The Story Behind the Story: “Thieving Magpie”

In this segment of The Story Behind the Story, Laura Valeri talks about what motivated her to write “The Thieving Magpie.”

Ever since I can remember, objects in my house have disappeared and re-appeared, at a distance of years or hours, often in the same exact place where I originally looked for them.  I wouldn’t say this out loud except that I know a lot of “respectable” people to whom this has happens, and it has become a sort of joke to me, some trick that life is having fun playing on me.   Every woman in my family has experienced this oddity, my mother, my sister, myself, to the point that I can’t even trust saying, “I can’t find this” because it’s sure to be right in front of my eyes only hours later, only so I can feel like an idiot or feel bad about myself for suspecting someone for taking it.

Recently, I had vindication that my husband, too, is experiencing this phenomena, particularly with clothing: a favorite sweater or shorts will disappear. We’ll look all over for it, give up on it as lost, and then one day, there it is, folded neatly in the same drawer we took apart to find it in the first place.  He spends a lot more time at home than I do, so I’m not a suspect, but I could imagine how this sort of thing could turn into an explosive conspiracy for a couple less calm than we are: he’s trying to make me crazy; she threw it away to spite me and won’t admit it.

I had all sorts of theories of why these objects disappeared, ranging from theft to poltergeist, to my own dementia, to portals to a third dimension (hey, I write fiction!).  Then one day my sister called me to complain that she’d gone to my father’s house and found a silver necklace she was sure she’d lost years ago.  My sister was in a bad place with my mother at that time, so she immediately exculpated my father and blamed the theft on my mother instead.  By then my parents were separated, living in different homes and it seemed far more logical to me that my sister would either blame my father, or else figure she must have lost that necklace at his house while she was visiting.  But no, the subjectivity of personal history took over, and she was sure that my mother had taken it and then hidden it at my father’s house so as to make it look like he took it.

I liked the idea of my parents framing each other for petty crimes. It felt like a good story.

Also, one time, before my parents finally separated, I asked my mother why she was still married to my father when they seemed to be fighting all the time.  She almost looked shocked when I asked her.  “Better to have someone to fight with than to have no one at all.”