The Cinderella Sham or…Why Don’t I Want a Prince?

photo courtesy Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella And they lived happily ever after…… Whoever  among all you ladies-in-waiting out there that can deny the lilting taunt of this phrase, the teasing promise of a life lived in perfection beneath the adoring gaze of the world’s most devoted and handsome man alive is-well-lying.  Or you are highly evolved as a member of the fairer sex; and I applaud you. It all begins with the stories, those innocent tales read to us as bedtime pacifiers meant to send us off to dreamland with hope and contentment.  What it does, dear and unsuspecting parents … Continue reading The Cinderella Sham or…Why Don’t I Want a Prince?

A Time for Ceremony/The Sanctification/Forever Never


Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion


Cheryl Pennington

all rights reserved

As we left the garden, preparations were beginning for ceremony.  It was time to call to Eternity to bless the new life that was born to Dohman’s first human couple, a life with great hope attached.  Through this child, the rift in the soul might be healed, ending the need for fear, the need for doubt, and the certainty of continued love within existence.  One by one, the Light Ones are called to The Garden; and they arrive, bearing gifts and hopeful for the events to come…..

The Sanctification

Entering the clearing that Eolas remembered as the living space of M’na and Fireann, he barely recognized it, so transformed it had become from the open, simple home he last saw.  The once overgrown patch of cleared woods where the males together built the couple’s dwelling had quickly evolved.   Their home was situated in the center; but now there stood several new structures around it. Along with the home of the Garden Family, their were dwellings for visitors also. The Hunter could smell freshly cut wood, telling him the newest addition had been recent. He could see that Fireann made improvements to their dwelling, adding windows through which long beams of light fell across the wood floor.  Eolas circled the structure, pausing to observe the way Fireann had strengthened it with support poles and sealed out the wind with dried grasses on top. He admired the way that the flowering vines of the surrounding forest had crept in to gently envelop the place, their blooms tumbling down the from the top, adding bursts of color everywhere they fell.  Their fragrant scent was taunting his senses.  It was most intoxicating.
Or perhaps it was the liquid that bubbled innocently in the stone container sitting over the fire pit that produced the headiness in the air around them.

The stone fire-pit that crackled in the center of the clearing sent flames licking the air and bringing to life a gooey concoction that bubbled within a small, stone bowl placed over it. This container was nothing like Eolas’ roughly hand chipped and beaten bowls, however.  Close inspection revealed that it had been worn completely smooth and there were intricate marks on the inside and around the top edge. The Hunter felt awed by its mystical quality; but something stronger stirred within the Warrior, Laoch, as he gazed at the vessel which seemed to call to him with a voice of recognition.

The perfectly scratched designs resonated within his soul.  Gazing at it in wonder, he instinctively reached down to touch the leather pouch that hung around his neck where he checked the contents.  Still there.  He was pleased he had made the trip without losing or damaging anything.  When the time was right, he would reveal his gift.

The ground was cleared to a soft circle of dirt surrounding the fire pit.  Within the circle were positioned large, flat rocks, carefully placed around it.  There were stones to each side of the steps leading into the dwelling; then the others were placed to the sides of these, equally distant.  Directly across from the entryway was a wide path that had been lined with small limbs and freshly picked flowers of all varieties from within the garden.  The fragrance coming from them was sweet and strong.  It was apparent now to both Warrior and Hunter that the headiness in the air was coming not just from the bubbling liquid, but from every corner of this place. Inside the stone bowl a thick, translucent liquid with a grayish hue bubbled away, while silvery wisps of vapor wafted up into the trees. This scent mingled with that of the flowers to create a tantalizing, dizzying feeling.

The flower lined path led out into the undergrowth; and where it ended lay the heart of Foirfeachta, a sacred place that had never been entered by any but the Garden couple and their Goddess mother. Ancient trees arched lovingly over the path, their branches reaching down to embrace the scene as though intending to be a part of this glorious celebration. Beyond the heart of the Garden lay the dark shade of the lush forest.

And then she was there.  Eolas felt her first, as something within his center stirred. Acknowledging this shift within his essence, he scanned the clearing quickly, searching every corner for the source of his excitement. At first he saw nothing and his heart began to sink a little, although he still did not comprehend why.   But she was there.  While his keen eye had been scanning the clearing, she had emerged from the dwelling, carrying a deep bowl piled high with fruits, berries and nuts, all gathered from the Garden for the ceremony.   There was more than enough for everyone.   Eagna moved deftly around the circle to a table they had formed of wood and stone and knelt to place the food on top of it. The Hunter admired the way she seemed to glide across the ground, so like the graceful birds over the river.

