opposite them. Kathryn had brought her dolly. It wasn’t (makes speech marks in air with fingers) “uncool” to play with dolls then.

(Bitterly) You were still allowed to play, at the age of nine, back then. You didn’t have to smoke to be in a crowd, and prepare to have sex in the next couple of years.

(Resumes previous tone) And Kathryn had brought her dolly. It was a girl but it wore blue pyjamas and I had it sat on my knee.

Re-enacts game, bouncing imaginary doll on knee and chants.

I went to my Grandma’s

My Grandma wasn’t in

So I sat on the rocking chair

And the rocking chair fell in

Allows imaginary doll to fall through knees.

Resumes storytelling.

This lady came up to us and said that that was a nice baby. And she asked its name. And I said Annabelle, even though it was Kathryn’s dolly and was called Maxine. But Kathryn didn’t say anything, her and Janie just stared up at the lady as she stared at Annabelle.

She was grinning like it was the best thing she’d ever seen. And I was confused, because it was only a doll.

And then the lady asked if she could hold Annabelle. And I said yes even though it was Kathryn’s dolly and was called Maxine. But Kathryn didn’t say anything, her and Janie were still staring up at the lady and they started to giggle silently and I knew that silent giggle had started, just by looking at their faces, because they did it all the time in Miss Fairclough’s class. Then the lady picked up the doll as delicate as a feather. She held it in both her arms, tight and safe, but gentle at the same time. She looked so deep into the dolly’s eyes and grinned even more and said “Hello Annabelle. Aren’t you lovely? I wish I could take you home with me.” And then all of a sudden Janie jumped up and snatched the baby right out of the lady’s arms and told her, “Right! We have to go home for dinner now. Bye!” And her and Kathryn went running off with the baby just dangling at their side. And of course I had to go running after them. But at the park gate I stopped to look back at the lady. She was sat on the bench now, facing the swings. “Crazy lady!” shouted Janie, laughing, leaving the park. I watched the wind blow her long hair backwards and the autumn leaves dance around her feet. She was only young, in her twenties, but so sad.

And I thought, “She’s not crazy, she’s beautiful”.

Long pause. Then suddenly WOMAN jumps up and resumes washing. Washes for a few minutes. Then audience sees her shaking the excess water off the objects she’s washed without seeing what they are.

She places them on the draining board and stands in front of them. Turns to face audience. All the time the objects are concealed.

Wet hands lay by her sides as she speaks staring straight ahead.

One time I was having lunch with my friends and they were talking about a girl who went to our school. She was in the year below. Everyone knew of her because she was really intelligent even though she had loads of time off due to illness. She was pretty too. She’d been in the papers lately because her two children had been taken off her.

My friends said “she wasn’t fit to be a mother” and how she’s in an institution now and apparently cries and rocks in a corner like a real mad woman. And they laughed. And that laugh echoed in my head all night. And it still echoes now sometimes.

(Addressing her absent husband) It did last night, Dan.


I saw her around with her children and I knew she loved them. And when that laugh resounds in my head I think that’s probably why she cried.

She’s dead now, of course.


Slowly wipes wet hands on clothes. One stroke, as far down her body as possible without exposing draining board.

Lights go down on the kitchen work surfaces and sink, hiding them. WOMAN gets a bowl and a packet of crisps from a cupboard. Empties crisps into bowl, bins the packet and places bowl on breakfast bar.

Then gets a bottle of vodka (half empty) and puts on breakfast bar too.

Goes to CD player, switches on. Song plays – mellow, love song. Moves back to draining board, concealing it. Lights up.

Brings objects from draining board and places on breakfast bar in a line – 3 dead magpies.

Stands back from them, waiting.

Long pause.

Enter HUSBAND without looking at her.

Catches sight of birds.

HUSBAND: What’s this? (No answer. Shouts) WHAT’S THIS?

WOMAN: Our song. And crisps.

HUSBAND: NO, WHAT’S THIS! (Pointing at birds)

WOMAN turns her back on him. Walks to CD player and stands on it.

Music stops.

She resumes previous position.


WOMAN: (calmer, more rational tone than throughout, hint of friendliness in her voice now) Come on, you know the superstition.

HUSBAND just looks at her, confused.

WOMAN: One for sorrow, two for [joy, three for] …

HUSBAND: together [joy, three for] a girl. (Pauses, thinking. Then, raising voice) But what does it mean!

WOMAN: (quiet) I’m pregnant!

HUSBAND: What are you going to do?

WOMAN: Abortion.

HUSBAND: How? How? What? How can you do that?

WOMAN: (laughs to herself) I just killed three magpies; an abortion will be piss easy.

WOMAN begins to leave, picking up the vodka and a single crisp with minimal effort on her way, but not eating it. Exit.

Lights down on HUSBAND in same position.


Lauren Cooper