Do You Believe In Magic?

Carrie and I were out to dinner, sharing a meal at our favorite restaurant, George and the Dragon. We’d been dating for over a year and were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, so much better than our previous relationships. We were young, in our late twenties, and both had good jobs: I was a software engineer for a medium size electronics company and Carrie worked in the art department for a graphic arts design firm. We’d met at a stargazing class the winter before and had hit it off immediately (under the glow of the Aurora Borealis, I might add.) Now, after all these months, we’d grown very close and felt like we had something special between us.

It was Saturday, February thirteenth, and our date had been a chance to celebrate the end of a rather hectic work week for each of us. Earlier in the evening we’d gone to the Guthrie Theater to see Glensheen, a captivating play set in the nineteen twenties about the life of a young servant girl at the Glensheen Mansion, located just north of Duluth on the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior, a place we visited every chance we got. We’d decided to top off the evening with a late night dinner at George’s, and it had been as scrumptious as usual. We were enjoying a shared dessert of crème brulee when out of nowhere the magician appeared, and he changed our lives forever.

He introduced himself as Theodore and asked, very politely, if we minded if he entertained us with, as he put it, “Some special magic.”

Carrie, being artistic and left brained, immediately said, “Sure. Sounds like fun.”

Me? Well, I’m analytical from the word go and didn’t believe one bit in magic, special or otherwise, but played along since Carrie seemed so enthusiastic.

“Great,” Theodore said, smiling as he handed me my watch, saying, “I believe this is yours.”

My first thought was, Hey! How’d he do that? But I didn’t spend much time dwelling on it, because I was immediately hooked.

Theodore regaled us for maybe twenty minutes. He didn’t do your normal sleight of hand card tricks or anything like that. He was way more subtle, and I think that’s what not only impressed both Carrie and me, but also drew us into his world. He took a silver coin, made it disappear and then reappear under my water glass. He pointed to my shirt pocket and asked if he could borrow the spoon that was sticking out of it. Once he said, “Excuse me. Is this yours?” as he reached down to the floor and picked up Carrie’s thin, gold chain necklace and gave it to her, much to her delight. And then a few minutes later, did it again. He was marvelously entertaining.

But it was his last bit of magic that really blew our minds and it’s stayed with us all these years. I hesitate to even call it a trick – it was so much more.

He was getting ready to leave, after handing Carrie her necklace for a third time, when he paused and asked, “Excuse me, but you two seem so happy. May I ask how long you’ve been together?”

“Just over a year,” Carrie said, giving me a questioning look, like, what’s going on?

“Why do you want to know?” I asked, keeping my voice pleasant. With someone else I might have felt he was prying but not with him. He was just so engaging, and a nice guy to boot.

“I was just wondering. I get the feeling that tonight’s a big night for you two. Is that right?” he asked, in all seriousness.

We both smiled a little at him.

“Well, not much more so than any other night,” I said.

“Just a normal date,” Carrie added. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” Theodore said, looking perplexed. Then he lifted an unused napkin, “It’s just that I thought this might be yours.”

He picked up an object from underneath and set it between us on the table. It was a ring. A thin, gold band with tiny agates encased around it that sparkled in the romantic restaurant lamplight. It was beautiful, and, I swear, looked exactly like one we’d seen on a trip we’d taken up to Lake Superior that last summer. We’d come across it in an agate shop in Two Harbors and remarked on its beauty, both of us thinking at the time (but not saying it out loud) what a perfect wedding band it’d make someday for Carrie.

Theodore let the ring lay on the table and then stepped back. I looked at Carrie. It had been such a wonderful evening, like all of our times together were. We were not only happy together but good for each other. The best part of my life was being with her. In that moment, something came over me, a tidal wave of love and emotion that was overwhelming, and, with it, the certainty that she and I were meant to be together for the rest of our lives.

I picked up the ring and said, “Carrie, I love you more than life itself. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?”

I’ll never forget what she did. She leaned over the table, kissed me and said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Then I slipped the ring on her finger (it fit perfectly) and we giggled like school kids, looking into each other’s eyes, knowing without a doubt that we’d made the right decision.

After a few minutes, it dawned on me that it was Theodore who had prompted this unexpected event. I wanted to thank him, however, when I turned to do so, guess what? He was gone.