As Eagna worked silently, she felt a tugging from the center of her chest and looked up to see the two new arrivals now in their midst.  Caught off guard and reacting to her sense of excitement, she lost her step, nearly sending the efforts of her morning’s labors tumbling onto the ground.  Without error, she righted everything and skillfully balanced it all within the bowl once more. Calmly regaining her composure, she straightened her shoulders and turned to greet Eolas and Laoch, who were amused and trying to suppress laughter.  Instead, they hurried to her side, realizing she might need a hand, both eager to help this lovely new presence.

“Hello, friends, we have been expecting you,” Eagna said with a smile. The males exchanged questioning glances,  wondering how the others in this entourage had been advised of their arrival, what creatures brought the news of their coming.  In time, each would tell their stories of dreams and visions; but for now there were more pressing matters to  attend to.

Eagna extended her hand to the males.  Laoch unabashedly reached grasp it eagerly into his own large hand.  When he released his warrior’s hold on her, she then held it timidly out to Eolas who took it gently within his own. Her pulse quickening, she looked up into the eyes of the Hunter; and as she gazed into their brown depths, both felt a sense of comfort and familiarity that neither could understand.
“Hello again, my friend.” It was Eagna who spoke now. She smiled warmly at both males, but her eyes quickly returned to the figure of Eolas.

“Laoch and I are honored to be a part of this celebration,” stated the Hunter. Laoch wondered why the other male’s voice sounded different, silently noting the exchange of energy between his companion and this wise female.   Still, he thought nothing much of it and turned to the task of unceremoniously unloading his cumbersome bundles, striking up dust and debris in the process.  Stirred from their brief moment of connection, Eagna quickly withdrew her hand.

“Come, now, there is a place better suited for this,” stated Eolas as he led Laoch to a more private area for the two to stow their belongings.  Eagna, feeling not just a little flushed, returned her attention to the food preparations.

Noafa soon appeared from the deeply forested edge of the clearing, carrying more herbs which, after she had sorted, carefully placed within the bowl of simmering aromatic brew.  Her movements were precise and yet elegant; and Eagna continued to feel awed, if not a bit intimidated, when in her presence.  When the Sorceress finished, she left the circle and approached the others who were now busily tending to their own work. Eolas and Laoch having returned, stood up in their manner of respect.  Eagna stopped her own task and looked up.

Realizing she had likely come to retrieve the bundles they helped carry, Eolas quickly scooped them up and handed them to Naofa, aware of the contents that rolled around in one as he did so.  In the other..well, he could not be certain; but it felt as if something were moving within it, ever so slightly. Grasping both bundles firmly and giving Eolas a nod of thanks, Naofa took the things from him, turned on her heel and went back into the circle to the fire pit, not speaking, but pausing to wink quickly at Laoch. As they watched the Sorceress walk away, they became mesmerized; and for some reason they all felt compelled to stop what they were doing to observe her as she worked.

Naofa carefully untied the first bundle and let the cloth drop away from several colored stones.  From this short distance Eolas could see that they were not common stones.  One was translucent, another the color of ground moss.  Laoch was enthralled as well and saw that the third stone was the color of the cliffs where he lived. They watched as she carefully laid a wide circle around the fire pit with these stones.  Eagna admired the next stone, a smooth, flat one that was the color of her river waters, deep gray with flecks of blue. Another stone emerged as that of the sun rising in the morning, bright and flawless. The one which followed was as black as a night without stars, but the surface shone like moonlight on water. The next one was as red as the blood which coursed through every living being.  Each of the onlookers let go a tiny gasp when this one appeared in Naofa’s hands.  She continued placing them carefully to encircle the fire, moving with grace and efficiency. Next appeared a stone that was deep blue-green-as an ocean wave. The last stone was larger than the rest and had straight sides rather than smooth, rounded ones.  It was elongated, with sharp points on both ends, as noted in the calculating mind of the Warrior.  Eagna saw it as the still water that pooled near her home, where she could see her reflection in the moonlight as she bathed. It was so peaceful for her to imagine.  If Eolas could have seen that same vision, he would not have been able to focus on the image forming within his own mind-that of the the female’s eyes-glassy and clear. He imagined them a place where he might lose himself when she looked at him.

As she cradled this amazing crystal stone in her hands, Naofa whispered softly while she carried it to a place just in front of the fire pit  closest to the two stones standing in front of the family’s dwelling. Raising this stone high over her head in both hands, she lifted it to the sun.  The light struck its surface and was caught there within its mufti-faceted form for a brief instant before splintering out through the other side where it fell upon the soft dirt in ribbons of brilliant color.  The trio was amazed, for it mimicked the magnificent arches that hung across the skies after a rain.  Naofa held it high there for long moments while they enjoyed this dazzling display of light and color.

