Magic : A true story

Great Yarmouth, a town thirsty for miracles. Thriving in the sixties it had drank deeply, gorging its self on new home owners and holiday camps, but now, just six years into a new decade, it’s glamour was fading. And quickly. The home owners had moved, the camps closed; unemployment was rising and the town was only spoke of by those who wanted to leave it. Perhaps, it was precisely because of this that events like the circus were so popular. That people needed a bit of colour to brighten lives darkened by lay-offs and power cuts. That they, like the town had pallets dry and looked for something to quench their appetites. The carnivals sensed such desperation and even with the summer season over, some still endeavoured to travel to the sea-side town. If not to make a fortune, to at least ease the harshness of winter trade, and so it was that the people of Keruul loaded their wares and stowed their animals, and made their way eastwards. Just as eager for custom as the townsfolk were to slake their thirst.

It is a grey afternoon, the drizzle; a minor inconvenience throughout the morning had made good it’s promise of rain and is now slickening pavements and dampening spirits. The fall is heavy, too heavy for even those who are used to the cold rains of the English coastline.. As the winds increase, throwing waves of spray eastwards, those foolish enough to have left the comfort of their homes now search out the shelter of café’s and hot drinks to warm their hands. Sea-gulls circle overhead in search of discarded chip wrappers, squawking angrily at the lack of pickings and as the sky darkens, lamps that line the sea-front ignite, their glow doing little to give warmth to what is now a damp and unwelcoming day. Those that live in house overlooking the sea move to close their curtains against the cold before falling back to their comfy chairs by the fire, but not before they notice a small boy standing in the rain, his hair flat upon his head, the duffel coat he wears two sizes to big ,dwarfing his frame. They watch for a moment, wondering what the youth is doing out in such weather, then the rain seizures the glass of their window with renewed vigour and dampens their curiosity. The boy must be a fool standing out there in the cold.

