It’s All Done With Mirrors

Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 1.05.01 pm

“Now, he’s going to ask for a volunteer from the audience,” said my grandfather.

He’d been explaining how the magic tricks were achieved all through the performance, and it was annoying me — not that I would tell him so.

I was eight years old and had travelled up from Melbourne to spend the holidays in Bendigo with my grandparents.

The magic show was a special treat.

“It helps that we are a big country town,” said my grandfather. “Most of the overseas acts don’t visit the smaller towns.”

The Magician, resplendent in his mysterious robes, moved to the edge of the stage, so much so that I thought he might fall off. He didn’t, but he did point his ‘magic wand’ in my direction.

“I vant you,” he said in an eastern European accent — my grandfather thought it was Bulgarian with just a hint of Lithuanian.

There were several pleading hands waiving, including mine.

Pick me, pick me, I was thinking.

“Not you leetle boy, the young lady sitting next to you.”

My grandmother blushed.

With much encouragement from the audience and my grandfather, my grandmother moved up onto the stage.

The Magician met her at the stairs and guided her to the middle of the stage.

The scantily clad young woman who had been acting as the Magician’s assistant, took my grandmother by the hand and as the stagehands wheeled out a person-sized box, she opened the box to show us it was empty.

“He’ll use mirrors for this trick,” said my grandfather.

The crowd was still applauding as my grandmother stepped into the box. She smiled as he closed the door.

The door divided in two. The Magician opened the top half, and we could see my smiling grandmother.

The Magician closed the door — the stagehands lifted the top half of my grandmother and put her on the stage. The door opened, and there she was, top half-smiling away, bottom half kicking her feet.

The audience applauded.

“Mirrors,” said my grandfather and I wished he would shut up. I wanted to enjoy the magic unfettered.

The stagehands wheeled away the bottom half of my grandmother and the Magician closed the door on the top half.

The top half of my grandmother was then split in two, and Magician put the top half on the floor, opened the door, and the head of my grandmother smiled at us all.

The audience applauded.

“She would have gone through a trapdoor and popped up through a different trapdoor,” said my grandfather.

Please shut up!

The Magician threw his cloak over the box containing my grandmother’s head as the stagehands removed the rest of her.

He said some magic words in an eastern European accent, taped the box with his magic wand, removed the cape and opened the tiny door.

My grandmother was gone.

The audience applauded.

The Magician thanked the audience with a flourish of his cloak, the audience applauded, and the curtain closed.

People began to gather themselves and leave the grand old concert hall.

“Your grandmother will come out soon, and she will be able to tell us how the trick was done,” said my grandfather.

Most of the people had left the hall when I decided to go and see what was keeping my grandmother.

I climbed the same steps she had and pushed past the heavy curtain. I could see the Magician and a bunch of workmen packing things into cane baskets.

I asked the Magician where my grandmother was, and he said that he didn’t speak very good English and that he had to catch the train to Sydney in half an hour. He held my head in his hands and kissed me on the forehead.

“You good boy,” he said in an Eastern European accent, probably Bulgarian with a bit of Lithuanian thrown in.

I went back to my seat, sat next to my grandfather, who was sure that his wife was ‘coming along soon’.

An old man came and told us that we would have to leave because they were closing up.

When we got home, my grandfather made me a toasted cheese sandwich, “It’s your grandmother’s favourite,” he said.

Two days passed, and my grandmother did not appear.

“No need to tell your mum and dad about all this,” said my grandfather as I packed my bag.

My holidays were over, and I had to ride the train back to Melbourne.

I settled in my seat, near the window. My grandfather stood alone on the platform. He held up one hand as the train began to move. He didn’t wave.

I held up my hand and pressed it to the glass.

The carriage lurched, and I was heading home.

My holidays were over, and I had a secret.

 

 

Illustration credit: Angela Barrett

Between The Pages.

4d63f900e5f4b2d8c84bc8db99cbe656

My grandfather loved books, and I think he loved me almost as much.

I know I loved him.

I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.

No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.

I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.

It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country, there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered, and their house emptied and sold.

Indecent haste was how I phrased it.

“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparent’s furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.

My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.

He had the most wonderful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter, and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of internal glow caused by his love of books.

He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding, and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant, and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.

I collect bookmarks because he did.

I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.

His heroes were authors, and mine are too.

He thought that reading was as important as writing, and so do I.

We will meet again someday, but for now, I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.