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The Stars are Wonder
A short story from Cheeseburger Brown
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The Stars are Wonder, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

3.
The Magician


We have a magician, of course. He's fat and deaf and very, very worried.

He has a long face whose dour foundation is melded with his lost neck's cleavage. Starved on ship's rations his cheeks have lost any rosy pomp they may once have held and taken on the shape and the colour of melted wax. His eyes are small, the whites around them yellow.

His sucks his teeth loudly when he is not fulfilling his vows with liturgical songs, and when he is attempting to fulfill this duty we are united in our wish that he would shut up and suck his teeth.

He must once have sung beautifully. There is an echo of it in his toneless caterwauling, a memory of something inspired beneath the bed of ambiguous moans and shrill howls. "Kiss the magic," he grunts, and we all echo the sentiment with earnest relief: it means the song is done.

From his makeshift pulpit he mumbles loosely and largely unintelligibly about his missions past as a highly respected and especially magical man of great influence. He seldom speaks of moral principles except to recount an occasion upon which he thwarted a sinner with particular pomp or glory, usually in front of adoring multitudes.

(Personally I had never heard of him before this voyage, but I didn't tend to run in very magical circles, much to my mother's dismay.)

It is dangerous to talk to the magician. He is theologically defensive. Coupled with his impaired hearing he manages to project an atmosphere of persecution wherever he goes. Once when I asked him to pass me a jug of water he accused me of spouting Reformist hypocrisy. On another occasion I asked him to cover my watch and he told me that if I ever threatened him again he would put a curse on me so black my children would be born as goats. I pretty much stopped talking to the magician after that.

The men mock him, but he pretends he can't read their lips.

He is a very light shade of brown, which makes me doubt the office he held was as lofty as he claims. No singing voice could be golden enough to earn a man so colourless the respect of a crowd. Not in the city, at any rate.

(Perhaps he, like I, is being punished for something by being attached to this historic voyage. But who could a eunuch have bedded?)

The magician sucks his teeth and tells us we can eat. The men lay in to the meal with animal relish, a dozen hands reaching into the bowl at once: fluffy rice, strings of conserved game, soil grapes and the broad, softened leaves of church frond. It is our reward for enduring the magician's murmurs about his greatness. Out of the corner of my eye I watch him pad out of the galley.

He's gone back to stand vigil on the deck, waiting for our ship to fall off the edge of the world.



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