The cold. The boy doesn’t feel it. So entranced is he by the image of the big top with it’s towering canvases and spider-web ropes that he is oblivious to the elements though they tug at his clothes and make puddles in his shoes. He is lost in his thoughts, and having wandered off as children do… lost to his parents also. He walks forward, off the promenade and onto the grass upon which the vast structure sits, raising his eyes up a flag which is being buffeted by the cold wind, it’s black and yellow design unfamiliar to him.
‘’It represents the people of Keruul.’’
The boy turns to his left. A thin wisp of a man has appeared by one of the many caravans that lay dotted about the field, and is walking towards him, he is dressed in a floral jacket and orange trousers. It’s a strange combination, so much so that the boy can’t ever recall seeing such ridiculous attire. ‘’I’m sorry.’’
‘’The flag. it’s called the D’Jyre.’’
‘’Oh, I see.’’ Though, if he was being honest, the boy didn’t see at all.
The man laughs, it’s sound is almost musical more in keeping with a woman’s voice rather than a mans. ‘’It doesn’t matter. The tribe is mostly forgotten now, and those of us that are left are also becoming forgetful. The world does that to you. It moves on very much like this rain,’’ the man looks up searching the skies ‘’and all that once was is washed away. Perhaps, we are not needed, not when science can put a man on the moon and beam images and sounds across the air like… so much magic.’’ He turns his face once more to the boy. It is a kind face for all it’s gauntness. Thick eyebrows arch over deep blue eyes and when the man smiles as he does now, he displays teeth small and rounded, very much like a child’s. His hair is long, swept back from his brow and cascades over his shoulders; it’s a style sported by many of the pop stars that the boy has seen on the television. Hippies his dad called them. The boy thought they looked great. ‘’Ah, but where are my manners?’’ With a theatrical flourish the man bows and draws a curve in the air with his hand. ‘’Palwon Kepechsky. Conjurer, juggler and of course… magician, at your service.’’ He looks up from his crouching position and raises his eyebrows so high they threaten to escape his face. ‘’And…’’
‘’My dear boy, it is still customary to reciprocate, is it not?’’
‘’Your name dear boy, your name.’’
‘’Pleased to make your acquaintance, Richard. Now, may I be so bold as to ask exactly what you are doing out in such terrible weather?’’
‘’I’m not sure, I was just-’’
‘’Just looking. And no doubt thinking about what wonders reside in such a place. Perhaps hoping, that with luck you may find out. Well, it looks as though luck as found you my boy. It’s rather difficult conducting a conversation in this rain. What say we step inside.’’ The man motions towards the tent. It’s folds just a moment ago that so captivated the boy now suddenly seem dark and uninviting. What was it the boy’s parents said about never talking to strangers?
‘’I really should be going.’’ He looks back along the sea-front only to find it empty. Had he wandered so far? ‘’My parents will be worried.’’
‘’Oh, of course. Of course. But perhaps if not a tour, a sample. Think of a colour’’
The boy is still searching through the rain, looking for movement amongst the grey. ‘’I’m sorry. A what?’’
‘’A colour dear boy. And let’s make it more difficult. An object too. Anything you like. A tea-pot, ladder, a bicycle. Think hard and concentrate.’’
The boy turns to the man once more. The magician isn’t much taller than he, not the most imposing figure. Nothing like what the magicians on the television looked like with their top hats, white gloves and pretty assistants. The man, this Palwon, looked as though he had fell into a puddle of oil and been painted by it’s colours. Magic: hardly.
‘’Come on… think?’’
What harm could it do? His eyes settled on the big tops entrance, it’s folds black, and ropes, each leading from ground to canopy in a criss-cross that seemed to defy logic.
‘’Ok, I have something.’’
‘’No, no. To easy. I can see what you’re looking at, what you’re thinking. Try harder. Imagine.’’
The boy huffs then moves his eyes, searching for some other object. Railings, sky, crisp packets, birds. All too easily guessed. Think. And then it comes to him. Snowflakes. And purple. Purple snowflakes. Let’s see how he likes that.
‘’Well’’ the boy asks.
He watches as the magicians face contorts with concentration. Palwon closes his eyes and raise a hand up, fingers outstretched. Snowflakes; the boy visualises the image, wanting it to pass through the air. Purple snowflakes. Purple snowflakes. Purple snowflakes. The magicians arm is shaking now, trying hard to catch the boys thoughts.
‘’Matches. Orange matches.’’ The magician lowers his hand and smiles. ‘’Orange matches, my boy.’’
‘’No. What do you mean, no?’’
‘’I mean, it wasn’t orange matches.’’ The boy laughs.
‘’Are you quite sure?’
‘’You’re not much of a magician are you?’’ He asks it in good humour, feeling now that the man has played a harmless joke on him. Palwon smiles back.
‘’It must be the rain,’’ he says ‘’Interferes with the thought patterns.’’
‘’Must be.’’
Another smile.
‘’Tell you what. Here’’, the would be magician reaches down into the folds of his coat and produces three pieces of card ‘’bring your parents along with you to the show tomorrow. The rain may have cleared by then, so who knows. You may yet see some real magic.’’
The boy hesitates. He shouldn’t take things from strangers, he knows. ‘’It’s alright, they’re only tickets’’, Palwon says sensing the boys apprehension. ‘’Take them. Before they get too wet’’
A voice calls in the distance. It’s one the boy recognises for it is his name that it carries through the rain. He turns and sees a figure moving closer along the promenade. A woman, her hand up in a futile attempt to stem the downpour, coat billowing, hair blowing. He grabs the tickets from the magicians hand, then runs towards his mother. Away from the tent and the caravans and the man dressed in many colours.
‘’Where have you been? You’re soaked. I’ve been worried sick.’’
‘’I got tickets mum. For the circus. The magician gave them to me.’’
‘’Magician. What magician?’’
‘’Him’’, the boy points. But the man has gone. The caravan door is closed and the only movement is of the flag that dances wildly, a beacon to tribes lost and found.