Later, when we went to pay out bill, I asked the manager about the magician. He shocked us by saying, “There was never a magician here. Never was, never will be. Don’t need the hassle.”

Well, that was curious. But we didn’t dwell on whether the manager thought Theodore was at the restaurant that night or not. For us he had been, and that’s what was important. On our way out the door I glanced at my watch. It was now the early hours of Sunday, February fourteenth.

Carrie and I have been married over thirteen years now and have two wonderful children. We celebrate our engagement at George and the Dragon every year on Valentine’s Day, where we have a romantic meal, share a crème brulee for dessert, and talk about how lucky we are that we are together. And you know what? Every time we go there it never fails to take us back to that remarkable night so long ago, when we made a lifelong commitment to each other, and I went from being a skeptic to a believer in the mystery and power of magic.

 

 

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Transcendentalists

“The Transcendentalists lived in Massachusetts in the eighteen-fifties,” Teacher said. “They believed that man could exist and be at one with nature. Examples would be Ralph Waldo Emerson and his friend Henry David Thoreau, a man who built a cabin on Walden Pond and lived there by himself for two years.”

Larry Adams listened intently to his tenth grade English teacher and liked what he was hearing. I could get into that, he thought to himself. Never the best student, he enjoyed being outdoors. A lot. He liked walking in the fields and woods outside of town and drawing pictures of birds and wildflowers in his sketchbook. Mostly, though, he liked being by himself. He couldn’t help but thinking that maybe he was like those Transcendentalists. He smiled to himself. Maybe there was a little bit of that Thoreau guy in him.

Later in the day, when his math teacher started talking about geometry, Larry quickly lost interest. Fighting back a yawn, he tried his hardest to stay awake but just couldn’t. He lay his head down on his desk and soon nodded off.

Teacher woke him by yelling in his ear, “Adams, you good for nothing! Wake up and get to work on your assignment.”

“Yes, sir!” Larry said, as he snapped to attention, fighting back an urge to salute the arrogant so and do. Teacher stared at him and shook his head in disgust, muttering, “You’ll never amount to anything, Adams, you know that don’t you? You’re a loser with a capital L.”

Well, to each their own, Larry thought, thinking back to the Transcendentalists. He liked the world he lived in. He opened his math book, but instead of lifeless numbers, he saw a rolling landscape of verdant forests and sun drenched fields. There was even a hint of a secluded, faraway pond glistening in the distance. He didn’t have to think as he decided to hike to it. In a matter of moments, school became a distant memory as he found himself strolling though a land filled with colorful wildflowers and the delightful twittering of countless singing songbirds. He had a sudden urge to join them so he did. Happily, loud and clear, he began to whistle a warbling little tune. It actually sounded quite pleasant, if he did say so. He smiled to himself. Too bad if Teacher didn’t like it.

 

Sketching Snowflakes

Back then, back when he was just a gangly kid and before he became an artist, I felt I had a job to do – teach my son to be better at sports than I ever was. I’d been a second string jock during high school so on the day Joey was born I vowed to teach him how to play football, baseball, basketball and hockey better than I’d ever been able to. My underlying thought was that maybe one day he’d become a superior athlete, someone I could be not only proud of, but could also brag about to anyone who would listen. You can imagine my horror (or maybe not, but let me tell you, it was real) when Joey, try as he might, proved to be even less athletically gifted than his old man.

He was nine years old when, after pre-season hockey tryouts, the awful truth finally reared its ugly head. Joey dejectedly skated over to where I’d been watching from behind the boards and said, “Dad, I’m sorry, I really am. I’m trying, but those other guys are just way better than me.”

One look at the fluid motions of the other kids on the rink, skating comfortably backward better than Joey could ever skate forward, and I had to finally admit it – my son was not now, nor would he ever be, a hockey player. Which was his best sport. Football, baseball and basketball? Forget about it. The reality of the situation was painfully apparent. Joey would never be the star athlete I once imagined he’d be.

I swallowed my disappointment and put my arm around his thin shoulders, hugging him a little. “That’s okay, son. Really. Let’s head home,” I told him, trying to man up, along with beginning to adjust my game plan for him. Now that sports were out of the picture what could I get him interested in? Chess, maybe? Cribbage? Orienteering? I drew a blank. None of them sounded too exciting.

