After the Magic

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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After the Magic graphic

In Haley’s he carried a Mechanics Illustrated over to the soda fountain.  A mom and dad with two boys were at the counter; he sat at the other end.  He was slurping the last of a cherry phosphate through a straw when someone tapped his shoulder.  He turned, and Cyrus West was on the next stool, thirty pounds heavier than he’d been in high school, a lawyer now.  Behind horn-rimmed glasses, his eyes twinkled, and he pointed at Tom’s empty glass.  “Looks like you could use another one.”       

Cyrus ordered Tom another and himself a Green River.  Tom was puzzled:  He and Cyrus had both played high school baseball, but they hadn’t run around together.  As Tom took a sip, Cyrus said, “I hear you have a soft spot in your heart for Sara Miller.”

Tom leaned back.  “Word does travel fast.”

“Well,” Cyrus said, “my wife is Sara’s cousin.”                                                                                                                          

“One morning I looked at her, and something just came over me.”

Cyrus smiled, but he looked down.  

“When I was a kid,” Tom said,  “I’d be last one to leave the playground every afternoon.  I’d shoot baskets, everything quiet.  That morning, seeing Sara was like somebody showing up at the playground.”  He turned to Cyrus.   “Am I making sense?”

“Probably not.”  Cyrus slapped Tom’s shoulder.  “But I get you.”  He tapped the back of his hand against Tom’s elbow.  “I think it’d be great if you and Sara got together.”  And Cyrus would be glad.  It might end his guilt — and Judy’s.  When they’d run off, it’d been like they lost their minds.

That Saturday afternoon, Cyrus was at his parents’ home, fidgeting, glancing outside, until finally he slapped his textbook shut.  He went out to the garage for his bike, which had gathered dust for years.  He was riding it toward the Tastee Freeze when Judy came his way on her bike.  Quieter than Sara, with black hair and cat-like eyes, she wrote poems, liked to be alone.  

She was headed out to the countryside, and Cyrus rode along.  Soon they were rolling between meadows and fields — not a cloud in the sky.  They stopped on a little bridge, and below, water splashed over stones.  Beyond the bridge, wildflowers bloomed all over a meadow.  Honeysuckle, Alfalfa, Sweat Pea, Wall Flowers, Comfrey, and more; in the sunlight, they all glowed like they were electric.  Cyrus and Judy strolled into them.  Halfway across the field, a cloud of yellow butterflies — there must’ve been over a hundred — rose up around them.  Judy held out her hand, and one alighted on her palm.  Smiling, she moved closer to him and turned his palm up.  She put her palm beside his, and the butterfly tiptoed onto his.  They watched it rise and fly away, and then they turned to each other.

They kissed, and Cyrus’s body sang.  That kiss zapped his plans like an atom bomb and hit Judy just as hard.  It was bad; they should’ve handled things better.  What they did was run off and get married.

The day after Tom talked with Cyrus, he called to invite Sara to an ice-cream social at New Liberty Baptist.  

Her mom answered.  “No, Tom, I’m sorry.  Sara can’t come to the phone.”

He tried again next day, but her mom answered again.  Sara couldn’t come to the phone, he guessed, because it was him.  He should forget it, but he couldn’t.  People had always said he was stubborn anyway.  One morning a couple days before the ice-cream social, he walked over to Sara’s, and she was working in her geraniums.  She stood and tried to smile but couldn’t quite make it work.  

“Hello, Tom.”  She held her hands together at her waist.

“Hi,” he said, “New Liberty is having an ice-cream social. I wondered if you’d want to go.”

She said, softly, “I don’t go out much.”

He wondered how anyone could stay home all the time.

As if his thoughts showed, she said, “I read.  I work in the garden.”

“Well,” he said, “maybe some other time.”  But it looked like it’d take a miracle.

Still, Monday he went over to ask her to the roller rink.  When he got there, it wasn’t Sara in the garden, but her mom.  

On the bench in the town square, the little girl tugged at the old man’s shirt.  “Why won’t she go out with him?  Was he ugly?”  

The old man shook his head.  “Tom was good-looking; people liked him, too.  She was scared, that’s all.”

The girl stared at him.  “Of  what?”

“Love.  Friendship.  Life…”  He spread his hands, then dropped them.   

So now Sara wouldn’t even come outside.  Tom couldn’t sleep at night, and still her face was there, before his eyes.  Finally, he bought a box ad in the classifieds of the town’s weekly newspaper: “Tom Likes Sara.”  He ordered flowers to be delivered to her on Wednesday, when the paper came out.  That night, he went to Haley’s and found Cyrus there at the soda fountain.

“Did you see the paper?”  Tom asked.  “I sent flowers, too.  I figured —”

“I saw it,”  Cyrus cut in.  “And it’s just too darn much.”

Tom stared.

“You’re embarrassing her, Tom.  It’s time to give it up.”

“I can’t,” Tom insisted.   “She’s the one.   I know it.”

Cyrus shook his head.  “Sounds like a case for Ludeana Quinn.”

Beside the old man, the little girl bobbed her head.  “The woman who does magic, right?”

He nodded.

“What kinda magic?”  Her eyes sparkled.

“Hold on.”  He held up his hands.  “I’ll get to that.  Just give me a chance.”

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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