Minutes seem like hours when a child is waiting for something. Hours like days. And so it was for Richard. By morning the rain had moved on to a new town, and the sky, though not yet blue, did allow the sun to be seen, even if it did appear as a grey white ball. He watched it’s slow movement from his bedroom window, willing it to move faster, but the sun was in no more of a hurry than the clock that ticked behind him, the passing of it’s hands achingly slow. He moved back to his bed, dislodging an accumulation of comics, their black and white interiors spilling onto the carpet, then lay down, closing his eyes to think about the circus. Would there be lions he wondered. Elephants even? The tent certainly looked big enough to house such animals. He suddenly pictured himself watching television with his parents. A Sunday matinee: King Kong. Maybe they have a huge gorilla. Now, that would be something. He could hardly bear his excitement. Time could though it seemed. It trickled as it did on the days before Christmas. Without care or thought on what children desired.
The evening did of course arrive… eventually.

The boy is holding his mothers hand, though he feels he is too old to be doing so. He is told it’s because there are lots of people around and he may become lost ( like he did yesterday), but he suspects it’s more to do with the fact his mother has forgotten her gloves and is using him to keep her hands warm. His father, also by his is side, is wearing thick woollen ones. His father it appears, it more organised. The boys thankful that it is his he that holds the tickets. The three of them stand in a long line of people, each slowly moving towards the huge tent, the top of which obscures the setting sun. It looks to the boy, taller and more imposing than when he saw it yesterday. Perhaps, like the trees, it took sustenance from the rain and has taken root. He hopes so. How wonderful it would be to have such a thing here always. The three move closer and the boys father hands the tickets to an attractive woman standing at the tents entrance. A few words are exchanged and the woman laughs. The boy’s mother scowls at her husband who in turn looks down at his son and winks. It is a gesture that is lost on him. Then together they move inside.

He can’t ever recall seeing so many people. They stretch, circling the vast interior in rows of seats, each a dozen deep. Head upon head, a continuous flow encompassing the big tops centre, all with eyes large in expectation. He follows his parents to his seat; two rows from the front. It gives him a level view of the circus ring; it’s surface layered with sawdust and discarded flyers. The lights dim, darkness gathers momentarily only to be broken again by a spotlight, and in it’s glare, a man dressed in red jacket, black trousers and top-hat
‘’Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’’ the man announces ‘’we are the people of Keruul. And this is our circus.’’ There is a cheer and the sound of clapping. The show has begun.

There were no lions, tigers or elephants, and no giant gorillas. But there were monkeys dressed in jackets that juggled and bears that danced. There were knife throwers and trapeze artists (the boy’s father enjoyed the spectacle of the leggy gymnast a little too much judging by his mothers frown), and of course there were clowns. Their painted faces bringing forth more scares than laughter from the younger children, and although the boy enjoyed them all, it was the magician he waited for. Not because he was certain the man would put on a good show (if his display of power yesterday was anything to go by, it would be poor), but because in their brief meeting he had felt a sort of kinship pass between them. An understanding that although the world may not play host to magic, the idea it might was enough. As it was, the magician was the last to grace the stage. At first the boy didn’t recognise him. Gone were the bright trousers and floral jacket, their like replaced by the more traditional magician attire of black trousers and coat with tails. And there of course, were the white gloves. The outfit made him appear somewhat taller than when he stood on the rain soaked grass, but was that platforms the boy spied upon the bottom of the mans shoes?
‘’Palwon Kepechsky, master magician at your service.’’ the suited man says to his audience. ‘’And I welcome you…’’ he blows into his gloved hands releasing white doves that then rise into the heights of the canopy, seeking the safety of darkness, ‘’…my world of magic.’’

