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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 22 - The Party

Pete regains his confidence and once more becomes Mondo the Magician to put on a show at the family Christmas Eve party.

Then a large brown and white spotted rabbit comes leaping out of his hat...

Elizabeth Varadan's wonderful novel is moving towards a satsifying, and thoroughly seasonal, conclucison.

To read earlier chapters of this makes-you-happy story please click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

And watch out for the final chapter next Sunday, Christmas Eve.

Arthur arrived first with two pumpkin pies from Mrs. Sloan. “Wow, Mrs. McCormick!” He set the dishes on the counter. “You look...good.” He scratched his fuzzy head, the picture of surprise. “You look...young.”

Melanie choked back a giggle, looking up from the salad she was making. Privately she agreed. Her mother wore bright green slacks and a red knitted sweater with a Christmas tree embroidered across the front. She had dabbed on lipstick, and her strawberry blonde hair was fastened back with a green butterfly clip.

“Thank you, I think,” Mrs. McCormick told Arthur. She hummed faintly under her breath as she opened the oven door to check on the turkey.

“Hey, Arthur, get the silverware,” said Melanie.

“I have to go back home for chairs.”

“Can you and Melanie set up the card table first?” Mrs. McCormick asked over her shoulder.

They took it from the hall closet and placed it at the end of the kitchen table, so that the two made one long table jutting into the living room. Melanie spread paper tablecloths over them. “Co-ree,” she yelled. “Come and set the ta-ble.”

Cory came from the bathroom at the end of the hall, buttoning his red shirt. His bleached hair stood up in carefully combed tufts. “Yo,” he told Arthur, and they slapped palms. “Be right back,” he told the others, and he sauntered out the door with Arthur.

“That’s not fair,” complained Melanie.

“You and Erin set the table then.” Her mother’s voice turned edgy. “Dinner’s at six-thirty. It’s already six-fifteen.” She gave her hair a nervous little pat, regarding the wall clock by the phone. “Remember, eight places.” She paused at the stove, a distracted look on her face.

Melanie gave her mother a startled glance, then took the silverware from the drawer, frowning. Eight places. Like when their father used to make it home for Christmas Eve. “C’mon, Erin,” she muttered.

But Erin was by the tree, holding up a small, silver-wrapped present and shaking it. She looked like a little Christmas elf in her red corduroy dress and matching tights.

“You’d better put that down,” Melanie warned.

“I’m just looking!”

“Radishes, carrot sticks, olives….” their mother murmured on her way to the refrigerator. “What am I forgetting?”

“Pickles?” asked Melanie. Seeing how flustered her mother was, she decided to be on her best behavior. She would be friendly to Pete. It wasn’t his fault her father was gone. She wouldn’t be bossy to Erin. And she would even be pleasant to Arthur. After all, it was Christmas Eve.

“Pickles”" Her mother smiled her. “That’s it.”

Everyone seemed to arrive at once, then: Arthur and Cory with the chairs, Mr. Hensley carrying a dish of Mrs. Sloan’s candied yams, the landlady herself with a shopping bag full of presents, and Pete holding a huge red poinsettia plant.

The air was full of bustle and chatter. Introductions were made. Mrs. Sloan put the presents under the tree. The turkey came out of the oven for carving. Melanie finished making the salad. Her mother put the plant on the TV. Mr. Hensley poured four glasses of cranberry juice, and Pete poured wine for the adults. Soon they were all seated, passing dishes around the long, makeshift table, eating first and second helpings of everything.

“Marlene…,” Pete pushed his plate back. “I can’t thank you enough for inviting me.” He included Mrs. Sloan across from him in his nod, as he gestured around the table with one hand. “All this good food, this fine company.... It’s about the best Christmas Eve I’ve had in a long time.”

Mrs. McCormick sat between him and Mrs. Sloan at the end of the table jutting into the living room. At Pete’s words, she dimpled. “I’m just glad you could come.”

“And you know what?” said Erin, who had chosen to sit on the other side of Pete, next to Melanie, “it’s the first time we’ve had so many people since my daddy moved.”

Suddenly everyone seemed to run out of things to say.

In the conversation’s lull, Mr. Hensley cleared his throat and turned to Mrs. Sloan. “Your yams were outstanding. I believe I’ll have some more,” he told Arthur. Arthur passed them. He sat across from Melanie. Cory sat between them at the kitchen end of the table.

“So, you do magic, Pete?” Mr. Hensley remarked, as he served himself a new helping.

A pained look flitted over Pete’s face. “Not anymore. I think I’m going to be sensible and give it up, go back to painting houses. I know I can make a go of that.”

“Give up magic?” gasped Arthur.

“But you can’t!” Cory exclaimed.

“I guess everyone has this one thing inside them they just have to get out of their system,” Pete said. “For me, it was magic.”

Mrs. Sloan made a sympathetic clucking sound.

“You can’t give up magic now,” Melanie told him over Erin’s head.

“Because guess what?” said Erin. “Your tricks could work now.” She looked around at Melanie and Cory and Arthur, giggling.

“I have to be realistic,” brooded Pete.

