The Magician and the Butterfly
I've always believed in magic, or hoped for it at the very
least. When I was a child, I thought that if I looked around
the corner fast enough I'd see the fairies and goblins of
Granny's stories. Later, when I was older, I used to hope
for magic in my marriage -- for some fairy-godmother to come
to her favorite child, wave her wand and eliminate all the
problems between me and Cody. Yeah, pixie-dust and dreams
are no basis for a good partnership, but nor are stolid pragmatism
and unflinching acceptance. Cody described in five words.
I still ask myself why I married someone to whom I was obviously
unsuited? I'm well aware that the good wives of Caldecott
thought the same about him, asking themselves how he could
settle on someone so flighty and odd when Brett Morton was
available? (I've always pitied her -- she's as placid and
bovine as Daddy's cows, without any spice of evil in her to
make her interesting.) Maybe it was that dreadful, old adage
that opposites attract ... I don't know. Simply put, I believed
that I loved him. I had never had other boyfriends, so had
no tape-measure against which to compare my feelings for him.
No way to tell that I felt friendly affection for him - although
towards the end of our marriage even that had vanished --
rather than any deep passion. I doubt that his emotions ran
any deeper than mine.
I say that because his proposal was ... as staid as our relationship.
Sensitive as always, Cody had chosen an unpleasant, gray winter's
day to propose to me. He'd driven up to our farmstead in his
old pickup to have supper with me, as he usually did on a
Thursday, and we were drinking coffee around the kitchen table.
(My parents had gone to Macon for the week to visit family.)
We were chatting about George O'Reilly's latest escapade,
when, out of the blue, he asked me if I would marry him.
To this day, I'm not sure why I agreed. I guess it was the
hope in his eyes, or the fact that momma had been pressing
me to tie the knot. She was old-fashioned and believed that
there was no higher calling than to be a wife. To have a hot
dinner on the table when 'your man' returned from the fields.
To silently cater to his every whim -- fetch his slippers,
his newspaper and never have a headache.
His widowed mother was horrified, of course, when we announced
our engagement. It provided gossip for her quilting circle
for weeks to come, lips piecing together scandal as they did
patches. Old tales were aired as proof of my unsuitability
for a Nice, Young Man like Cody. The time when I went to Jackson
to watch Dazzler's concert and didn't return until dawn, was
a favorite motif of their conversations. (They all assumed
that I'd met a 'gentleman' there and had gone home with him.
In reality, I'd spent the night waiting for a delayed bus
and guarding my purse against pickpockets.) If that failed
to get them clucking in disapproval, they'd mention the time
that I sneaked out of the house at midnight to ride Pierre
Moonstar's stallion, Northwind. (It was the most beautiful
horse I had ever seen -- so black as to be almost indigo --
that shimmered darkly in the moonlight. I was sixteen at the
time, and my mother forbid me to ride it, considering it to
be beneath my dignity to go galloping across the fields, like
a skinny tomboy.) All in all, they'd lament the fact
that I was not Brett Morton, and that I had seduced their
darling, golden boy.
To be frank, I could have cared less what that brood of old
hens thought. My mother always told me that people talk behind
your back, because they're two steps behind you. Of course,
momma had been brought up in one of the finer Charleston houses
and believed that everyone else was beneath her, as well as
behind her. If that wasn't enough, his Jersey cows had made
Daddy of the richer farmers in the district and she never
allowed us, or anyone else, to forget it.
Consequently, she also told me more than once that my marriage
to Cody Robbins was a mistake. He was a poor farmer with only
five acres to his name -- any rural person could tell you
that that isn't enough to raise enough corn for a bowl of
popcorn, let alone make a profit. I could have done better,
she complained, and continued to speculate why I hadn't. I
could have stood momma, if it was not for Mrs Robbins. Throughout
our marriage, her specter hung over us, never letting us forget
that we lived because of her kindness. Since he had little
land of his own, Cody worked for her, farming the two-hundred
acres of land that had belonged to his father. I could have
accepted owing her, if it had only been the land which she
had owned. However, the house, that she had given to us as
a wedding present, had belonged to her when she was a young
bride. Mrs Robbins' presence could be felt everywhere I went
-- the ugly, gingham curtains in the bedroom were her handiwork;
the table had hosted her guests; the four-poster bed had been
hers on their honeymoon night ... Even if I had been able
to forget, she took pleasure in reminding me.
My mother also rubbed it in at every opportunity, claiming
it as yet another reason why I should not have married Cody.
