Love and Magic: Four Delightfully Spun Yarns by John Hanlon

Published by Woven Words

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Paperback, 120pp (ISBN 978-0-9925524-3-5 )

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Kate watched Brad swaggering towards her and was seized by an all too familiar sense of panic. Mercifully, she was granted a few moments’ reprieve when he stopped to talk to a small group of their guests. She was standing next to the musicians — two old men attacking violin and accordion with gusto — so she couldn’t hear what he was saying, but she didn’t need to; she knew it would be tactless, peppered with sexual innuendo and more than likely embarrassing for those forced to listen. A few watery smiles rippled around the group as if to confirm this.

She sighed and let her gaze wander outside to where a soft drizzle was catching the fire of the setting sun. The beauty of it brought her no comfort.

Outside! You must be mad. It’ll rain for sure,’ Brad ranted when she told him she planned to hold his birthday party in the garden.

Far from being disappointed that the rain had arrived, he’d be delighted to be proven right. She dreaded the thought of his gloating.

Her gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a sudden hush in the conversation. She looked up to see a strange bat-like silhouette standing in the main entrance to the marquee. It appeared to flare its wings to shake off a fine spray of raindrops before entering in a swirl of black.

Under lights the new arrival was revealed to be a hunchbacked man dressed in a dinner jacket, bow tie and black cape. And despite the initial pity one might feel at the sight of a body so twisted and bowed, it was plain to see this man wasn’t bowed in spirit. Pride and intelligence emanated from his keen green eyes as he scanned their faces.

When he saw Kate, he smiled, and moved towards her.

The others fell into curious silence. Even the musicians stopped playing and watched in fascination as this odd character shuffled across the marquee like a hermit crab.

When he was a few feet from her, he slowly stretched out an arm and, with a snap of his fingers, produced a beautiful bunch of white carnations.

He offered them to her.

Everyone gasped and smiled in the way they do when magic is performed before their very eyes. They gathered closer.

The man’s skin was olive and impossibly smooth, giving him an almost polished look. His black eyebrows, which swept back precisely at the base of his high forehead, looked so symmetrical Kate thought for an instant they might be painted on — then she noticed a small scar in the right one and was almost relieved to find it there. His nose, too, was imperfect, bending off to one side above a decidedly sensuous mouth.

She brought her gaze back to his steady green eyes and saw that they now held a look of warmth and amusement. And there was something else … something familiar. A shadow stirred, briefly, in a rarely visited part of her memory — then it was gone.

Ignoring the curious onlookers and Kate’s unblinking scrutiny, the man in black continued to hold the flowers out to her. He encouraged her to accept them with a slight raising of his eyebrows and a mischievous smile.

Kate was convinced that the moment she reached for them, the carnations would be transformed into a rubber snake or something equally horrific. She thought this because she knew he had to be ‘Mahmoud the Magnificent’, the magician she’d booked after finding his leaflet in the letter box on the very day she decided she’d have live entertainment at Brad’s birthday party.

‘Please, Mrs Warren, the flowers are for you,’ he said.

His voice was warm and slightly accented and she knew she’d never heard it before, yet the feeling that she knew him persisted. However, this was no time to go in pursuit of an elusive memory; everyone was willing her to accept the flowers. Not wishing to spoil their fun (after all, she had hired the fellow to entertain), she reached out fearing the worst.

Nothing happened. No trick, no rubber snake. Much to her surprise and delight the flowers proved to be real. ‘Thank you,’ she said with obvious relief. ‘I love carnations.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘They’re your favourite flowers.’

‘How could you possibly know that? And how on earth did you know I was Mrs Warren?’

‘Mahmoud knows.’

‘Yeah, well, I’d like to know who the hell Mahmoud the chocolate Quasimodo is!’ Brad said as he shoved forward to stand possessively by her side.

Their guests fell into an embarrassed silence.

If the magician was insulted, he didn’t show it. ‘Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Mahmoud the Magnificent, here at the request of your charming wife to entertain you on the occasion of your thirty-seventh birthday.’

He held out his hand.

Brad ignored it.

Kate saw that the hand was horribly scarred; two of the fingers appeared to be webbed together. She found herself imagining that hand sliding across her breast and shuddered unwittingly.

Mahmoud quickly withdrew the hand from her sight.

She blushed. Surely he couldn’t have known?

Brad noticed none of this. ‘Mahmoud the Magnificent, my arse. More like Willie the Wanker if you ask me,’ he said and laughed.

Nobody else seemed amused.

Mahmoud smiled whimsically. ‘Ahhh yes, the clothes … I am a bit overdressed, I admit. It is a necessary part of the act, I’m afraid.’

‘Need plenty of pockets to hide things in, eh?’ Brad sneered. He addressed this last remark to the others, not the crippled magician.

They smiled helplessly.

Kate was puzzled: how had Mahmoud known it was Brad’s thirty-seventh birthday? She’d only told his agent it was a birthday party; she hadn’t said whose birthday it was, and no age had been mentioned. He must have asked someone outside before he made his grand entrance.

Brad was talking at her. ‘You never said anything about a magician. Tents, magicians, what next — the whole bloody circus?’

The others began to shuffle about uncomfortably. There was a time when Brad’s jibes had been amusing, but nowadays they were just bitter and belligerent. His public bullying of Kate was something even his oldest friends were finding impossible to cope with. Kate implored them to ignore it — assuring them it was only the alcohol talking, that she didn’t take it to heart and neither should they. But such behaviour is hard to ignore or forgive.

And tonight, despite the occasion, Brad was at his worst: ‘Speaking of tents and circuses,’ he persisted, ‘I told you having the party outside was a shit-house idea. I knew it’d rain.’

Although she’d been prepared for this, Kate hadn’t been able to think of a suitable reply.

Mahmoud came to her rescue. ‘There is no rain,’ he said.

Everyone turned to look outside to what was now a perfect afternoon. Magically, the drizzle and clouds had disappeared.

They looked back at Brad.

‘Yeah, well … lucky for you,’ Brad grunted at Kate as he jostled his way outside to assure himself that the rain had really gone.

‘Lucky for all of us, I think,’ Mahmoud smiled at Kate. ‘Now perhaps I can perform my show outside in your lovely garden.’

So saying he scuttled past Brad out into the sunlight.

Kate followed slowly, still puzzled by the certainty that she’d met this fascinating fellow somewhere before.

The others drifted out after her, buzzing excitedly.

Brad was less than enthusiastic. ‘I bet this is costing me a fortune.’

‘I’m paying,’ Kate assured him, expecting no thanks.

Brad ignored her and went to join the others. As he reached the edge of the small crowd that had gathered around the magician, he threw his arm around their neighbour, Tammy Anderson, and drew her roughly into his side. As subtly as she could, Tammy tried to break away, but Brad held her firmly. She looked back helplessly at Kate, who smiled and shrugged. There was nothing she could do. They were both trapped. For Tammy it would only be for a few uncomfortable minutes; for Kate it had been years.


Extract from Love and Magic: Four Delightfully Spun Yarns by John Hanlon
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