‘Is this your card?’ Jane gave a flourish of her wrinkled hands and flashed her famous stage-show smile.
At 9 years old, Caspar fully understood that his card was trapped under the plaster of Paris paperweight he’d made for his mother and could not possibly be…. Ah, it was, right there in Grandma’s fingers, the six of hearts.
‘How do you do it Gran? Every time!’
‘It’s magic, and a magician never, ever, reveals her secrets.’ Jane replaced the worn card back in the damaged pack and fiddled with her flattening silver curls.
‘You always say that!’
‘Now come on, it’s bedtime, before your parents get home and I get in trouble again for keeping you up on a school night.’
A few minutes later Jane put her head through the bathroom door. ‘Come on, hurry up, they’ll be back at half past.’
‘You’re not really magic are you Gran?’ toothpaste dribbled down Caspar’s chin.
‘Would I lie to you?’
It was a good question. She didn’t lie about anything else, did she? But Caspar was smart, there was no tooth fairy, there was no Santa and there was no magic. This must be a lie, or at the very least a trick.
‘Now, you lie down and I’ll tuck you in.’ Jane turned on the lamp and sat on the edge of Caspar’s bed.
‘Gran, are you really magic?’
‘Of course I am, but it only works for family. How else do you explain that I can always find your shoes? Or that sweets appear in my pockets whenever you ask for one? Or this?’ She reached to the side of Caspar’s head and produced a shiny penny from behind his ear.
Caspar hadn’t seen her do that before, he’d never seen her with any money before. He gasped as the coin glinted in the lamp light. Jane handed it to him and kissed his forehead as he took it. She smoothed down his faded superman duvet and tucked it round him.
‘Can I keep it?’ the coin vibrated slightly in his fingers, like it was humming to him.
‘You certainly can. Good night Sweetheart.’
A key clunked in the door and there were voices in the hallway. Caspar enclosed the buzzing coin tightly in his hand and shut his eyes.
‘Good night, Gran.’
Jane descended the creaking stairs and joined Clare and David in the hallway. ‘How did it go?’
‘Oh, you know, Dad still doesn’t want to help. He said we shouldn’t have bought the house while David’s job wasn’t secure, and we would have to find some other way to make ends meet. Thank you again for watching Caspar, I hope he wasn’t any trouble?’ Clare hung up her coat.
‘Good as gold as always. We had plenty of fun.’ Said Jane.
‘Showing him more tricks?’ David pushed open the living room door and spotted the pack of cards on the coffee table.
‘I have a new one, would you like to see?’
‘To be honest with you Jane I don’t like him picking up this rubbish. You know I think he really believes you have magic powers.’ Said David.
‘Of course he doesn’t really believe it, not deep down. And what’s wrong with a little childhood wonder?’
‘It didn’t do me any harm,’ said Clare, ‘I turned out ok, right?’
David shrugged and turned away.
‘Well, I produced a penny from behind his ear tonight, I suppose if he spends it on sweets then you can be sure he doesn’t really believe it’s magic.’
The door went again, and Caspar listened in the dark. He knew the arguing would start as soon as Gran was gone. He only heard snatches but that was enough. It was always about money and how Dad spent too much of it on booze. Tonight’s topic; how will we afford Caspar’s new school shoes? He hated it when it was his fault.
Caspar darted across the playground as the school bell rang, fraying backpack bouncing against his thin navy sweater.
‘Hi Ben, Monday again!’
‘Hi Cas, let’s go to class.’
The boys settled at their wooden table with their exercise books and waited for Miss Burton to start the register.
‘Look what I’ve got!’ Caspar fished the penny out of his trouser pocket.
‘Wow that’s shiny!’
‘It’s magic! It jiggles when I touch it. My gran made it appear out of thin air.’
‘Another one of her tricks?’
‘I think she really is magic. She does impossible things with cards and yesterday she made my crayon disappear.’
‘Did she bring it back again?’
‘She did. She did it twice.’
‘Where do you think it went?’
‘It just disappeared.’
After registration Caspar and Ben filed into the hall for assembly with their classmates.
‘Good morning everybody!’
‘Good morning Mr Beasley.’ 164 children chorused in response.
‘Today we’re going to learn a new song, it’s called Magic Penny’.
Caspar and Ben looked at each other and Caspar squeezed the vibrating coin in his pocket.
The words appeared on the overhead screen and Caspar started to read them, rubbing the scuffed toe of his shoe into the floor as Mr Beasley played the introduction on the piano.
‘I’ll sing it through once everybody and then you can all join in.’
