Again, big thanks to FracturedFaith for his irregular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an “inspirational” topic. This week, inspiration takes the form of the attached puzzling till receipt
I must admit, I struggled to come up with something. I usually have too many ideas (good & bad), given the open-ended nature of the challenge and typically struggle to commit to one story. In this instance, the only story that came to mind was that below, I hope it’s entertaining.
He looked across the room, the mid-morning sun catching motes of dust in its beams, they sparkled and blinked like tiny stars above the heads of the gathering audience. It was his first time visiting this retirement home, but if you had seen one you had seen them all. This particular day room was laid out with the usual sturdy uncomfortable looking chairs set out in small groups around several wooden coffee tables decorated with the odd vase of mostly wilting flowers. The beige carpet, beige curtains and whitewashed walls made the room feel bright, airy, sterile and functional.
He pulled his gaze away from one of the dancing glowing specks suspended in a sunbeam, it had held his attention seeming to shine longer and brighter than most. and fumbled for his pocket watch. It was attached to a heavy chain tucked into a pocket in his tatty waistcoat. He loved this watch, it was his connection back to the heyday of magic when magicians captivated music hall audiences with amazing feats, truly a more magical time. Not that he had ever lived through it he was only twenty-two, but he’d read everything from the golden age with an all-consuming passion. The watch gave him a strange sense of melancholy and he felt like a man out of his time. He pulled himself from his reverie snapping the watch closed, turned and cleared his throat.
“Lady’s and Gentlemen”; he bellowed theatrically, “let me introduce myself I am the Great Meldroit and I am here today to astound you with feats of magic you will not have seen even in all of your long years”, with a flourish, he bowed and smiled his broadest smile to an otherwise uninterested audience. Unperturbed he pushed on into his first magic trick, pulling from his sleeve a wand, that with a flurry of movement turned into a bouquet of plastic flowers that he let fall onto the table. There was a murmur of dissatisfaction from the room, all except for a grey haired old lady seated nearest to him who clapped a little over excitedly.
He smiled at her, he only needed one audience member, one person to see the wonder that he was offering, so he would perform for her, she would be his concert hall. Over the next 20 minutes, he ran through his repertoire, regaling his audience with baffling card tricks, toy rabbits from hats, disappearing balls and coins galore. The old lady laughed and clapped. Her husband who had sat at her side reading the paper for most of the performance tried to stay her enthusiasm when she started cheering, but the old dear was having none of it. When Meldroit was done she struggled to her feet to give him a standing ovation, much to her husband’s consternation.
“I’m sorry”; the husband said, helping his wife carefully back into her chair; “She has dementia, it’s probably all new to her. She always did love magic”, his words trailed off lost in thought. There was sadness in the old man’s eyes even as he smiled across at her and moved an errant grey lock of her hair from her life-worn face.
The magician looked away, and for a moment stared into the middle distance at the glowing mote still hanging in the sunbeam. He pulled out his pocket watch again, he had time, he snapped the watch closed. “Time for one more magic trick”, he announced to a disinterested room. His singular audience, however, looked up at him eagerly. Spying a discarded breakfast bowl he asked the husband to place it on the table directly in front of his wife, he moved aside one of the stale vases of wilting flowers.
Suddenly in an all too practised move, he took off his top hat and spun it around, revealing it to be empty. Just before pulling out a plastic bag of diced melon from the seemingly empty hat. He tipped the tasty cubed contents into the bowl. The old lady leaned forward with anticipation and licked her dry lips as the magician pulled a peeler from his sleeve. Wielding it like a wand he tapped it twice on the table, garnering some very puzzled looks in the process.
Closing his eyes he started moving the peeler around the cubes of melon and as he did so the cubes begin to slowly move, to coalesce until there was a whole succulent melon sat in the bowl. He continued to move the peeler over the melon’s surface, wherever the peeler touched the melon the skin reformed, unpeeled until at last a pristine untouched melon now sat in the bowl.
He opened his eyes, the entire room was looking on in stunned amazement. He clapped his hands and the illusion melted away leaving the melon cubes back in the bowl. The old lady quick as you like snatched a piece and tentatively put it to her lips, tasting the cool liquid she devoured the cube with gusto, an impish smile on her face.
The room was quiet now, you could hear a pin drop, his audience had swelled and dozens of faces now looked on expectantly. Emboldened, he emptied the bowl and pulled another bag of fruit from the empty hat. This time it was a bag of cubed apples he poured into the bowl, a hush went around the room. He smiled at the old lady and closed his eyes once more.
Behind his closed eyelids he reached out to the bowl and felt for the fabric, the fabric of time, he could feel it flowing and see its path, it was his gift and his ultimate magic trick. Not only could he see it and feel it, but he could also manipulate it, fold it, bunch it up. As he folded the fabric now would become then, he began to push the fabric each fold taking the contents of the bowl further back, seconds then minutes, then hours, then days.
As he pushed at the fabric the apple began to reform in the bowl, cubes morphed from whence they had come and with no pretence of a peeler the red skin blinked back in a single heartbeat. He stretched out beyond the bowl to the table, the wilting flowers lifted themselves up and came back into full bloom. The old man reached out and plucked one of the flowers, he couldn’t believe his eyes but he did believe his nose, the fragrance reminding him of happier days.
The apple skin turned from red to green as the flowers in the vase receded into buds. He pushed the folds tighter and tighter, one, last, stretch. The apple began to shrink, the stems of the flowers disappeared back into the vase, he continued to push, the apple became a seed and finally disappeared. The old man stared down at the perfect flower he was still holding, somehow outside the fold and in normal time it remained in bloom.
The magician continued to push and coil the fabric ever tighter, creating more folds than he’d ever done before, it was getting difficult, taking all of his willpower. He opened his eyes and stared straight into the tired cloudy eyes of the old lady, he pushed one last time and her eyes began to brighten, the purple-veined bags under her eyes faded, the hard wrinkled lines of her face softened and her limp grey hair turned to a silky jet black. He folded the months and years and decades, to his very limits and beyond. He couldn’t go any further and was struggling to hold the moment against the strain of so much compacted coiled time, the effort making him physically shake.
The old man looked up from the flower he’d been scrutinising into the face of his wife, into the face of a woman he fell in love with 50 years ago. Tears welled in her eyes as he reached out a frail shaky hand to brush aside the now dark lock of hair from her forehead, brushing her soft cheek. He placed the flower in her hair just as he had done all those years ago. She laughed, recalling the memory and the tears streamed down her face. She held his frail chin in her now youthful hands and shook her head.
The magician faltered he could feel the natural order pushing back, he was out of time and like a coiled spring the fabric unravelled in a flash sending him sprawling to the floor utterly exhausted. Time came crashing back into the room and in the blink of an eye, the old man was staring into his wife’s questioning dulled eyes, the flower in her hair dry and wilted in her once again grey hair. He reached across and wiped the tears from her cheeks and kissed her gently on the lips, she smiled and he was happy.
The magician was helped back to his feet by the nursing staff who’d rushed into the room to see what all the excitement was about, dusted himself off and packed away his bag of tricks. The old man had set the record straight, his wife had had another funny turn, but she was okay now and no one else in the room was going to argue, most of them were unsure just what they had seen, it had been a strange morning.
On his way out the magician took a moment to shake the hand of the old man and bent down to give his wife the peeler, somewhere in her eyes he could still see a spark of light burning, she silently mouthed thank you. He beamed back; “Your welcome” and with a click of his fingers the dried flower in her hair re-bloomed.