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The Magpie Bridge

Updated: Dec 31, 2023


"One meeting of the Cowherd and Weaver amidst the golden autumn wind and jade-glistening dew Eclipses the countless meetings in the mundane world. The feelings soft as water, the ecstatic moment unreal as a dream, how can one have the heart to go back on the bridge made of magpies?"

– Qin Guan


The kindness of strangers is the strangest thing. Excepting the kindness of birds.

This is a lonely place, although I am not alone.

The empty planes of my home are covered only in silver and grey fields, empty of everything except the craters and the hills that mar the surface, far less beautiful than the trees that used to fill my horizons.

Below my once-home is round and wet and pebbled like a dampened stone, a blue and perfect sphere with jagged curls of green and brown and grey, growing lichen-like across its distant face.

Between us two – me and you – a thousand or a hundred thousand miles of wide black river keep us apart. The silence of the water rings like thunder in the ear and in the waters, dark and deep and endless, shining dots of stars are pebbled too. And further, love, even further away than you.

Tonight, I am waiting. Always, I am waiting, but tonight that long ache is tempered with the gleeful bite of anticipation. Adding an edge to that endless watching waiting, an edge of hope, and fear. What if this year is the year you do not come? Below the flowers will bloom bright and colourful around you. And I will never see them again. Will never see their reds, and violets and pinks. But at least I might see you.

Instead, I see a single speck, above the earth’s mighty face. It twists in the imagined wind, too far to see, but not too far to know. The first of this year’s magpies enters the night-sky’s stream. The black waters roar beneath its wings and send up jealous winds to tear and stain the wings it needs to make its way. Behind it, dozens more, its siblings, mothers, cousins, strangers join it in the air. Together they swoop across the skies and twist above its rivers and its stars. They could be night themselves. Dark and streaked in whitest starlight. But they are not. They are wholly mortal. Wholly unlike me.

It takes… maybe minutes, maybe hours, maybe more. More and more and more birds arrive. All of them the same. Black and white and kind. Kinder than I’d ever thought they’d be. Eventually enough of them are there, wings beating identically above the current, night-time spray darkening their dark wings even more.

They move as one. Up and down in perfect time, as close as they can be. A long line dotting down the miles to that stunning ball of green. And then I see you. Just a shadow, little more. Too far away to really see. But it is you. How could it be anyone else but you? How could I have ever thought, and ever doubted you would come.

You’re moving faster now. A smile upon your face far brighter than the brightness of the suns you shot to earth. I feel my own cheeks bend and answer you in kind.

With your face burning in my mind, I put my foot upon the nearest magpie’s back.

I cross the bridge.

Insp. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl


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