Well, it wasn’t exactly a world. But there were tricks and illusions a plenty. Cards were read, death escaped and assistants sawn. Deceptions and distractions all, but each performed with a mastery little seen in a profession that was all too familiar. The crowd gasped as Kepechsky appeared to levitate (all done with wires, the boys father had whispered to him), and cheered as he disappeared in a cloud of smoke only to appear seconds later at the back of the crowd, waving a gloved hand (notice the spotlight went off then, the boys father said to him, once again revealing his apparent -and up until this evening dormant- knowledge of tricks and conjures). Easily revealed tricks or not, it was obvious that the magician was the star of the show. Not bad for a funny little man, the boy thought.

The lights dimmed once again, and as the show reached it’s apparent conclusion; Kepechsky, now cast in a soft spotlight addressed the audience. ’’Now, for my final act, I ask that you may be very quiet. For what I am about to do requires great concentration. I must be free from distraction. Please now, witness my power as I summon the very air to do my bidding. Observe.’’
A hush gathered over the audience, each leaning forward slightly having been so entranced by the magician. All watching with expectation, each straining to see and break the secrets of this, great and final trick.
‘’Quiet’’ the magician said again. ‘’Please, you have to be quiet.’’
The crowd watched as the man in the centre of the tent closed his eyes then moved his head back and raised his arms, fingers outstretched.
‘’What’s he doing?’’ someone asked.
‘’Shush’’ replied another.
The boy, like many others he suspected, held his breath, afraid the sound of air escaping his lips would break the silence and in turn destroy whatever illusion was about to take place.
A moment passed.
Another. The boys heartbeat sounded loudly in his ears; he urged it to be still. If only for a moment, just until the trick is complete. Whatever the trick was. For now, there was only the hush of the audience, the glare of the spotlight, and the man before them, lost to whatever force he called upon.
And then it began.
Slowly at first. The boy felt something on his hand. And ever-so-slight cold touch. He looked down but could see nothing in the gloom of the tent and so discarded it as a breeze or Goosebumps. But then it came again, this time upon his nose and then yet again once more upon his hand. He looked up and could just make out something that was falling from the roof of the tent. Was it leaking? Others now were also becoming aware of it. Face after face was raised upwards away from the magician and up to the dark canopy overheard, each looking for some explanation for the cold feather-like drops that fell to their skin.
And then the lights came on.
‘’My God.’’ the boy heard his father say.
Snowflakes were falling. Thousands, millions perhaps. Each tumbling softly down to the crowd below.
‘’It’s not possible.’’ Someone said. Perhaps it was his mother. Whoever it was the boy knew that they only grasped half the magic that was at work here. For those who took the time to look closely would have noticed that the snowflakes were not white, but purple.
The boy looked back over at the man still stood in the centre of the ring. Kepechsky, still had his head raised, but now, sensing the boys gaze, now meet his eyes and smiled. ‘’Tricks…’’ that smile told the
boy ‘… and illusions are easy. But real magic… now that takes a little time.’’

The boy never saw the magician again, though over the years he did look for him. First in newspapers, then as time moved more quickly, with computers and the world wide web. His parents told him it was all a trick of course. Done with a bag filled with confetti, cooled and placed above the audience, though he could see by their faces they knew it wasn’t true. Adults always try to find a scientific explanation when sometimes, there just isn’t one. Yet, to this day they still stand by their assumption that it was a trick. Though whenever it snows, the boy notices his father shudders a little, and he can no longer stand the colour purple. The boy is of course, now a man and yet he clings to the memories of the magician and his wonders. And whenever his rationale tries to subdue him with reason, he thinks back to that rainy day and the man dressed in many colours. For there will come a time, perhaps when those close to him will be beset with illness, and there, silently in their beds, they will prey for miracles. Believing in them is, he thinks, half way to having them granted. But for now, he takes his daughters hand and together they walk along the seafront. Each looking towards the sun. Each enjoying the wonder of the ocean.
Each embracing the magic of the day.


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