I went into the locker room with him while he changed out of his gear. When we sat on the bench, he unzipped his equipment bag and I saw a notebook.

I pointed, “What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing,” he shrugged. “It’s just my sketchbook from art class.”

“Art class? You’re kidding.” I hadn’t a clue. Having trouble drawing a stick figures, myself, I’d never once imagined he’d enjoy anything like painting or whatever.

He grinned, “Yeah, Dad, for my drawings. Here, let me show you.” He opened it. “Lately, I’ve been sketching snowflakes and winter scenes. I’m thinking about maybe using them for cards for the holidays. Tell me what you think.”

He lay the sketchbook on my knees and went about getting changed. I paged through his drawings, each one more impressive than the previous. He’d used what looked to be a pen and ink to create intricate snowflakes all with six pointed tips. Each one was unique and amazingly detailed. The snowflake sketches were followed by a series of charcoal drawings of winter scenes, mostly landscapes in the country, some with farmhouses, some with people, some with animals. One even had a horse drawn sleigh. He’d used colored pencils to make the scenes come alive with subtle tones of greens and browns and reds and blues. To my way of thinking they were utterly charming and made me think of those Currier and Ives calendars.

I turned to him, “Joey, these are amazing. How long have you been drawing like this?”

He laughed, “Ever since I can remember, Dad. Since I was a little kid.” Then he was quiet for a moment before adding, “Mom kind of got me started.”

Oh. Gail. My wife and Joey’s mother. She’d passed away four years earlier when he was only five. In many ways we were still coping.

I looked at him seriously. “These really are wonderful, son,” I told him.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said as we stood up to leave.

He grabbed his heavy hockey bag, hoisted it over his shoulder, tilting to the right a little under its weight, and started for the door. I held his sketchbook in my hands, aware that I was holding something special, something that really was what my son was all about, not just some sad, preconceived sports fantasy of his father’s. I suddenly had an idea. “Hold on a minute.” He stopped and I took the bag from him. (It really was pretty heavy.) “How about if on the way home we stop at Blick’s Art Supply and check out what they’ve got, maybe get you some supplies. What do you think about that?”

Joey picked up his hockey stick and looked at me questioningly. He knew how much I loved sports. “You sure, Dad?”

“Yeah,” I said, biting a metaphorical bullet, “Looks like we’ve got an artist in the family.”

Joey grinned as we walked to the car. His step seemed lighter, somehow, like a weight had been lifted, and I don’t just mean the equipment bag. It was good to see him so happy.

Next to the art store was a sporting goods exchange. We parked and while Joey went inside and looked around for art supplies, I went next door to see if I could sell his hockey equipment, which I did. Then I hurried next door to met him. But before I went inside I stopped a minute, looked through the window and watched as he perused the aisles, happily caressing the paints and brushes and sketchpads and canvases. He seemed in another world, one that he felt comfortable in. Natural.

I headed for the front door. Once inside, I’d get him to show me what all the art supplies were used for. Maybe I’d buy him an easel or something to get him set up properly for his art work. He was a good kid. I guess I had a lot to learn. It was time I started paying better attention.

Minus Thirty Degrees

This 75 word story, “Minus Thirty Degrees,” was feature January 28, 2019 on Paragraph Planet.

Minus thirty degrees, deep in the north woods. Lost for three days two men huddle together trying to light a fire. They are bone cold numb. Down to their last match, Jerry reaches for Mike’s hands, takes them in his and blows, warming life back into them, saying this is no time for macho BS. Mike cracks a grin, then strikes the match. It flickers, then catches. Nearly frozen their eyes meet, filled with hope.

Butterflies

Oh, how they danced this morning on the summer breeze, drifting through the garden, keeping me company while I worked under the bright, hot sun. Janie loved butterflies, even talked to them, their own special language, and she would have loved today, surrounded by their gentle ballet, their colorful beauty. I know for certain they would have had a lot to talk about.

Before Janie died we’d often sit together amongst the zinnias and daisies and dahlias in the front yard, butterflies fluttering all around us, and watch them while we talked about this and that; the gentle musings of a couple married over fifty years. We’d sip sweetened ice tea and Janie would often dip her finger into the glass and hold it out next to her for a brave flutter-by (her endearing name for the braver ones) to join us. One often did, clinging to her finger, feeding, while we both watched in awe.

