After the Magic

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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After the Magic graphic

He stood in a puddle, dripping.  She smiled without much warmth.  “Enjoy your bath, Tom Norwood?”

He nodded as he sat down across the fire from her.  “Well, I needed it; that’s for sure.”

She chuckled.  “Oh, I would say so.”   Brown, gold and green shone in her eyes.

“You come,” she said, “about Sara Miller.”  She stared into his eyes.  “Why should I help you?”

He gave a shrug.  “I don’t know, I guess.  But I hope you will, if you can.  You are Ludeana Quinn, aren’t you?”   In the fire, wood crackled and shifted, sending up sparks.

She nodded.   “You found me.  Now let me ask.  How can you be sure you want Sara Miller?”

He moved his head to one side and back.  “I think I love her.  Maybe I’m nuts.  But I want to know.”  He leaned back.  The moon had turned silver.

When his gaze came back to Ludeana Quinn, her face got softer.  “An honest answer, anyway.”  

He leaned toward her.  “I’m not asking you to make her love me.  I just want her back together, whole.  Then, whatever happens, I can live with.”

She closed her eyes.  A breeze blew over them, and above the clearing, a few stars sparkled around the moon, the air sweet, everything quiet.  After a time, she opened her eyes.  “Very well.  I’ll do what I can.”                                                  

He nodded.

She said,   “Go to Sara Miller in the morning.”

“How can I ever repay you?”

“Don’t waste this gift.”  She put her hand into a deerskin pouch on her belt, and took out a black cloth, gold needles and a spool of silver thread.  She waved him off.    

He started back the way he’d come, and in five short minutes, found himself at the edge of the woods, where he’d come in.  He glanced up the trail, and a piece of the darkness seemed to fly away.  Two gold eyes stared for a second and were gone.

That night Sara dreamed she was with Cyrus West, both of them thirteen, the afternoon they fell in love.  They’d sat together at the Saturday matinee, and afterward strolled down to Washington Park, where tulips bloomed.  On the swings they talked about movies, music, friends.

Suddenly she was riding bikes with Judy down First Street along the Ohio River, its waters sparkling. They were laughing.  Then, as she walked up to Haley’s Drug Store, Cyrus and Judy strolled out, smiling at each other.  They looked at her, stricken.  From somewhere, golden light came down and surrounded her.  She gazed into Cyrus and Judy’s guilty faces.   Then many other faces swam in front of her, smirking at her loss, leering.  Still, the golden light was all around her, soothing, and she saw, below the spite, to their shriveled hearts.    

In the morning, after breakfast, Sara went outside.  The grass was wet, and a breeze was blowing.  Her snap dragons were blooming; the buds on her Zinnias looked almost ready to open. As she watered the flowers, she glanced toward the street, and Tom Norwood was coming.  He waved and strolled over. His eyes twinkled, but they were wary.  He stopped five feet away, as if he thought she might run.

“Hi, Tom.”  She smiled.  

He smiled back like a little boy.  “Could you use any help here?”   He pulled his hands back.  “It’s OK if you can’t.”  

Together they pulled weeds, talking.  They’d never been that close, but they’d known each other since third grade.  After a while, her mom came out, carrying a tray with two glasses of iced tea.  Rolling her eyes at her mother’s smile, Sara took the tray and led Tom to the backyard.  In the shade of an elm, they sat in a swing, the sky above very blue.  Hostas grew by the house; chrysanthemums and sage grew by the backyard fence.

Tom finished his tea.  “Well, I guess I should get going here.”    

“I’m glad you came by.”  Sara smiled.

“Yeah, me, too,” he answered.  “You know, Three Coins in a Fountain is playing at The Columbia.  Would you like go?”   

She glanced around the backyard, then slowly a smile spread across her face.  “Hey,” she said,   “I think that’d be great.”
After that, they went everywhere: baseball games, dancing, the movies, you name it.  People were glad to see Sara’s heart mend.  Everyone who’d wondered if Tom would ever settle down was happy. And Cyrus and Judy were probably happier than anyone.  

Fall rolled in, and then Thanksgiving and Christmastime.  And what a season of smiles and laughter it was.  To cap it all off, Christmas Eve at the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Sara stood up, sparkling like a Christmas tree, and said that, come summer, she and Tom were getting married.   

Now, if the story ended there, wouldn’t it be nice?

One Saturday afternoon around the end of February, Sara was at her parents’ kitchen table having coffee.  Tom came in all bright-eyed — could hardly sit still while she got him a cup.  When she sat back down, he said, “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Grinning ear to ear, he handed her an envelope.  Inside, she found a deed to three acres out on Obermark Lake.  

“I’m gonna build you a dream house,” he said, “out there on the lake.”

The look on her face wiped the smile off his.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

Sara held her hands up beside her head.  “Tom, I was figuring we’d live here at Mom and Dad’s.”

His face twisted.  “I’m talking about a dream house, Sara, built with my own hands, out on that beautiful lake.”

“This is my dream house.  And Mom and Dad need my help.”  She looked down at the table.  “And my flowers…”                                                                                                                  

“But, we need our own place.”

She looked up.  “I just wish you’d talked to me about it first.”

“Yeah, well, sorry you didn’t like my surprise.”  

Sara tried to think of something to say.

“I guess I got a surprise, too.”  He walked out.

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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