After the Magic

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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After the Magic graphic

On the courthouse lawn stood two gleaming statues of golden stone, a man and woman holding hands, smiling at each other.  Both stood on no base but their own feet and possessed such detail it seemed they might stroll off.  Before them, a mother and little girl stood bathed in twilight; the mother turned to an elderly man on a metal bench alone.

“We’ve been admiring the statues.”  She lifted her hands.  “So life-like…”  

He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his bald head.  “Beautiful, aren’t they?”

The little girl looked from the statues to him.   “Who made ‘em?”

His eyes shone.   “Ah, you want to know about that?”  He gestured beside him.

The girl plopped down beside him, and her mother sat beside her.  

“Well, first off,” he said,  “it’s a story about love.  And magic. And a conjure woman named Ludeana Quinn.”  

“Conjure woman?” The girl frowned.

“A woman who does magic.”  He gazed at them.  “All that interest you?”

The little girl nodded and bounced; her mother smiled.

“Well, then.”  The old man slipped his handkerchief back in his shirt pocket.                                                                                                        

Back in 1954 Tom Norwood was almost twenty-seven and lonesome, real lonesome.   Oh, he’d had an eye for the girls, escorted many a girl to the dances, and many a girl waited for him to get serious.  And waited.   He was slim and strong; his brown hair was curly; his eyes were blue.  He played the field, and if it started to shrink, he hardly noticed.  Then June of Fifty the North Koreans crossed the Thirty-Eighth Parallel.  He was never sure why, but at twenty-three Tom joined the Air Force.   

He spent the Korean War in Okinawa, an airplane mechanic.  Back home afterward, he couldn’t wait to play the field again.  Only in those three and a half years, the field had plain disappeared.  His friends’ kids were almost ready to start school, and he was too old for the girls in town.  Before, he’d done light carpentry and house painting; but now he took to sitting by the river.  Or sometimes at Washington Park: he sat by the bandstand, like some ghost sang the blues up there.  Sometimes he just followed his footsteps.        

In May, one morning he found himself in front of the First Methodist Church.  Across the street stood a two-story white house, and a sign in front said Miller’s Inn.  Flowers bloomed by the front porch — geraniums, mountain daisies, pansies, irises.  In a pale blue dress, Sara Miller stood watering them, and Tom’s heart went boom.  Her blond hair glowed like the daisies; her face itself was delicate as a blossom.  He’d known her since third grade, but this was like love at first sight.  Heart thumping, he walked over to her.   

She turned his way and blinked.  “Tom, how are you?”      

He shrugged.  “Okay. Your flowers look good.”

“They do, don’t they?”    

 “You look pretty as ever.”

A smile crossed her face, and he asked, “You think we could have lunch some time?”

She turned off the water.  “I don’t think so, Tom.”   She hurried inside.

Where had her old smile gone, he asked himself, but really he knew:  Cyrus West stole it.  Back in seventh grade Sara had fallen for Cyrus, a gangly redhead, and they went steady through high school.  After that, Cyrus went off to college, and Sara went to secretarial school across the river, in Riggsville.  But Cyrus was home every weekend.  After he graduated, they’d planned to marry, and Cyrus would go to law school.  So much for plans.  Three weeks before Cyrus graduated, he ran off and married Sara’s cousin, Judy.

Sara’s one friend, other than Cyrus, had been Judy.  Her parents weren’t people who could handle emotion.  She was all torn up, with no one to talk to.  When word got out, some girls at church snickered about Cyrus and Judy.  Sara quit church, and before long her job, and left home less and less.  She couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, deal with it all.  

It’d all happened before Korea, and Tom had forgotten about it.  But now in his mind, she kept smiling down on her flowers.

Next afternoon, he called her, his heart going like a jackhammer.  “You know, Sara, The Glen Miller Story is showing over in Riggsville.  I wondered if you’d like to go.”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she said.  “Things are just too busy at the inn.  But it was nice of you to ask.”

A couple days later he tried again, with The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  She turned him down and didn’t bother with an excuse.  He left his parents’ house, across from Central School, and head hanging, walked down to Haley’s Drug Store, by the courthouse.  The girls had always liked him before.

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Kent McDaniel is a Chicago-based musician who also writes fiction. His stories have appeared most recently in Downstate Story, Chaffin Journal, Palo Alto Review, Iconoclast, Allegory, Rambunctious Review, and Timber Creek Review. Videos of his live musical performances are up at