Its reflection must have filtered through the entrance to the dwelling; for Fireann and M’na soon appeared at the entrance, their new son cradled in the female’s arms. As they witnessed the light display, they were in wonder of this female who could produce the same magic that colored their skies.

Eagna looked away from the miracle of light for a moment to gaze at the little family across the clearing, and her heart became warmed by the Light of Eternity as she looked upon each face-Mother, Father and Son.  A brief smile touched the lips of the infant as he watched the form and light dancing in front of them.  The gentle smile faded as Naofa lowered her arms and brought the stone to rest upon a small altar just in front of the fire, midway between it and the two primary flat rocks. Eagna hadn’t noticed the little altar until now.  Its wood was twisted and curved, like entwined fingers and seemed perfectly made for this particular stone. Naofa seemed oblivious to the admirers and continued with her work, moving around the circle and, kneeling before each stone in turn, whispering words too low for any present to comprehend.

The spell broken,  they returned to their tasks. It was only Eagna who continued to watch, noting that each time Naofa touched a stone as she moved about the circle, the flames in the fire flared for a moment. She found it fascinating, the talents of this Sorceress.

The new family stepped out into the light of day, the infant crying until its Mother gave it the suckle it wanted. Fireann looked down at his son and smiled, slowly shaking his head.  He touched M’na’s cheek as he turned to make his way towards the newly arrived guests to welcome them once again to his home.  Seeing Fireann’s broad grin was welcome indeed to both travelers.
“Hello my friend!  We are full of joy for you and honored to be a part of this celebration of new life, this miracle for Dohman.” It was Eolas’ warm handshake that was extended first.

Laoch waited patiently and in turn gripped the hand of the first Father on their world as he added, “We will have much to teach this little one as he grows.  But for now….” He knew he should wait for the ceremony but was too eager to show his joy for Fireann’s gift of life.  The Warrior knelt by his bundle and withdrew an object from it. It appeared to be a measure of smooth wood with no splinters or rough edges. Firmly attached to one end was the dried, hollowed out shell of the small gourd which grew along the outer fringes of Foirfeachta. It, too, had been rubbed smooth. Fireann remembered giving some of these to Laoch before he left to return to his own lands.

As Laoch handed the object to Fireann, he added in his roughly gentle voice, “This is my gift to the child.  It is my hope that he be delighted and comforted by it.”   He gave it a quick shake and a soft rattling sound came from the gourd end. Laoch’s eyes twinkled as he added, “And you will always know when he is near.” He smiled at Fireann proudly and slid his fingers down to a large loop of thin leather attached to the other end.  He put several fingers through the hole, showing that the toy could be fastened about one’s arm or leg. How clever and how wonderful, thought Fireann, feeling a surge of overwhelming affection for his Warrior friend as he happily accepted the gift, placing a hand on Laoch’s shoulder.

“Thank you from myself and my son who has yet only the ability to cry out in anger and need.”  Fireann chuckled.  Laoch was filled with complete satisfaction, knowing his gift was well received.
Eagna was moved by this gesture of the Warrior’s heart and could not fathom his being anything other than greatness in flesh. She moved from where she had been working, nodded a good morning to Fireann and passed between him and Eolas as she returned to the dwelling to offer her assistance to M’na.  The new mother seemed never to be separated from her infant. As the males watched her walk away, it was Fireann who broke the silence. “Perhaps you will desire a companion someday in your land in the mountains, my friend,” he said, thoughtfully and in earnest.

Eolas was taken off guard as he struggled for a deflective response. “Today is about celebrating your companion and the gift you and M’na have brought into our world. There will be other moments to ponder such possibilities.” They both laughed nervously and Fireann offered to help Eolas ready his sleeping roll and supplies in the new shelter that had been prepared for this occasion.  Laoch grabbed his bundles and joined them, the three disappearing from the clearing.

“He feeds as though he has never suckled before,” noted Eagna.

“Or ever will again,” laughed M’na in return. “I would never deny him anything.  My love for my son surpasses any I have known in my life.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It shames me to say that I love him more than my own Fireann, although I love my companion no less.”

Eagna, stepping into her role as counselor and friend, assured the new Mother, “It is a separate Love you know for that which is created from within yourself.  No greater love exists that I know of. It is the reason for any of our being. The Creator feels this love for each and every thing that is known, for it all came from The One. Do not condemn yourself for loving your son more than yourself.  He is you, brought forth in flesh so that you may know yourself completely. So, you see, it is impossible to love one thing or one being more than another in the thought of eternity.”

