magpie tales: nails

Author: angiem, 03 22nd, 2010

It is icy cold outside.  The windowpanes are frozen.  Every time the door opens to let someone in, a cutting gust of wind reaches in around the ankles and backs of those gathered around grandmother’s bed.  There she is, propped up by silken jewel-toned pillows, staring at the magpies in the mulberry tree’s branches out her window.  She has a lot on her mind.  A lot that she needs to say now that they are all gathered together.  Grandmother’s four daughters rub at their eyes with lace edged handkerchiefs.  Their husbands, restless, keep shushing the children.  Grandmother remains silent.

Finally the priest arrives with the notary and the sexton.  The priest walks to grandmother’s side and mumbles something only she can hear.  She gives a tiny shake of her head and the priest turns and shrugs his shoulders. She is refusing absolution.  He tries once more, holding out the cross for her to kiss.  It is in vain. She is undertaking the responsibility of her soul’s eternal life.  It is out of his hands.  Two of the daughters release a loud wail at this.  And still, grandmother remains silent.

The priest must be paid.  The sexton and his men carry in the large coffin.  The notary moves himself closer to Grandmother and clears his throat.  One of the daughters gets up and pays the priest, and lights the candle on the bedside table.  Grandmother may do as she pleases, but she isn’t going to die without a candle lit.  The daughters do not want that sin on them.  They must remember to pay the sexton well.  He must be generous in nailing the lid down.  The children turn to stare in fascination at the coffin, giggling nervously that they are so near the presence of Death.  And still, grandmother remains silent.

The flame of the candle dances about.  The men watch it and sigh.  Death is slow in coming. Just like her to keep them waiting, they all think.  The notary sees it too and raises his eyebrows.  The old woman will make him miss his supper, and of that he isn’t fond.  Grandmother knows what is going on.  She stares at the magpies with their showy tails.  She knows that the sons-in-law want her land and her vineyard. She has a lot to say.  And still, grandmother remains silent.

Outside the window darkness blurs the edges of the mulberry.  The crows and the ravens begin to croak.  The flame of the candle is even and low. The daughters keep wiping at their tears, the husbands now anxious that she’ll die before she wills them her fortunes.  The notary dreams of the supper he’s missed, and the children are half asleep.  Grandmother stares out the black window, her thoughts almost nonexistent.  And just like that, the candle goes out and she closes her eyes.  Grandmother remains silent forever.

(This is a work of fiction born out of my fascination with the superstitious minds of the villagers of my childhood.  Visit #mce_temp_url# for more.)


45 Responses to “magpie tales: nails”

  1. Susan Says:


    I admire Grandma’s tenacity. If not for all of them, she would have remained alive in spite of being silent. Angie, didn’t know that you write fiction as well. You continue surprising me.

    Lovely flow of incidents.

    (Bows to the fiction-writer)

    Joy always,

  2. Pete Says:

    Hi Angie, this is a beautiful piece and you capture the protagonists so well (love the irreverence of the children!) Maybe if you expanded it a bit, it would make a good short story?

  3. Francesca Says:

    Such a complex business dying (and birth!). Not many people now die in their own bed, surrounded by loved (and hopefully not greedy) ones, a candle lit until it goes out.

  4. Kathy Says:

    Loved it….really captured me I wanted more.

  5. French Fancy Says:

    What an atmospheric tale, Angie. It gave me goose bumps.

  6. Ava Says:

    This gave me chills Angie. You write so well and easily of death. I like the association of the magpies to the sons in law. They are all collectors in their own way.

  7. Susan R. Mills Says:

    That was beautiful. You definitely have a way with words, Angie.

  8. angiem Says:

    Susan - I’ve been writing little stories for years, yet I’m not brave enough to share them. One of the reasons I joined this Magpie Tales is to get my writing out.

    Pete - Good point. Thanks.

    Francesca - When I was a child, dying surrounded by loved (and greedy) ones was a common occurrence.

    Kathy - Thank you.

    Julie (FF) - Atmospheric stories are a favorite of mine. Both to read and to write.

    Ava - Thanks. It is because I am surrounded by dying people. I hold their hands and listen to their stories.

  9. angiem Says:

    Susan R. Mills - Thank you.

  10. deb @ talk at the table Says:

    Thank for deciding to share this, Angie.
    Love it.
    I love how it made me see and feel.
    You’re good.

  11. steviewren Says:

    Wonderful old world feel to this Magpie Tale. I can’t imagine dieing while the coffin awaits my body in the same room. I felt the cold air blow into the room as her spirit left.

  12. Laura [What I Like] Says:

    I had a great aunt (since deceased) who would not be rushed by anyone at all. I always admired her strength of character that way. Although I will admit, sometimes I wanted her to rush, just a little.

  13. willow Says:

    Your amazing childhood memories make for some wonderful writing, Angie! This one is so poignant and powerful.

  14. Becky Ramsey Says:

    What rich images. I felt I was there. Thank you for sharing it.

  15. Cindy L. Says:

    I love the fairy tale/folk tale quality of your writing and hope you are seriously writing more of it! This is lovely. And I would love to hear more about the village where you grew up. I am one of your newer readers, so I’d love to learn more.

  16. Jena Says:

    You and your stories! Everytime you write one I can’t stop coming back to read it. You have a powerful way with words. Love this!

