When I’d called into the Black Swan’s usual Tuesday evening music event, I hadn’t really expected to be snowed on.
A local pianist was noodling on the piano whilst a young chap, with short black hair and a comb-over, dyed purple and green in part, was brandishing some brass rings at a table.
“We’ve a magician tonight, Andrew someone,” smiled Elizabeth, my favourite barmaid. She wore false eyelashes above her big brown eyes that looked like two caterpillars.
“I thought it was Banjo Bob tonight.”
“No, that got cancelled. He’s suffering from alcohol poisoning. Fred arranged this at the last moment.” Fred being the landlord, a portly chap with a grey beard and suspiciously black hair. But a kindly soul at heart.
There weren’t many there, perhaps fifteen in the small bar but I noticed Brad, the aged ex-‘pop star’ and pub bore, and the stalwart Billy ‘the builder’.
Andrew held the rings up and with successive passes of his hands first separated them, then linked them. He smiled. “Anyone want to try?”
“Can I?” I said, surprised at myself.
There were five rings, about four inches in diameter, two loose and three linked. Try as I might I could not separate the linked ones or connect the loose ones, to general amusement. Andrew took them and with a couple of quick passes of his hands linked all five rings to a round of applause.
“That was bloody clever,” said Brad, grudgingly.
“Pick a card,” Andrew asked an attractive girl of about twenty, seated opposite. I suddenly realised why he had chosen that table as she gave a pearly smile, whilst her low cleavage showed moon-like breasts. She obliged with ornately calligraphed nails, turning up one corner to show the nine of hearts to our side of the table.
Andrew slid it back into the pack. After a quick shuffle, he produced the nine of hearts. There was a polite ripple of applause. Then he opened his jacket to show a tee-shirt with a huge nine of hearts card printed on it. A collective gasp of surprise went up.
“Anyone want any more drinks,” shouted Fred, with an inane grin.
Andrew fetched an aluminium case full of packs of cards and props of all kinds. Someone asked what they were worth. “Oh, a few thousand quid,” he said, brushing the green and purple quiff out of his eyes. I exchanged a glance with Liz but she didn’t respond. She only had eyes for the magician.
After a number of increasingly impressive tricks, the usual indifference of the clientele seemed to have evaporated. Andrew cupped his empty hands, then opened them to show a green lizard. Its scales sparkled, flashing silver and red.
“Wow, is it real?” said Elizabeth.
As if in reply, a beady black eye blinked and a long blue forked tongue flicked out.
Andrew’s hands closed on the lizard then opened again and a crowd of tropical butterflies flew out, dazzling turquoise, bright orange and shimmering purple. They flew around the bar to enthusiastic applause.
Suddenly, all the lights went out. It was almost pitch black, then the faintest yellow glow appeared from somewhere. In the dim light we could make out a very old man where Andrew had been sitting. His eyes were black hollows and he wore an ancient suit and hat. In front of him was a battered suitcase. Amazed, I watched as he opened it and two white mice climbed out. Then I felt something wet on my neck. I looked up and saw it was snowing. Large silver-white flakes were spiralling onto the tables, into our drinks and onto our hair and clothes.
“This is unbelievable!” Elizabeth spoke, shattering the silence.
Suddenly the faint glow vanished and the lights came back on. Andrew was sitting there with his aluminium case closed in front of him. He smiled, stood up and bowed to rapturous applause. Without a word he picked up the case and walked out of the bar.
We stood looking at each other. No one spoke.
Then, “Sleight of hand. Anyone could do it with time on their hands to practice. That’s all it was,” said Brad.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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