Losing his marbles

Here is a story I wrote a long time ago. I’ve never submitted this anywhere, and I won’t – it’s too genteel and too derivative, and it has a few POV glitches, but it still brings a smile to my face.

Losing his marbles

Patty Jansen

Oh, the treasures of yesteryear.

A beam of sunlight lit a path from the tiny window in the roof to the attic floor. Two veined, trembling hands picked up an old wooden box. Spells for good luck twinkled around the lock, barely visible under a grey cover. Aldus blew. Years worth of dust swirled, dancing in the sunlight like miniature flocks of graceful swans. The lid creaked open, revealing the treasure within. Eleven glass balls about the size of a billiard ball, inlaid with spells, sparkling, twirling, reflecting the sunlight in a bed of purple velvet. Wizard marbles – real wizard marbles. Created by the magic studio of none other than the great Araphin Merrychuckle. The greatest player in all time.

Aldus reached inside the box and lifted one of the balls out. It felt good in his hand. His memories soared. Stefano Cusim, Elanor Droga, now they were players. They didn’t come like that anymore. Young players used prefabricated spells – they no longer had imagination. The game was faster yes, but in the old days–

‘What are you doing?’

Aldus slammed the lid of the box shut, away from Myra’s all-seeing eyes. She stood at the top of the attic stairs, her hands planted at her sides, flyaway hair escaping her plait, curly as it had always been, but these days completely grey. ‘I thought you were going to clean this place up.’

Aldus wiped his long white hair out of his face and gave a weary nod. ‘I am, I am.’

Myra snorted. ‘Doesn’t look like you’ve made much progress. Where is the pile I can take downstairs for the sale?’

He shrugged and heard her give a sniff behind his back.

‘Aldus, your mother is coming. If we want to turn this attic into a guest room, we’ve got to get rid of all this junk. Look at it, stuff that’s been sitting here for years. Your magic study books, you haven’t looked at them – for how long? Put them on the pile. Somebody might put them to use – if they study ancient history.’ She dragged a box to the stairs. ‘And this – all your old robes. What by Merlin’s beard do you want to keep those for?’ She dragged that box to the stairs, too.

Aldus spotted a glimpse of red fabric and sprang to his feet. ‘Hey, I like that one.’

‘Yeah – and you haven’t worn it – for how long?’ She lifted the red and gold wizards robe out of the box. