Fiction · 12/21/2011

The Magician's Feet

1.

The Magician had six toes on his left foot. He had four on his right. He often thought that if he had been a better magician — one with something more than a store-bought wand — he would have been able to even things out some. But he was not that better magician. The bouquets of flowers he made from yesterday’s newspapers always wilted and sometimes the colors ran. On a good day, it was true, he could make wine from water but even on a good day it was not a particularly good wine. Sometimes it was even vinegar.

If the Magician walked alone across an open field his path inevitably and imperceptibly arced to the right. This is worth noting, not only due to the disparity of his feet and its effect on his locomotion and guidance, but because the Magician was a man prone to walking alone across open fields. He liked to walk and think. He liked to smell the dampness of the earth and the vaguely sharp but pleasant rotting of things around him. Leaves, tree stumps, perhaps a few aged doves that had fallen unnoticed from his coat sleeve.

When the Magician walked alone across open fields, all his breathing came in sighs. He had, this year as in all years before, developed and unreasonable expectation for the spring. Could it not bring love or success or at least hope of either? He was scheduled for a birthday party the week before spring and for a bar mitzvah the first day of spring. As he sloshed through the mud and flattened grass of the field, he thought that maybe there was some significance to this. Everywhere around him there were symbols, clues and evidence of fate and the future. Or if there were not, there should be. In a better universe there would be.

The season had not changed yet, but things were melting. Strips of off-color snow lay across the earth like blank spots of unclean canvas in an unfinished painting of the world. The Magician thought that bit about the canvas himself. It seemed poetic to him, but what could he ever do with it or with poetry in general? What could he ever do with anything that could not be pulled from a hat or a sleeve or from behind the ear of a child still young enough to be impressed?

 His left foot was beginning to hurt. It was always the left foot that hurt first. More toes to hurt, he figured, but sometimes, in a philosophical mood, he would think it to be something more profoundly illustrative than that. To have more was to hurt more. To be complete was to feel pain more completely. This particular philosophical bent never lasted long past the time when his right foot began to ache as well.

Where was he? He looked around. The field had changed. His inevitable and uncontrollable arc had taken him again into a strange land — this one featuring a willow tree and a farmhouse. A little girl and boy were playing with the filthy remnants of snow — piling them into on moderately sized heap in the center of their yard. A sled was sitting nearby, its rudders sinking into the mud.

Hope springs eternal, the Magician thought, then stopped to amuse the children by pulling quarters from behind their ears and an egg from his own mouth.

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2.

The birthday party went like birthday parties usually went: his tricks amused them for a while, until the Clown showed up; the Clown distracted them for a bit, until the pony arrived. Then the Magician and the Clown sat in the corner next to the ficus, balancing their paper plates and complimentary slices of cake on their respective knees.

“Good crowd,” the Clown said between mouthfuls.

“Well-behaved,” the Magician agreed. One of the kids had thrown up, of course, but that was hardly a behavioral issue. One of the kids always throws up — sometimes it was a behavioral issue, but usually it was just too much orange soda and ice cream.

“Not like the Johnson affair,” the Clown said.

“No,” the Magician said, and remembered, for an unwilling moment, the vomit, fire, and murdered pony of that particular event.

They finished their cake. They sat back, half obscured by the ficus leaves, watching as the children came in, flushed from the sun, air and joy. 

“They seem like good kids,” the Clown said and the Magician agreed, but again he accidentally remembered the Johnson party and its apocalyptic scene. With balloons.

When the party was over the Clown offered the Magician a ride. The Clown’s car was parked a couple blocks away.

“It ruins it for the kids if I park in the driveway,” the Clown explained as they walked down the quiet sidewalks of the neighborhood. “A clown car has certain expectations and no one wants to see a Clown emerging by himself from a silver-gray four door sedan.”

“I see your point,” the Magician said.

“Though it’s no easy thing schlepping the distance in these things,” the Clown said, pointing down at his shoes, which were comically wide and long and made a slapping sounds like hardened fish against the pavement.

“All for the kids,” the Magician said.

“Yeah,” the Clown said. “The kids. And the rent.”

At his car the Clown took a pair of regular shoes out of the trunk and puts them on.

“You don’t even want to try driving with these things on, believe me.”

“I can imagine.”

“You cannot.”

They got into the car, the Magician removing his top hat and placing it on his lap. The Clown ground several gears together before finding one that lurched the car forward.

“Want to stop for a drink somewhere?” the Clown asked.

“Sure,” the Magician said.

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3.

“So what have you two Clowns been up to,” the bartender asked.

“I’m a magician,” the Magician said.

“I’m a clown,” the Clown said.

“Right,” the bartender said. “I’m glad we got that cleared up.”

“Hey,” the Clown said. “Want to smell the flower in my lapel?”

“I don’t know,” the bartender said “Want me to start punching your red rubber ball of a nose until it stops squeaking and starts bleeding?”

“I think not,” the Clown said.

“I rather thought you might think not.”

The Magician, who did not understand that last sentence, asked for another beer. “I’ll have another beer,” the Magician said, waving his wand over an empty glass that remained empty.

“Be nice if that trick worked,” said the Clown.

“It works if the bartender works,” the Magician said

It was night time now.  The sun was gone, a fact that was not readily apparent in the bar, which had only one small window overlooking the sidewalk, and that window was cluttered by a variety of free beer signs given to the bar owner by beer salesman who never once made a sale.

The Clown got up — a little unsteadily, the Magician thought — and made his way to a dormant juke box in the corner. He fed some coins into the slot and pressed some buttons and after a moment a song that nobody ever in the history of the world liked began to play.

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4.

The Magician soaks his feet. He looks at them sorrowfully, regretfully, unnecessarily. They are the same as they ever were. He waves his wand at his left foot without hope and the channel changes on the TV. This is a new development. He waves the wand again and the channel changes again. This will be handy, he thinks, if he ever loses the remote — though the remote is right there in front of him on the coffee table. He has never lost it. It has fresh batteries and features he cannot, as yet, access with his wand. But maybe with practice. Maybe with effort.

On TV, a weather man is pointing to cartoon images of clouds and smiling suns superimposed over a map of the city. Spring is coming, the weatherman tells the Magician, and proves it with charts and graphics.

The Magician turns off the TV using the remote. He does not yet know how to turn it off with his wand, but he knows he will someday learn.

He changes into his pajamas, lies down on his bed in a room that street lights and ineffective shades will never allow to be completely dark. The blankets do not stay on his feet and he falls asleep counting and recounting his toes like sheep.

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Grant Bailie is the author of the books Cloud 8, Mortarville, and the recently published TomorrowLand. His novella New Hope For Small Men was serialized here at Necessary Fiction, and is now available as an ebook.