The second verse caught Caspar’s attention and he read the words carefully as Mr Beasley sang.
‘It's just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won't have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many
They'll roll all over the floor.’
‘Is it true?’ Caspar whispered to Ben behind his hand, head bowed.
The boys dutifully sang the song three times through, as instructed, and then sat on the floor for the rest of assembly.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to save it Love?’
‘Oh please Mum, please.’ Caspar tugged Clare’s hand as they passed the Tin Button sweet shop on their way home from school.
‘OK, fine, but you’ll have to tell your gran you’ve spent her magic coin. I don’t think she’ll be very pleased!’
‘She’ll understand, if it really is magic it’ll come back to me.’
‘I hope you’re not disappointed.’ Muttered Clare, pushing the shop door open.
The tiny shop had floor to ceiling shelves filled with big plastic jars of sweets in a thousand colours to be sold by the quarter. But Caspar’s attention was immediately drawn to the open tubs of pick n mix behind the glass screen on the counter.
‘One fizzy cola bottle please.’ Caspar grinned and presented the penny trembling between his grubby thumb and forefinger.
‘My, that is shiny young man, here you go.’ Replied the shop keeper, handing him the sweet in a small, white, paper bag and taking the penny.
The next day when Clare and Caspar got home from school they started to change the beds.
‘Come on Caspar, you get the pillowcase off. You remember how to do it?’
‘Yep, these are my favourites, the superman covers, which ones are we putting on next?’
‘It’ll have to be your trains, Love. I’m afraid I couldn’t patch the green one, it was too threadbare.’
‘Yeah, let’s put the trains on. Choo choo!’ Caspar bent his elbows and chugged his arms up and down in vertical circles.
‘Come on, get that case off.’
‘What’s this Mum?’ Caspar pulled the pillow onto the floor, revealing two shiny discs on the sheet underneath. He grabbed them and held them out on his palm.
‘Well, two penny pieces, very shiny ones at that!’
‘Magic! I told you the coin was magic! I spent it and now I’ve got two, just like the song.’
‘Hmmmmm,’ said Clare, ‘that doesn’t seem very likely now does it?’
‘Can we go back to the sweet shop tomorrow?’
‘I suppose we can. Are you sure you don’t want to save them though?’
‘It's just like a magic penny, Hold it tight and you won't have any. Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many, They'll roll all over the floor.’ Sang Caspar. ‘You can’t save them, you won’t have any.’
‘You’re sure you didn’t put more coins under his pillow Mum? Absolutely sure?’ Clare anchored the phone between her cheek and her shoulder as she took a wet plate from David’s hands and dried it.
‘I haven’t even been round since Sunday. When would I have done it? It is quite a puzzle.’
‘I told you no good would come of this.’ Whispered David, plunging his hands back into the soapy water and scowling.
‘Well, I suppose I’ll just take him back to the sweet shop and let him spend them and hope that’s the end of it.’
‘I suppose that’s for the best, Dear.’
The bell rang over the door of the Tin Button and Caspar bounded into the shop, covered in smiles.
‘Hello young man, what can I get you today?’
‘Two cherry lips please.’
‘Coming right up.’
It was not the end of it. On Wednesday Caspar woke up to find four shiny pennies under his pillow, he bought four jelly rings on the way home. This was followed by eight gummy bears on Thursday and sixteen foam strawberries on Friday.
On Saturday morning Caspar ran his hand under his pillow, knocking quivering coins onto the carpet before he could count them all.
‘They’ll roll all over the floor!’ he sang, as he scurried about picking them up.
‘What’s that, Love?’ Clare popped her head round the door.
‘Look at all my coins!’ Caspar held out a handful of shiny coppers.
‘I really don’t understand where they’re coming from.’ Clare lifted his pillow to find more of them lying on the sheet.
‘It’s magic of course!’
‘Maybe we should get you a piggy bank.’
It wasn’t long before Caspar could buy his own piggy bank, and the piggy bank was full.
‘Where are they coming from?’ asked David once Caspar was safely out of ear shot on the swings.
‘I honestly don’t know. But it’s his money, to do what he wants with. Don’t you go getting any ideas.’
‘I don’t know what you mean Clare! I’d never take money from my own son.’
‘Well, you take it from your wife!’
‘I told you I’d pay that back.’
‘Six months ago!’
‘You do go on. I’ll get to it when I’m back in work, you know I will.’
‘Do I? There always seems to be money for beer. If you stopped drinking you could pay me back in a few months.’