M’na absorbed these words before she spoke again. “Do you believe this miracle is possible, that what makes us forget that we are whole will become manifest in this tiny infant?”
Eagna thought carefully before she spoke again, for none knew the eventual outcome of this experiment or if it would continue on in other humans. Did she believe? She certainly did not know. What she was certain of was the power of that which had created all that she was aware of. And if anything was possible, that power could bring it into being. “If there is indeed a way to mend what was rent apart from the beginning, then we will only know as your son’s consciousness awakens. His soul was prepared carefully before being placed into this tiny body; but it will also be your responsibility to remind him of the truth you have accepted, even at those times when that truth seems fragile and distant to your own soul. Can you do this, Mother of Humankind?”

M’na looked into the sincerity of Eagna’s questioning eyes as her own dark eyes brimmed over with salty tears and proclaimed unwaveringly, “With every breath I have in me, I will aspire to bring wholeness to our being. I will never leave my son alone as long as I have the will and the life to be there for him. Harm can only reach him if I or Fireann be undone first.”

Eagna did not question the truth in her statements.  They had all lived long upon Dohman thus far, M’na the longest; and still she remained the vision of beauty and strength that she was from the time of her creation. Would she always be thus?  The female who admired her now wondered.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Naofa’s voice, filling the quiet forest with her call to the heavens.

“Spiorad Mor, thy gift is with us, thy Light is upon us as we gather here to celebrate Humanity’s child and anoint him with the blessings which you have Created.  Be with us in our celebration!”  The fire in the pit grew larger as she spoke; and within the flames, Eagna thought she could see flying creatures, like the winged shimmering creatures that hovered near the river’s edge. They hummed and buzzed as the call to Eternity left the Sorceress’s lips. Then, just as quickly as Eagna saw them, they disappeared as Naofa became silent and lowered her arms to her sides.  Smiling, she turned to the two women and motioned for them to move inside. It was nearing time for the ceremony to begin.

Just emerging from a cleansing swim in the cold waters of the creek, the males heard the cry of the Sorceress as it was lifted upwards and carried across the forest. Looking skyward, they saw flocks of colorful birds take wing as she spoke.  They were not certain what it was she had said, but the sound of her voice and the tone it carried seemed to beckon all to come.  Their time for sharing hunting stories and becoming more familiar had been jovial and lighthearted; but their mood became more subdued as they dried themselves and prepared to rejoin the others back at the clearing.
Inside the dwelling, the infant son of M’na and Fireann was given a gentle cleansing with water that had been taken from the spring which flowed at the center of the Inner Garden, where grew the tree with its gift of Creation. The spring’s source began at the base of that very tree from which the sweet nectar of fertility had been drawn, and from there made its way down the gentle slope throughout the rest of the garden. Naofa brought a light, soft cloth made of fibers that were strange to M’na and Eagna;, but neither questioned the Female of Mystery.  After the child was bathed, each one in turn kissed his brow and said her own silent blessing for his soul, his journey and his destiny.

Eagna and Naofa pulled M’na’s long dark locks of hair into sections and lifted them above her shoulders, fastening them loosely. They then tucked in various fragrant flowers from the garden, the white ones being M’na’s own favorite. Their scent made her head swim a little, but it helped to calm any anxiety about the ceremony. She knew her legacy was Eternal; but in this new role she felt very small and insignificant. The magnitude of her gift and the mission at hand might have brought a sense of power and fullness to another, but in her space of loneliness she feared failure. If she didn’t protect her son, if he didn’t fulfill the plan, would Great Spirit be disappointed in her? Would her Mother take her from the Garden where she would never see Fireann or her infant again? Or would they simply call his young soul back into the eternal bosom?

Naofa sensed these fears rising within Eternity’s Daughter and knelt beside her, becoming gentle and serious when she spoke. “These fears inside of you come from the very place we are hoping to repair.  It creates seeds of fear which can only serve to diminish the gift of Light and Love which is your birthright.  Great Spirit asks no task of you, no homage to be made, no trial to be won to know Its Love. This gift is for all of Dohman, with the hope that the empty place within his new soul is so insignificant, so surrounded by Love, that it becomes as the sound of a whisper in a Thunderstorm. All you must do as his Mother is to give him your love, keep him safe, and see only the Light that exists within you both. This is what Spiorad Mor would have of all Its creations.  Until now it has been a struggle for them; and some have moved in the way of darkness as a result.  We must be ever mindful to know which voices are speaking to us.”

M’na asked in earnest, “But how will we know the difference?”

There was strength, comfort and certainty in Naofa’s voice when she answered, “That which comes from the Light will never cause you pain and will never urge you to bring pain upon another.”

M’na had never desired to cause pain for anyone. She had not even known pain until she gave birth, other than what she felt when she was careless in the forest or brushed her hand accidentally too near the fire.  The pain of birth had brought forth such glory in her child, she thought as she turned to gaze at him, lying so small atop their bed. He was so peaceful, delightfully holding his hands up in the light and smiling into the face of all that was to come. She felt comforted by Naofa’s words.

