Sweat rung from The Great Malone’s brow.
The children sat wide eyed and mute on the lawn, the birthday boy Charlie was in tears and his cry was ringing loudly, a birthday kazoo in one hand and his other arm outstretched as if expecting to be picked up by his mum at any time. Their eyes were pinned on Malone’s face. It was a train wreck, but the children and the adults standing behind couldn’t avert their eyes. Even the birthday boy’s drunk uncle Herm was shocked and failing to laugh. And drunk uncles always find a reason to laugh.
The Great Malone was frozen. The bunny he’d pulled from his top hat was buzzing with flies. He’d only fed and watered Mr. Pebbles just minutes before the act began. Was it the backdrop falling down? Or perhaps the rotten child in the front who kicked the leg of the table out at the start that sent Mr. Pebbles to an early grave. For a moment, Malone envied the rabbit.
Malone had performed this act countless times. But today, it appeared it may be his last time entertaining. The Great Malone may become The Great Unemployed he thought to himself with the rabbit still in hand. His smile, now beginning to crack and sag down his face. How did it all go so perfectly wrong? He wondered.
The endless scarf trick, the opener, a classic and usually the most boring. He pulled the scarf out of the tube, one, two and “Spider!”. On the third scarf a spider launched through the air, the crowd couldn’t have split faster. The spider landed on the birthday cake nearly 15 meters away, an impossible feat had he of been trying. Malone dropped the cannister immediately and let out an unconvincing “Ta, Da!”
“Now, joining me for my second act. My lovely assistant Giselle.” The Great Malone called, in a cracking and concerned voice. Both hands outstretched to introduce his assistant, awaiting her confident strut from behind the curtained backdrop. But no assistant appeared. “I said” raising his voice awkwardly louder, side eyeing the children to see if they were as tense as he was. “Now joining me for my second act. My lovely assistant Giselle!”. Malone breathed a sigh of relief as footsteps approached. Giselle came out, not strutting however, staggering. It seemed uncle Herm had fed Giselle one too many drinks from the ‘adult punchbowl.’
Malone invited her into a box ready to be sawed in half. Hunched over and totally incoherent he practically had to lift her into the box. He was pretty sure at this moment she had totally forgotten where she was. Giselle was now laying in the box, possibly passed out as he puppeted her limp arm that overhung the box inside so he could shut the lid. He bent down and grabbed his comically large saw and prayed she was conscious enough to raise her knees up. He stuck the saw through the slit in the middle and begun to saw away.
A woman in the back gasped and covered her mouth, unsure if she was about to be a witness, or worse yet, an accessory to murder.
Malone split the box for the terrified children. The lack of screams breathed him a sigh of relief. He placed the box back together and lifted the lid. “Ta, da.” Malone’s eyes peaked down. Giselle was curled up, passed out and surprisingly content in her folded position. “Wake up.” Trying to keep his lips still. He gave the box a knee. A leg of the table the box sat upon sunk into the dirt and toppled over in front of everyone. Giselle tumbled out and struggled her way onto all fours.
“Bleeergghhh!” Spew hit the grass. Fragments of cupcakes swirling around in punch as a thick odor of vodka cranberry begun to linger. Giselle collapsed back onto her side and begun to sleep again.
He skipped to the last act. It was time to put everyone out of their misery. But the last thing The Great Malone expected to see was poor Mr. Pebbles swaying lifeless in his hand. He vowed to himself that if he made it out of that child’s birthday party that day, provided it wasn’t in handcuffs, he was going to dig a hole big enough for Mr. Pebbles and the rest of his magic equipment.
His mother’s voice repeating in his head; you never should have quit being an accountant. A bitter pill to swallow, but advice he’d wish he’d now followed.
The panic was really settling in. Malone was saturated in sweat, and his nose winced with every breath he took, unsure if it was the vomit that lay at his feet or the expired Mr. Pebbles. His mind racing to find a solution to get the hell out of there.
At last, an idea came to him. He placed the rabbit back in his top hat and placed the hat back upon his head in a last-ditch attempt to play it off. “May I have two children from the crowd?” Malone asked, confidence slowly returning. The children returned apprehensive stares.
Malone reached out and grabbed the two nearest children. His grip wrapped firmly around their wrists. They fought like lassoed bulls as he wrangled them up the front. He pushed one child to either side of the curtain. “Now, to make myself disappear.” Waving his hands majestically in front of the stunned crowd. A faint 'thank god' resonated from one of the parents.
“On the count of—” The Great Malone said checking briefly behind him as if he’d been called. “Seven. No, eight. I want both of these young assistants to pull this curtain from its pole. It’s very important everyone counts along.” He requested desperately.
He took his place behind the curtain. “Are you ready?” He cheered. “One!” He cried out with enthusiasm, the crowd cooperating in the count. The parents cheering with a particular exuberance, probably as desperate to wrap up the show as he himself was.
The numbers rolled. Excitement lifting amongst the crowd even the children had begun to count. Birthday boy Charlie wiped away his tears and for a moment forgotten that his cake had been impacted by a spider, which now, had a path through the icing and a trail of cream left on the table as the spider moved on to its next home. The numbers climbed and finally the crowd called out the final number.
The two kids ripped the curtain from the stand. And much to everyone’s surprise The Great Malone had vanished. The crowd was bewildered, heads turned in search of Malone followed by confused shrugs. Uncle Herm finally free, waltzed over to pour himself another cup of grog in an attempt to banish the last 20 minutes from his memory, until “Look!” Charlie yelled out, his arm signaling in the air.
The Great Malone, scurrying across the lawn, one hand holding his top hat to his head to contain the bouncing Mr. Pebbles and his cape fluttering in the wind almost cinematically. His dashing legs, now extending into bounds before finally leaping off the ground. Like an Olympic high jumper, The Great Malone stretched into the sky and spun, arching his back sharply as he rounded over the top of the fence.
The crowd stared in disbelief. Charlie broke into water works again. Charlie’s parents wondered if he was coming back and this was some sort of elaborate prank, but their hopes were quickly dwindling as every moment passed that the magician failed to return. Some of the children circled the passed-out Giselle and began prodding her with sticks. Uncle Herm sat down in his lawn chair and cried out in belly aching laughter.
“Best magician ever.” Herm slurred.