You have to understand a farmer's mindset to understand how
humiliating it was to her. Farmers measured their wealth by
how much land or beasts they had, and how low their mortgage
was. Consequently, my mother saw the fact that my husband
had to work for someone else as a stain upon her name and
turned her nose up at him. Our marriage was marked by his
mother's sarcastic comments and my mother's endless cataloging
of my faults.
Poor momma, I guess my running off with Renard ... Remy ...
would have scandalized her. A magician in the Gamesmaster's
Circus, he is what my parents disparagingly call a 'shiftless
drifter' or 'horse-thief'. The fact that he has played to
packed houses at Las Vegas and New York -- that he is acknowledged
by 'Time' as the greatest magician since Houdini and Mesmero
-- means nothing to them. Really, it is of very little account
to me as well. I love the person, not the personage...
I remember the first time I saw Remy. It was during the Circus'
parade down Main Street, and I was standing on the edge of
the sidewalk. The final caravan -- small, midnight-blue and
painted with silver stars and golden suns -- belonged to him.
I was surprised that no-one was on top of it, as with all
the others, and someone whispered to me that they must have
got the magician mixed up with the Invisible Man. Suddenly,
in an explosion of glitter and smoke, Renard was standing
there, dressed in black and wrapped in his red, velvet cloak,
smiling as if the world belonged to him. It is hard for me
to recall how I felt on seeing him. I guess I've fallen under
his spell too much to be objective when I look back, even
after months of partnership in our public and private lives;
even after coming to know Remy's faults. (He hogs the bed-clothes,
smokes and is obsessively neat. The last is great, though,
as it means that I never have to clean our caravan!) I probably
felt attracted to his beauty, swept away by the drama of his
entrance. Nevertheless, I do remember feeling a vague, nagging
sense of guilt, as if a part of me had known what was to come
and disapproved of it...
Anyway, later that night, while we were eating our supper,
I asked Cody if he would take me to the circus. The harvest
had been more profitable than usual, and we had some money
to spend on ourselves for the first time in a long time. I
didn't expect him to agree, as he had told me more than once
that we should save any extra money for the future. Of course,
I knew he meant any kids which we might have. I think he was
a little disappointed that I had not had our first child yet
-- something which his mother never failed to use against
me. Brett Morton, as bovine as she was, would have been expecting
their second by now, Mrs Robbins believed. However, to my
surprise, he grinned and said that he'd be glad to take me
and was looking forward to seeing the show.
In retrospect, the circus' performance was not one of the
better ones, although, at the time, I was as thrilled by it
as anyone else. I applauded the Flying Wagners -- Kurt and
Amanda, dressed as a devil and an angel, throwing their daughter
between them as they swung on the trapezes -- and Logan the
Lionhearted brandishing his whip and forcing the lions through
flaming hoops. Strong Guy lifted weights that would have broken
any farmer's back, although Cody whispered to me that he thought
any of 'our Caldecott boys' could have done the act just fine.
Spiral spun balls, torches and daggers, not dropping one of
them. Finally, the lights dimmed to a single point on the
sawdust ring -- a spotlight into which the magician stepped.
Compared to his earlier dramatic entrance, the simplicity
of it was disappointing, but it did allow me a chance to study
him more closely. Renard was beautiful. Tall and slender,
with an almost-too-handsome face that was saved by his crooked
smile, he stood silently in the middle of the arena. He was
younger than I had first imagined; barely older than Cody
and me. I heard Cody swear softly to himself as Remy looked
up at the audience, and we saw his eyes clearly. Like him,
they were exotic -- scarlet swirls set in black. Some of the
older people whispered that it was witchcraft and the Catholics
among them crossed themselves. (I'd later discover that they
were little more than elaborate, contact-lenses which he used
to create a stir. Yeah, I know a good magician never reveals
his secrets, but I am his assistant, among other things.)
He lifted his hands, showing that they were empty, then clenched
his fists. When he opened them again, a flock of luminous
butterflies flew towards the ceiling, before turning into
rose-petals and falling down on us.
Consequently, by his standards, the stunt that brought us
together was a fairly simple one; a trick common to every
magician in every circus. (The Gamesmaster insisted that he
include it for the crowd, who waited for it. I remember how
Remy used to argue bitterly with the ringmaster, saying that
the point of magic is the unexpected. Their different viewpoints
were one of the reasons that he went solo, touring Las Vegas
and taking me with him.) He'd set up a wooden-screen, painted
with aces and hearts, and had a set of daggers in his hands.
