I met my father, the great magician, at Reading Central Station. He was stopping over on a tour from Romania to Glasgow, and he had brought the cold, swirling snow of Eastern Europe with him. He embraced me, looked me in one eye, as he always did, one to the other, like two television sets playing two separate shows.

"Davey," he said. "I must apologize for my appearance." He was drawing the eyes of passing travelers with his dress: a crinkled velvet cape, long striped slacks, and a plastic top hat, gleaming with polish. He tapped this once with a long, elaborate cane. He’d worn the same outfit for years, or variations of. He’d worn it to my 9th birthday party, when he’d turned up in the back garden, breathless, uninvited, and proceeded to stream handkerchiefs from his sleeves and pigeons from his hat until my mother’s boyfriend, Henry, muscled him away.

He took me by the hand and led me out of the train station to a line of waiting cabs, and with the snow building on his dark shoulders, hailed a taxi which took us to a local pub just across the road from my dorm.

At the entrance he shook his head, and led me across the road to a restaurant. "This will do," he said. It was a place of trembling candles, crisp velvet napkins, and wholly void of the English Language. He ordered a bottle of wine in a thick accent, and told me about his travels, his stage shows in three star hotel lobbies, his pale-skinned European assistant who, due to a visa issue, was detained in Frankfurt. "I will return for her," he said, with a strange look in his eye. My father did many strange, mysterious things, and with them provided many strange, mysterious looks. He spoke for a long time, about magic, about Europe. When our dinner arrived, he continued to talk, spearing large hunks of fish, chewing fast. When he was done, he folded his knife and fork neatly over one another. He summoned the check with a flutter of his fingers, and without glancing at the price, placed the card into the waiter’s palm.

"Wait," he said. Puzzled, the waiter passed the card back.

"A new trick,” he said. "Sir, if you please." He indicated that the waiter should cup his hands, as if drawing water from a bucket. Into the waiter’s hands my father placed his card, and then over his hands he draped a napkin. My father then undulated his fingers, closed his eyes. Perspiration beaded his brow. I remember a similar look in my mother’s kitchen, when my father prepared to perform a piece of his own magic on his own covered hand. It was right before they divorced, and the last time I saw my father in the house.

My father’s eyes fluttered open. "Now look," he said. The waiter, with the thrill of any spectator made participant, peeked under the napkin, and then swept it aside entirely. There lay my father’s credit card, broken into shards.

"How will we pay?" He joked. He winked at me. He winked at the waiter. "But now the real trick," he said. He recovered the waiter’s hands, closed his eyes, and summoned the magic. His fingers moved again in that mystical fashion, like plucking invisible lint from the air. "Now,“ he said.

            The waiter removed the napkin. I peered forward. In his hands remained the same haphazard pile of triangles. The waiter looked at me with a half apologetic look, as if he himself, perhaps lacking the necessary magic, had somehow prohibited the card from reforming. I wasn't expecting what happened next.

"You goddamn son of a bitch,“ my father said. He said it very, very quietly. So quietly, if he'd said nothing else, you might have brushed it off as one of those things that couldn't possibly have been said. But he continued, louder. "You goddamn son of a bitch."

            By now the waiter was frantic. He dropped the shards on the table, he looked to me. Then, seeing what he'd done, he began to scoop them back into his hand, as if whatever magic they held was absorbing into the table, into the rings of moisture imprinted on the tablecloth, into the shavings of bread and flakes of fish.

            My father was up on his feet now. "That was my only card,“ he said. "My only damned card." And then he was pulling me up from the table, yanking me across the restaurant. We were heading toward the door. "You broke my only damned card." Out in the street he broke into a run. I remained behind, watching him go. I watched him recede up the street, that cape taut in the wind, his top hat jammed under one arm, flourishing his cane like a baton. He left like any great magician; before the trick can be revealed, before the magic vanishes entirely.

Edd Howarth wrote his first short story in crayon on the walls of his mother’s kitchen. He was twenty-one years old. Recently, his stories have appeared in INK, Six Sentences, Infinite Windows, M-Brane SF, the Absent Willow Review and Miracle Monocle. He was short listed for the 2009 Bridport Short Story Prize and the 2010 Oddcon Flash Fiction Prize.

When writing fiction, I often tend to gravitate toward the absent father. I'm not really sure why. My father is a very nice man, was never absent during my childhood, and does not run out on his meals. He also makes a fantastic chicken curry. I suppose that what really drove this story is that I like characters that are absent. I enjoy the mysteries and mythology that arise from not knowing. Anyone can do anything in a period of absence. They could travel the world. They could make $1,000,000, and then lose it. Or they could befriend a pigeon. Who knows?






Copyright 2009