Eagna, who had silently been continuing to attend to M’na’s hair, touched her shoulder and added, “The most important thing to remember, to impart to your son, and to share with your companion, is that you are never EVER alone.  Even if you stand silent in a void of darkness and doubt, look for the Light. It is always with you, within you.  I do not know what lies in store for any of us; I only understand that this realm, our Existence, is the Creation of all who exist within it. It will be as we all are.  Do you understand this truth?”

M’na felt a warmth rush over her entire body, sending little chills to every part.  Her heart ached as tears rolled down her soft cheeks. Reaching for a hand from each of her wise counselors, she held them fast and knew the truth of their words.  In the presence of such strength and beauty how could she have had any doubts? How easy it is to be comforted when in the presence of great Love. The real test would be knowing comfort in the silence of physical separation. “Just wait and see…”, the very small voice in the void tried to call out. But for now she could hear nothing but the beating of her own joyful heart and the cooing sounds coming from her son. Before leaving the dwelling a soft skin was draped around her shoulders that fell around her knees. The infant was placed in her arms just before they stepped out and into the Circle of Sanctification, with Naofa leading Mother and Child and Eagna following behind.

Inion, watching from the realm, was filled with tremendous love for her daughters. They were a trinity of Strength, Love and Wisdom.
The males were standing near the edge of the dwelling as the  females emerged, with M’na holding the child of Unity lovingly in her arms.  The scent of the herbs that had been bubbling all morning hung heavily in the air; and everyone could now feel the effects of its aroma.  Naofa motioned M’na to sit on one of the flat stones that was placed near the doorway to their dwelling.  She directed Fireann to his place beside his companion. Going to her bundle, she withdrew a cord of leather from within it. Returning to where Fireann sat, she held the cord up for all to see that there was a stone dangling from the center. It was translucent brown with golden flecks that glimmered in the sunlight.  All present thought their first glimpse of this stone looked like the eye of the great cat.  Naofa turned to stand before Fireann, continuing to lift high the stone as she spoke.

“Son of Eternity. Companion to Dohman’s first Daughter. Father of the Unity through Humankind. This stone is a gift from the eternal essence that moves within the all.  It is as the eye of the Great Cat who lives by its prowess and understanding of its place.  It will gift you with great strength, fortitude, and perseverance.  Just as the great cat stalks its prey with vigilance, patience and tenacity; so should you move through this life.  Dohman honors your journey with this gift. Wear it in the knowledge that the strength of the Great Cat Spirit goes with you.”
Naofa then leaned and fastened the cord around Fireann’s neck. The stone hung against his fair skin and glimmered in the sunlight which was now making its way to the far side of the Garden. Here in Foirfeachta, the sun rose over the trees and fell behind the distant mountains. M’na reached out a free hand to grasp that of Fireann, squeezing it gently. When he looked up in gratitude at the Sorceress, she saw the great solemnity with which he accepted this gift.  She touched the stone one last time. It seemed to glow for the instant that her finger lingered there before she stood and turned to the two males left standing on the fringes of the circle.

Sensing what was to come, they moved closer to the fire pit as Naofa motioned them to sit, one on either side of the fire, flanking the family.
Each carried with them a bundle and an instrument of sound, made by their own hands from the natural gifts of their homeland.  Eagna, now understanding where her place was to be, went over and seated herself upon the large, flat rock that was closest to Eolas. She, too, had a bundle she held close to her side.  (Wisdom and Knowledge, good partners for this ceremony.) Their eyes met for an instant as she took her position. Something stirred within each of them, although neither could discern whether it was the headiness of the scent-filled air or something entirely different. Both pushed these feelings aside and focused on the ceremony, for they knew this was not the moment for them.
When everyone was in place, Naofa turned from the family and stepped closer to the fire pit. Next to it were placed a group of small, wooden cups. Fireann was instructed to make these and had done his job well, smoothing the insides and carving the symbols just as Naofa had asked him to do. The markings were different on each one, revealing the gifts of Spirit that its contents would hold for the one who took it within. She picked each one up in turn, dipping its edge in the syrupy liquid that simmered over the fire, partially filling each and then setting them aside.  She turned to face the stone where Eolas sat, quietly awaiting her next move.

Although everyone present knew they would be participants, nothing had been revealed of their role prior to the present moment. It was understood that Spirit was guiding this ceremony just as it guided all things in existence.  When Naofa spoke his name, Eolas knew at once what was in his heart and what he would share.
“Eolas, come and greet the gift of Eternity, alive in the miracle child of M’na and Fireann.”