The Gamesmaster had then asked for volunteers with suitably
strong stomachs 'to brave death and demonstrate the power
of the mind'. Melanie Judd, who had caught a lift with us
and was sitting next to us, scornfully said that lack of common
sense would be useful as well. Angry with her sarcasm and
determined to do something to spite the old cats, I'd stood.
There must have been some real magic at work that night,
because, of all the would-be volunteers, the magician chose
me. (Remy would tell me later that it was customary to select
a pretty woman, as it appealed to the audience's sense of
the dramatic.) Cody, of course, attempted to stop me, telling
Renard that I had stood because I wanted to attract the attention
of the popcorn vendor. I replied, battling to keep the anger
out of my voice, that I thought my husband had had too much
sun, and I was happy to volunteer. The magician's answering
grin was enough to make up for the fight I knew I would have
with Cody later that night.
Taking my hand in his, Renard helped me into the ring. I
still remember the sweet smell of sawdust and the blinding
lights in my face; the stares of my fellow townsfolk and Melanie's
lips tightened in disapproval. I recall that his hand was
warm and solid against my cold one -- more reassuring than
his whispered words as he tied me to the wooden screen with
silk scarves. I'd learn later than it was the standard, company
line: "It's just an illusion. You'll be fine." (I've said
it to enough shivering teenagers and nervous women myself.)
Flashing a final smile at me, the Magician took five, measured
paces away from me. Suddenly, he spun on his heel and let
loose a volley of knives. In my panic, I bit my lip, tasting
blood, and shut my eyes, praying desperately. I heard five
hollow thwacks as the daggers impacted with the board, then
the cheers and whistles of the audience. Twisting my head
to the side, I saw that each blade had embedded itself in
the center of a heart. Renard bowed to me, as became our custom
over time, then lifted a hand. The scarves fell from my wrists
and ankles, turning into multicolored smoke and leaving me
free. I don't know if it was the adrenalin or the sure knowledge
that I was falling in love for real, but I had never felt
as alive as I had at that moment.
As he walked towards me, Remy pulled a bundle of a dozen,
perfect white rosebuds out of his pocket. In his hands, they
deepened to pink, then red, opening as they did so. I know
that the old cats still wonder what he said to me, as he handed
me the bouquet. I'm sure they use the same scandalized, hushed
tone of voice as always. They probably think that he asked
me to elope with him, or praised various bits of me. (The
quilting circle always hid a cheap romance inside their Bible,
taking turns to read it.) Nothing could be further from the
truth. He said that he hoped that he hadn't got me into too
much trouble with my husband. Touched by his concern, I replied
that I knew Cody would understand, and, if not, that this
had been worth any argument we might have...
He didn't. It was a typical spat. He had sat at the dinner-table,
somehow looking disapproving while eating his peas. (I always
hated Cody's habit of forcing me to make the first move, turning
me into the villain while he remained the innocent victim.)
He had smiled at me and said that 'he wondered how I would
be happy in a backwater town like Caldecott now that I had
had a taste of the spotlight.' Like his mother, Cody's innocuous
comments and observations could cut deep.
Still angry at him for humiliating me in front of Renard,
I sniped back that Caldecott was fine, but I couldn't be happy
with a backwater farmer who had only five acres to his name.
His lips had tightened in much the same way that Mrs Judd's
did and I realized that I had struck a blow. I knew that his
lack of land was his sore spot, yet I was too frustrated to
care how much I hurt him. I wanted to hear him yell back at
me, defend himself, do anything except stare at me with his
heart in his eyes...
I was still crying into my pillow when I heard the kitchen
door swing open and the old car in the garage start up before
driving down the road into town. Cody on the way to the bar.
When he returned hours later and climbed into bed beside me,
turning his back to me and smelling of alcohol, I knew that
I had to escape. That the Gamesmaster's Circus of Wonders
was my one chance to get out of Caldecott.
I had no clear idea of the specifics as I planned how I would
run away with the circus. At the time, I was willing to do
anything, including sell popcorn or sweep up after the elephant.
Heck, I imagined anything would have been preferable to being
a farmwife, to being Mrs Cody Robbins. Now, knowing better,
I realize that I was very lucky to land the position I did.
Assistant to someone who became one of the world's foremost
Sometimes I lie awake in Remy's arms at night and wonder
if this isn't all a dream. If the clock will strike twelve
and I'll turn back into Sabine Robbins, farmwife. At moments
like that, I concentrate on the beat of his heart, the warmth
of his body against mine, and his soft breath on the back
of my neck, knowing that I will never return to Caldecott.
That I love him like I could never love Cody.
Continued in Chapter
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