“The kids told me you were going to be hypnotized,” said Mrs. McCormick. “Didn’t that work?”

He shook his head. “Nah. Matter of fact, I’m giving my trunk and everything in it to my friend Simon. It’s all in the car right now. I stopped by his place on the way over here, but he wasn’t home. He’s probably working at a party somewhere.” Pete gave his auburn mustache a mournful tug. “Well, he’s a good magician. At least my things will be in good hands.”

“You’ve just lost your confidence,” clucked Mrs. Sloan.

“Like writer’s block,” agreed Mr. Hensley. “You can’t let it get the best of you.” He made a fist and punched the air.

“I’ve practiced and practiced. Every trick I know,” said Pete. “In my hotel room, or at the Houdini Club; I’m all thumbs. I forget things.” He turned his palms up, then rested his fingers on the table edge. “You don’t have to keep failing to know when you’ve lost it.”

“Maybe you’re trying too hard," suggested Mrs. McCormick. “Maybe you should try doing it just for fun, for a small audience. Like us,” she urged with a bright smile.

“What a good idea,” agreed Mrs. Sloan. “You probably went into magic for fun in the first place. You want to keep it light,” she advised.

Pete rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That does make sense. I have been pretty tense every time I’ve practiced. To tell the truth, Simon couldn’t even hypnotize me, I was so wound up.”

“At least give it another chance,” Cory insisted. “That’s what Poison Ivy, tells us at school.” When Mrs. McCormick fixed a stare on him, he added, “Uh, I mean Mr. Ivy."

“Yeah, keep trying,” Arthur said. “Mr. Garcia writes that on my math tests all the time.”

“I’d love to see one little card trick,” coaxed Mrs. McCormick.

Pete tapped chin with a forefinger thoughtfully, then nodded. “Okay. One trick. I’ll go get my cards.”

When he returned, he sat down and started shuffling the deck. It was a normal sized deck, unlike the one he had used onstage. After a moment, he commented, “Well, I got this far.” With a quick grin, he put the deck in front of Mrs. McCormick. “Cut the cards.”

Cory and Melanie stood up and crowded behind their mother’s chair as she took the top half of the deck and set it next to the bottom half. Pete restacked the cards, talking a lot, Melanie thought, as Arthur ambled over beside her, for someone who should be concentrating on his trick.

“To you,” Pete was telling her mother, “this may seem an unusual request, although nothing in magic is unusual.” He spread out the cards in a fan, face down. “Take a card, any card. Just any card,” he urged, when she hesitated. He closed his eyes and Mrs. McCormick drew out a card.

“Let everyone see it,” he directed, snapping the deck together with a flourish, eyes still closed. She flashed it around for all to see. It was the six of hearts.

“I know what it is,” said Erin. “It’s….”

“Don’t tell me,” warned Pete. “Put it back in the deck, Marlene….”

She did so and said, “Okay.”

He opened his eyes. “Remember your card?”

“Yes.”

“Do all of you?” Pete looked around the table. Everyone nodded. Melanie and Cory exchanged grins.

“Blow a kiss to your card to give it good luck,” Pete told their mother.

She giggled. “I can’t do that! I’d feel silly.”

“C’mon, Mom, it’s part of the trick,” said Cory. Blushing, Mrs. McCormick raised her fingertips to her lips and blew an invisible kiss.

“So… I’ll just sort through, now, and find your card....” Pete fanned the cards again, face up this time, carefully laying them on the table. He tapped the corner of each card until he came to the six of hearts, then fished it out to shrieks of astonishment.

Melanie stared. In the white center of the card, between two columns of red hearts, was the bright red imprint of a pair of lips.

“Yesss!” Arthur held up his thumbs.

His father took a small notepad and ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and began scribbling. “Stolen cards,” he mumbled. “Kiss of Death? Hah! That’s good.”

Melanie couldn’t help smiling at Pete. “Your magic’s back!”

His face fairly glowed with excitement. “Your idea worked!” he told her mother.

“Do another trick,” said Erin. “Pleeeze?”

“Yeah, just one?” Cory asked.

Pete laughed. “Just one? I’ll do a whole show for you! Minus the rabbit act,” he added with a regretful sigh. “Oh, well.”

Mr. Hensley tapped his lower lip with the end of his pen. “That means you surprise us with the rabbit act last. It’s part of your patter, right?”

Melanie remembered her earlier promise. “Can I call Jenny and see if she can come over?”

Her mother shook her head. “Her folks might not want their own celebration interrupted.”

“Well, can you do your act for her sometime?” Melanie asked Pete. “She’s my best friend.”

“You bet I will!” He said it so sincerely, Melanie forgot her earlier resentment of him.

Her mother got up. “I’d better whip the cream for the pies and put the coffee on now so we can have dessert after the show. You boys help Melanie clear the table.”

“I’ll cut the pies,” Mrs. Sloan offered, following her to the counter.

“I’ll go get my trunk from the car,” said Pete.