Before Eolas went to the family, Naofa handed him one of the cups and waited for him to drink. The draft was strong with herbs and mildly bitter; but he downed all that was in the cup before turning to face the new family. They looked positively frightened and radiant at once.  He couldn’t contain his smile of appreciation for all they had agreed to carry on their shoulders.  When he began to speak, all became still. He spread his arms wide as the words flowed from the Hunter’s heart. Continue reading “A Time for Ceremony/The Sanctification/Forever Never”

Jack’s Kiss/A Wintry Affair

Jack’s Kiss Why shrink you so from my advances, delicate bloom? Do you find me so abhorrent; you, who flourish in the face of my cousin’s golden light? Why do you hang your head in cold silence? Am I not worthy of your smile, your scent, your soft and kind morning face? Why do you weep such hardened tears for me? Do you not know I am but a fleeting stranger in your midst that soon will retreat? Why do you keep your silent vigil for Springtime? Do you not know that seasons pass, must last, no matter that you … Continue reading Jack’s Kiss/A Wintry Affair

Smoke and Mirrors/When the Magic Fails


Smoke and Mirrors

by Cheryl Pennington

  Hector sauntered down the dimly lit hallway, his dirty shoes grinding grit and mud into the already stained carpet.  Looking down at the fading rug he wondered if those swirls started out pink or just faded to the incongruous color they were now.  Pale curls against a dull green background.  He thought they would be better suited on a sofa.  It would at least be better than the ugly piece of crap that sat in his own living room-with the ugly sack of sh..the uglier door suddenly loomed before him. 

 He rapped his knuckles against the fake wood.  Knock, knock, knock…..silence.

He rapped more loudly. Knock, knock, knock!

Nothing. He would have pounded with both fists if he hadn’t heard the muffled sound of feet heading towards the other side of the aqua blue distraction of a door.  Again he thought, ‘How fucked up was the dude who put together this hell hole of an apartment building? Was he color blind or just cheap?’

The door swung open quickly and Hector jumped back instinctively.

“Whoa, man, what’s up?”  He looked Danny up and down, thinking he resembled the warmed over takeout he had scarfed for breakfast-not more than a hint of what it started out as. Danny’s clothes were wrinkled, his shirt a faded Red Hot Chili Peppers job he had picked up at the Goodwill Store in a moment of irony-he hated those dudes.  But his girlfriend at the time loved them; and if Danny was nothing else, he was a slave to love. What was her name again? Patty? Pity? Ratty? Oh yeahhh….Petty, that was it. Or that was what she was. When they broke up he thought his friend had sacrificially burned that shirt, for he was also a bitter asshole when it came to the goodbyes. Beyond the ugly tee, he sported only his boxers.

Danny didn’t answer his friend, but merely left the door standing open, growled and turned to walk back into what passed for a living room in the tiny apartment.  It was all his friend could afford now that he was living alone again. Hell, he couldn’t afford this place either; but he had to live somewhere.  No going back to his folks’ place. Never again.  He was a big boy after all. Just one more thing he had to prove to his old man-even now. Hector knew Danny loved the old bastard but somehow he seemed always angry with him.  Hector wished he had folks like Danny’s-always supporting, directing, giving…he couldn’t understand a guy not wanting that kind of love.

“What’ve you been up to here?”  Hector was not surprised to see his friend’s laundry piled precariously on the love seat and his shoes piled in a haphazard heap in a dark corner-after all, he didn’t have a proper closet.  He was, however, shocked to see a new piece of furniture there beneath the window, the only source of natural light in the place.  The sun was finally peaking out, creating a dusty light that filtered across a small fold out table, the kind Hector’s own old man used on poker night. Only this one had no beer stains or cigarette burns in them.  Tables could take that kind of shit though.

Danny didn’t answer but simply knelt down and began to arrange things on the table which he had covered with a piece of tattered black felt.  Well, it was more like a dull gray at this point, but Hector felt it must have been black once. His friend was attempting rather unsuccessfully to smooth out wrinkles in the cloth that looked more stubborn than his efforts. Hector reached out to give him a hand, but Danny brushed it off, grunting in an agitated way.

“Okay, dude.  Just tryin’ to help. What is all this anyway?”  No response. “Okay maybe I came at a bad time. I’m just gonna’ go down to Shiner’s for a beer and..”

“Shiners?  This early?!” Danny shot back, not even looking up. Next he began putting some things on the table which he pulled out of a red silky-looking sack that lay close to where he knelt.  It appeared to still be in good shape-in fact it looked almost new. Odd shapes and colors were spilling out of it, things Hector felt a vague recollection of, like a memory of an old cartoon he might have watched as a kid. What was that show?