Caspar had taken to counting his coins every day and sharing his sweets with Ben. He didn’t spend them all every day, he wasn’t that flash, and he’d worked out that only the ones he spent were doubling. He knew there were 800 in the piggy bank and that was the same as £8, then he had another 60 hidden in his top drawer that were for spending. He wasn’t sure where he was going to keep them all but he was keen to see what happened next.
As he lay in bed one night, listening to his parents argue again, Caspar daydreamed of a time when he could buy his mum a new house and they could move away and leave his dad behind. Gran could come, if she wanted to. Maybe they’d go to the sea. Mum liked the sea. He wondered how much a house cost but guessed it was a lot more than sweets or piggy banks.
The crack in his door widened and he shut his eyes tight as a splash of light reached his pillow. Footsteps crossed his room and he fully expected a gentle kiss from his mum, but none came. Caspar strained his ears. A moment later he heard his top drawer sliding open and the jangle of coins being moved. He opened his eyes, keeping them narrow in case he needed to close them again at any moment.
David filled his pocket with coins, noticing how they trembled at his touch. Then he looked around for the piggy bank. He’d done the maths. In 9 days he could have £5000, £10,000 in 10 days twenty grand in 11 days. No need to stay with his loser wife and kid, and if he put the coins in the bank maybe they would double his secret savings.
‘What are you doing Dad?’
‘Nothing, shush, go back to sleep.’
Caspar jumped out of bed and grabbed at his dad’s belt. Shiny coins spilled out of David’s trouser pocket onto the floor and David scrabbled to pick them up before Caspar could.
Clare appeared at the bedroom door. ‘What on earth is going on?’
‘I’m going. I’ve had enough of you two. I’ve packed a bag. I’ll pick up the rest of my stuff some other time. Or I won’t.’
David pushed past Clare onto the stairs, leaving Caspar crying on the floor.
David knew that he had to spend the coins to get them to multiply. After 4 days he had £160 in coppers. He quickly realised that spending £5000 of pennies would make him look very suspicious. Getting to the big bucks would be difficult.
He had never paid attention to the childish songs his son sang or the bags of sweets he had started bringing home after school. He bagged up the coins and paid them into the bank in the hope that spending on his debit card would double his savings. It didn’t.
‘Why didn’t I keep one? Just one?’ David said to himself as he checked his balance on his phone under the harsh hotel room lights.
‘What’s happened Love?’ Jane’s face fell as she heard the pitch of Clare’s voice over the phone.
‘He’s gone. David’s gone. Last night. And he’s taken Caspar’s coins, he’s beside himself.’
‘Where did he go?’
‘I don’t know, he just took a bag and left. He took the car too.’
‘Well, you know the first thing you need to do is change the locks? I can help you pay for it.’
Jane arrived at the house an hour later and the locksmith was there before it went dark. Caspar was still crying as the van pulled away and Jane sat him down on the sofa.
‘Now, let’s just see if we can find another one of those coins.’ She drew a penny from behind Caspar’s ear and handed it to him. It lay still in his hand.
‘Is this one magic, Gran?’ Caspar sniffed.
‘Oh, I don’t know Love. It’s not as shiny as the first one is it?’
‘I’ll keep this one. I won’t spend it.’ He wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
‘Well, that’s up to you, young man. You do whatever you like with it. Let’s get you up to bed. I think I’ll stay for a few days, help your mum ‘til things calm down.’ Jane took Caspar’s hand, waited while he kissed Clare goodnight, and shuffled him up the stairs to bed.
‘Oh, you’ve got your lovely trains on your bed. How about you pop your new coin under your pillow and jump under the covers?’
Caspar lifted the pillow and dropped his penny on the sheet underneath. It landed on its edge and rolled off the mattress, hit the floor, changed direction and spun under the bed.
‘Now I’ve lost that one too!’
‘We’ll find it, let’s pull the bed out from the wall and have a look.’
Moments later Jane and Caspar peered over the far edge of the bed and down towards the skirting board. Jane shone the torch on her phone along the carpet and there, on a thin layer of dust was the dull penny she had produced just half an hour earlier. Caspar could just reach it and as he pulled it back from behind the bed something else caught his eye.
Jane picked Caspar up from school the following day and was pulled directly to the Tin Button sweet shop.
‘I want to get something for Mum.’ Caspar said as the bell rang above the door.
‘Ready for breakfast?’ Clare smiled over the packet of cornflakes.
‘Yes Mum, but first, can I give you something?’
‘Of course, Love, what is it?’
Caspar held out a small, white, paper bag. Inside Clare found a single candy heart and two very shiny pennies that vibrated when she touched them.