In hardly any time at all, the trunk stood near the hallway, next to the small table with its purple cloth. Mrs. Sloan, Mr. Hensley, and Mrs. McCormick all sat on the sofa. Erin was on her mother’s lap. Melanie, Arthur, and Cory were on the floor in front of them. Everyone was silent, waiting.

At last Mondo the Magician—Pete no longer—emerged from the hallway, wearing his purple cape and suit. They all started clapping.

“Wonderful!” cried Mrs. Sloan.

Mondo bowed. Tipping his silk top hat to them, he took his gold baton from inside it, then settled the hat on his head again.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “May I have a volunteer from the audience?” Arthur and Cory nearly knocked each other over trying to scramble to their feet. But Mondo walked around them to the end of the couch and took the Hensley’s landlady by the hand.

“Merciful heavens!” Mrs. Sloan turned a deep, rosy pink. Pulling several times at her red paisley pleated skirt, she followed him to a spot beside the trunk.

“Mrs. Sloan....” He fixed her with a long gaze. “I need your help.”

She gave an anxious nod and pinched her skirt again. Melanie had never seen her so nervous.

Mondo set his wand behind the trunk and took a yellow silk scarf from his pocket, waving it in the air a few times for them all to see. “I’m going to make this scarf disappear. Watch closely.” Mrs. Sloan’s eyes were riveted on his hands and the scarf. Mondo splayed the fingers of his left hand for everyone to see it was empty.

“First,” he addressed them all, “I’m going to close my hand like this.” He made a fist with his left hand. “Then I’m going to stuff my scarf into it, like this.” He began poking the yellow silk into the opening made by his thumb and forefinger, while Mrs. Sloan watched it disappear.

“Here’s where I need your help,” he told her. “Blow on my fist.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Go ahead,” he encouraged her. “Just blow.”

“Dear me!” She tittered, then did as he asked.

“Poof!” he said, and uncurled his fingers. The scarf was gone. Mrs. Sloan opened her mouth, then closed it.

“It’s in your sleeve,” Cory predicted, his eyes lighting up.

“Examine my sleeves, Mrs. Sloan,” commanded Mondo. She did so, her face a picture of wonderment.

“Why, Melanie!” Mondo swiveled to fix her with a shocked stare. Melanie froze. He came over and bent down to examine her face, then neck, more closely.

Nervously, she cleared her throat. "What?"

“You took my scarf.”

“No, I didn’t.”

Grinning, he pulled the yellow scarf from behind her right ear.

“Ex-cel-lent!” Arthur flopped down on the floor and pounded it with both hands.

“That’s tight!” said Cory.

Mr. Hensley took out his notepad and pen again.

Next Mondo set three red plastic glasses on the table and had Erin put a bean under one of them. He moved the glasses around and had her pick up each one. The bean was gone, but he found it again under her chin.

“….disappearing bullet…,” muttered Mr. Hensley, scribbling furiously.

Then Mondo seated Arthur and Cory on either side of the table and stacked the three glasses on top of one another. Flattening his palm, he pushed on the top glass until all three disappeared. The boys checked under the table. Arthur peeked under the purple cloth. Cory took it off entirely. Mondo knocked again on the tabletop, then reached under and pushed from below with one hand. He cupped his other hand on the table top a moment, raised it, and there were the glasses, stacked as before.

The evening flew as Mondo did one trick after another.

“And now, if I may call Wayne Hensley up,” he said. Arthur’s father, all smiles, pocketed his pen and notepad and strolled over to the table. Mondo removed his top hat and set it brim-side up on the cloth. Taking a bottle of water from behind the trunk, he unscrewed the cap.

“Wayne,” he said. “Please show the audience the hat is empty.”

Arthur’s father held the hat up, turned it upside down and gave it a little shake, then showed the interior around to everyone. “Empty,” he pronounced.

Mondo set it on the table again. “Hold out your hand,” he directed, and dribbled water over Mr. Hensley’s outstretched palm. “Pretty wet, wouldn’t you agree?” Arthur’s father nodded.

“Now, hold the hat steady with both hands,” directed Mondo. When Mr. Hensley put his hands around the tall crown, Mondo started pouring water into the hat. “Where does it all go?” he wondered out loud. “The hat is still empty.”

But Mr. Hensley started laughing. His laughter turned to snorts. “No, it isn’t. I knew it,” he gasped. He let go of the hat and slapped his leg.

Mondo’s jaw dropped. His eyes bulged.

Melanie leaned forward. So did Arthur and Cory.

Through the open hat brim, a long, slender pair of brown and white ears twitched. A moment later, a whiskered face peeped out. Cries of delight ran around the room as a large brown and white spotted rabbit leaped out of the hat onto the table and froze, her nose quivering.

“It’s Lucky!” shrieked Erin. Arthur and Cory did a high-five. Melanie hugged herself.

“This is great!” Mr. Hensley slapped his leg again, still laughing. “How do you guys do these things?”

Mondo continued to gape at the rabbit. He closed his eyes. He opened them again. A little shudder seemed to run through him. He drew in a long breath and let it out. He cleared his throat.

“Years of practice,” he finally said, and took a deep bow.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006



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