“Daaamn…,” he remembered now. Magic! Those are magician’s props.  What was that stupid show again? He could never remember the names of things like that.  His old man would say it was too much beer.  His old man had no room to judge.

“What are you doing here so early?” Danny’s tone was distractedly irritated as he carefully positioned the items on his table. “I..I..have things to do, man.  And beer isn’t on the list for breakfast.”

“What you talking, breakfast?  Look out your window man. It’s almost noon.” Hector stepped around the table to pull back the faded curtain and bumped it, causing the carefully placed items to topple over.  A couple of colored plastic balls rolled to the hardwood floor and bounced once or twice before rolling off under the sofa.

“Jesus, look what you did!” Danny scrambled after the balls as if they were golden turds or something.  “Why did you come here Hector? Can’t you see I’m busy?!” He sounded far too angry for this to be about plastic balls, his buddy thought. Still, this was his own doing, so Hector lifted one end of the sofa while the irritated young man on all fours retrieved his balls. This thought tickled Hector and he laughed out loud.  He thought Danny would like this connection.

“What the hell is so funny, man?  I NEED those balls!” Danny shouted angrily, thinking his friend considered all this a big joke. This made Hector more tickled and he almost dropped the sofa laughing now. But Danny didn’t laugh.  Hector realized his friend didn’t laugh much these days. Or try to make anyone else laugh for that matter. And that had been what appealed to Hector most of all in the beginning.  Danny was always the comedian in the room and, after all, isn’t that what he did down at Slap ‘n Happy’s every Friday night for open mike? He performed his stand up routine.  He was so fucking funny and it killed Hector’s soul to see him losing that. It had been weeks since he’d seen a glimpse of that guy.

“You can put that down now,” Danny shot over his shoulder.  Hector realized his friend had returned to organizing the items on his table.

“Dude, what is all this?  I mean, you picked a helluva time to start learning magic tricks.  I thought we could grab some beers, get some burritos-you know, hang out?”

Danny never looked up, but when he finished organizing his toys, he retreated into the kitchenette and returned shortly, arms loaded with-what the hell?  Cartons of cigarettes!  This guy never thought about smoking anything non recreational, not for one second. Especially with all that had happened. He must have already opened the ends of a few cartons for now the packs began spilling from them like confetti at the Macy’s parade on turkey day.

“Shit!” Danny exclaimed and once again Hector tried to help his friend by catching the packs still tumbling from his arms. Quickening his steps did no favors for Danny as that only encouraged the spilling. “Shit, shit, shit!” He tossed the cartons onto the floor in front of the magician’s altar and heaved a heavy sigh as he corralled the packs with his foot.  He turned around to pick up the stray packs but Hector was right there, his hands cradling the lost cargo which he held out to his friend.  Their eyes met for a split second and the look in Danny’s eyes frightened the other.  It was both pain-filled and manic at once.  Hector swore he saw tiny demons dancing in the shadows of his half dilated pupils, demons with lit cigarettes and…Danny quickly turned around and began opening a pack of the cigarettes.

Danny dropped to his knees in front of his project, aimlessly fumbling with the cellophane wrapping of the pack. These damn things looked so easy to open when his father did it.  Every time. Every damned time!  How often had he watched his old man lovingly pick up a brand new pack and peel off the little ribbon with the red tip?  Ribbons and bows, flowers and funer…he flicked the thing to the floor and started on the paper.

“So….whatcha’ doing with all this stuff?” Hector was truly curious now, while all thoughts of burritos went flying out the dusty window and up over the stinking city. But he remembered the beers. He still wanted those.  When he got no response from Danny he turned and went into the little “Barbie” kitchen that was just off the living room. Danny hated it when he used that word to describe his mini kitchen.  But it was so true.  Half a fridge, only a cooktop and a microwave recessed in the wall.  All he needed was a fold out table and chairs. Just like that hand me down toy his little sister got from the Goodwill. Only her version was missing half the legs of the table… Hector had asked if he preferred him to call it a Ken kitchen, but that was no better.  Ken. What a pussy.  Doll or not.  Danny said he’d prefer GI Joe if he didn’t hate the Army so much. Hector opened the fridge.  Jesus, this guy must be starving to death!  Nothing in there but a couple of eggs, some cheese that he was sure wasn’t supposed to be furry, a swig of some kind of juice in an unmarked bottle and….wait…yep! Pulling open one of the drawers he found an ample supply of brew.  Not top of the line stuff, mind you, but it would do to take the edge off.  Thinking his friend needed it more than he did, Hector grabbed two.  As he backed out of the fridge he knocked over a bowl, spilling some kind of shriveled fruit down onto the tile floor. Oh no, now he had to look at the floor. 