Today, I stop my gardening and take a moment to stand, stooped, as they surround me, these butterflies carrying with them myriad memories of the past; memories with Janie that are quietly returning on the summer breeze like the brightly colored swallowtails, painted ladies and monarchs, flitting from flower to flower; so many memories of times spent with my darling wife, here in our garden, she and I, in this magical moment in time, coming together again.

Lovey-Dovey

I always liked that photo her father took of Belinda and me. Her parents ran Rothschild’s Ice Cream Emporium and they thought having a lovey-dovey couple sharing a couple of their cones would make for good advertising. I was all on board. Belinda and I had been dating for a few weeks, and I was head over heels in love. I’d have done anything to get close to her. Plus, you know, I wanted to make a good impression.

“Kevin, you stand here,” her father pointed, getting the scene set-up. ” Belinda, get right up next to him.”

We eagerly followed his instructions, having a hard time keeping our hands off each other. All went well until, besotted as I was by the beguiling Belinda, I forgot myself and starting eating my ice cream. It was only a matter of minutes before the flatulence kicked in. See, a few years ago I found out I was lactose intolerant and no longer able to digest dairy products, more to the point, ice cream. It’s not a fatal affliction, but let me tell you, the aftereffects are not pleasant, if you get my meaning. If you don’t, I’ll just say this: Ice cream made me a little gassy. Well, super gassy, to be honest.

I cleared that room out pretty fast. Belinda was a trouper and stayed by my side, but eventually even she had to leave. The photo shoot was put on hold until the next day.

These days Belinda and I are happily married. We have three lovely children all able to digest dairy. That’s a good thing. Having one gas bag in the family is enough, because you know what? Rothschild’s ice cream is awfully good, and I can’t help myself. I have a bowl every day.

Tangled Up In Blue

The band finished a kick-ass version of Tangled Up In Blue and Ben and Jenny clapped enthusiastically, along with the rest of the crowd at O’Donnell’s, a popular bar in downtown St. Paul.

“That was great,” Ben said, grinning and taking a sip of his drink.

“One of my favorite Dylan songs,” Jenny said, drinking from hers.

Maybe it wasn’t the most romantic of songs, but neither of them cared. They still liked it. They liked Dylan’s music and they like each other, too. A lot.

Jenny reached over and rubbed Ben’s arm. It was New Year’s Eve and the crowd was getting boisterous. Ben looked at his cell phone. “Nearly eleven-thirty.”

“Yeah, kind of late. Want to go? Beat the traffic.”

Ben nodded and smiled. “Absolutely.”

They finished their drinks and headed out into a cold Minnesota night. Ben and Jenny lived together in a small brownstone apartment of Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis. The drive took over forty-five minutes. It was five degrees below zero and Ben’s heater in his old Toyota wasn’t working well so they wrapped up in blankets. His radio didn’t work either, but that was okay. They remembered most of the words to Tangled Up In Blue, so they sang in the new year together, not caring if they were off key. There was hardly any traffic on the road. It was like they were in another world.

It was another world, one they were still getting used to. They walked up the stairs to the third floor and entered their tiny, one bedroom apartment. It was all they could afford, but at least it was theirs. And, more importantly, at least they were together.

Once inside Jenny turned on one lamp on an end table and lit a stick of sandalwood incense. Ben fixed them each a drink, like they’d been having at O’Connell’, and they curled up on the couch. Then they toasted each other. They’d been together nearly a year, having met at an alcoholics anonymous meeting earlier that January. They’d become friends first, then lovers and then had taken the next step, a big one for each them; they’d moved in together. They’d been living together for nearly six months, and it had been the best six months of the best year of either of their lives.

“Here’s to us,” Ben said, toasting Jen with his glass of sparkling water.

“To us,” Jen smiled, raising her cranberry juice.

“And here’s to a happy, sober new year,” they both said together, laughing and flirting a little, unused to not being drunk out of their minds on New Year’s Eve.

Later that night they made love. Twice. When they awoke the next morning it was still bitterly cold outside, but they didn’t mind. They had clear minds and each had the day off and were looking forward to spending the whole day together. They might even listen to Bob Dylan and sing along to Tangled Up In Blue. They couldn’t think of a better way to ring in the new year.