  17. Sabine Says:

    Beautiful style and writing. You’ve really captured a certain dark and superstitious mood. Are you working on a book?

  18. Anya Says:

    Extrordinary story! Beautfully written and so captivating. Thank you so very much for sharing it with me!

  19. angiem Says:

    Deb - Thank you.

    Steviewren - One of my grandmothers selected her coffin, months before she died. She wanted it large enough and padded enough so she could rest comfortably, she said.

    Laura - Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t done out of spite, you know?

    Willow - Thank you. I had an amazing childhood.

    Becky - If you say so, I am pleased.

    Cindy L. - Thank you. Perhaps I will.

    Jena - That’s very sweet of you.

  20. christine Says:

    Such a beautiful tale and beautifully written such sadness and tears from the daughters and giggles from the children, thats just how life is.
    I loved it

    Thank you for your comments, do look at my main blog http://www.alwayssmiling24.blogspot.

  21. Vicki Lane Says:

    Superb atmosphere!

  22. Lyn Says:

    Talk about being in control! Grandmother was a sly old soul, she sure showed ‘em! Very good tale, indeed…

  23. Corinne Says:

    I love the images… the feel of it. Lovely!

  24. Rick Says:

    Wow, Angie….I want to know this Grandmother! The story and setting were so well presented, but underneath it all, you truly gave us insight into her thoughts, and her soul!

    Superb storytelling!

  25. Catalyst Says:

    A wonderful story, Angie. The candle went out and so did grandmother. Beautiful imagery.

  26. Nancy C Says:

    This is fantastic. I’m wondering about the back-story with those relationships. There’s another story peeking out under the covers here for sure.

  27. brian Says:

    very nicely done…love how you included the thoughts of others right before the candle went out…hope you are having a great day!

  28. Queenmothermamaw Says:

    Hi Angie, thanks for stopping by my neck of the woods. That was a gripping story. Most of my writing is influenced by my childhood, in particular my religious upbringing. Great job.

  29. Kathryn Stripling Byer Says:

    Haunting tale, the kind I like, moving along inexorably to that great conclusion!

  30. La Belette Rouge Says:

    How did I not know that you write fiction? A beautiful, rich and evocative prose. More, please!!!!

  31. LisaB Says:

    you can feel the tension and the impatience in the room….. what a unique way to interpret the use of nails into a story. I enjoyed reading!

  32. Enchanted Oak Says:

    What a well-written suspenseful story! How lovely that you made Grandmother stay silent. It makes for a good tale.

  33. Karen@SurvivingMotherhood Says:

    Wow, Angie. You have a way of bringing me right into the room so I can see everything that is happening. YOu are a gifted writer, indeed!

  34. Diane Says:

    Slightly dark but very captivating. :O)

  35. daniela Says:

    I like it when the priest turns and shrugs his shoulders, and when he clears his throat. love it

  36. Allegra Smith Says:

    Oh, those of us with European backgrounds can see the room, smell the wax and see the flicker of the candle…and the tenacity to hold on to the power of silence. Well done, my dear.

  37. angiem Says:

    Sabine - Thank you. Just writing short stories.

    Anya, Christine, Vicki, Corinne, Rick, Catalyst - Thanks. It means so much to me that you all liked it, as you’re so filled with creativity. I am humbled by your kindness. :)

    Lyn - She was, wasn’t she?

    Nancy - There’s always a back story.

    Brian, Kathryn - Thank you. You are both so wonderful, I am in awe.

    Queenmothermamaw - Then we’ll get along famously. I had a strict religious upbringing. Haven’t written about it yet. Someday.

    La Belette - Probably because I don’t post it. Thanks!

    LisaB, Enchanted Oak, Karen - Thanks! You are kind and indulgent to me.

    Diane - Hm. Life, you know?

    Daniela - I knew you would like the part about the priest.

    Allegra - Thank you.

  38. Sun Dance Hill Says:

    So nostalgic and poignant, really enjoyed this piece.

  39. The Bug Says:

    This could be the prologue to almost any type of book - a murder mystery, an epic generational tale… I always know somethings good when I get to the end & want more!

  40. Lorenzo Says:

    Well crafted scene, you capture the expectant yet oppressive stillness of the moment.

  41. Jane Jones Says:

    There is a natural flow to the event of dying and death. The children’s fascination with the coffin remains poignant reminder of the cirle of life. Superb irony too! The grandmother having the power to determine her own fate stubbornly determined to hold onto those last precious moments with dignity. No mateer the amount of time it would take for fate decides to make an appearance. Artful period piece!

  42. rochambeau Says:

    You inherited the storytelling gene from your Tante! Angie, I hope you will submit your stories to a literary contest. You will win!


  43. Holly L Says:

    That is beautiful and haunting. I am also fascinated by superstition…maybe because I grew up with so little of it. I can imagine the scene so vividly…your story telling is awesome.

  44. Little hat Says:

    Reminded me of my mother ’s last weeks. She chose not to speak. The word death was never mentioned. I wrote it into a story about selling my parents house. It was quite intense. I felt this grandmothers presence in all her silence and liked the way you pulled it all together at the last moment.

  45. The Hausfrau Says:

    Oh, well done on so many levels!

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