Jesus, that color thing again, he thought.  Seriously, who goes to all the expense of a tile floor and then goes and does it up in red and black?  ‘That’s like blood and death’, he thought as he scooped up the disgusting bits and almost returned them to the bowl he had righted on the fridge shelf.  Instead he put the bowl in the sink atop what looked like a week’s worth of cups and glasses, still waiting to be washed.  Then he opened the door under the sink to toss out the “fruitrocities.”  The smell from that dark hole hit him like fist to the nose.  Man, this guy was losing it. He had never known Danny to be a pig. Of course he hadn’t known him all that long. Hector closed the door and turned back to the living room, a beer in each hand, and the scene playing out was something just short of bizarre.

There was Danny, still in his boxers and that red, faded tee;  but he now sported a very long black cape and, wonder of wonders, a real life magician’s top hat.  In his hand he held a wand. A real, honest-to-goodness life-sized wand, and not the recent Harry Pothead rip-off kind either. This stick looked like the real deal with the authentic white tip and everything.  Hector almost dropped the cans he was holding as his mouth fell open, his eyes drawn to the foldout table.  Now, along with the magic crap, were some of the cigarettes, all lined up along the front edge like little nicotine soldiers.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, man! What are you doing?”  Startled, Danny only glanced at Hector for a moment, his eyes falling briefly on the can of beer he knew was meant for him.  But he had more important things to do than drink right then.  Hadn’t he drunk enough of that swill the night before? And the night before that? And every single night for the last month? He only thought he had been drinking heavily before that, spending entire weekends trying to blur out the truth, hoping to make it not real.  The ugly, inevitable, undeniable truth. Now Danny plucked up one of the cigarettes and tried to place it beneath a yellow, plastic cup.  Too long.  The cup tipped over.

“Shit!” he grumbled.  He snapped the cigarette in two and shoved the jagged pieces inside the cup, then quickly flipped it over. “There!” Mumbling some words Hector could barely comprehend, Danny then waved his wand around in the air a few times, and with a flair he tapped the cup on the bottom.

Hector wasn’t sure why but somewhere deep inside he had the urge to hold his breath and pray-pray that the cup would come up empty.  Did he already know this trick? Sure, everyone did. But never had he seen it performed with cigarettes, of all things.  And these weren’t cheap old generics either.  Why didn’t his friend just buy those ones in the white carton with black writing? You know…Great Value Death Sticks or something like that.  These were the real deal.  Marlboro reds-filtered.  Must have cost him a third of his meager paycheck. Now that he counted, there must have been ten cartons down on the floor.

Danny must not have been too confident with this trick because he repeated the nonsensical phrase and the swirling wand motions before tapping the overturned cup again.  Then they both held their breaths until he looked at Hector over his shoulder, a sense of desperation burning in his eyes.  He looked back at the cup and snatched it up! Nothing on the table. Hector’s heart skipped several beats.  Danny’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open in disbelief.  Then he turned the cup over and looked down into it.  He seemed to be looking into a bottomless abyss-staring, transfixed, for a moment or two. Then he spewed a string of creative curse words, flinging his wand onto the rug where one end wedged into the frayed threads and the other flipped up to point accusingly at its master.  He shoved two fingers into the cup and brought out the cigarette pieces which had become wedged in the cup as he had covered them up. Now they dangled in his trembling fingers, waiting defiantly as he glared at them. After an endless moment or so, he mercilessly ground and twisted the defenseless paper and tobacco while a guttural growl rose from his throat.  Bits of tobacco floated down to the rug like brown snowflakes as he tossed the paper remains over his shoulder.  He swiped the cup onto the floor and reached over to pull forward another one. He repeated the trick with all three cups and a dozen or more cigarettes, all failing to-what did he want them to do-disappear?

“Beer, dude?” Hector asked absently as he held out one of the cans, now sweating droplets onto the dirty rug. Danny looked at his friend; but Hector felt like he was looking through him at something else.  He reached out, though, and took a beer.  He bent down, picked up the discarded red cup and popped the tab on his beer. Filling it to the tiny brim he then lifted his cup to the hazy noon light coming through the window and shouted, “To you, old man!”  Then he downed the swig of beer in the cup, tossed it back onto the carpet and turned the can up, gulping every last drop in one go.  Hector had seen him do this before, but not on a Sunday before he had eaten lunch or had about a half dozen other beers. He was at once impressed and frightened by his friend’s behavior.

“Can I get you another one?”  Danny eyed the other beer in Hector’s hand, but the alarmed onlooker felt suddenly protective of his drink.  He pulled it closer to his body and turned to go back into Barbie’s kitchen. Continue reading “Smoke and Mirrors/When the Magic Fails”

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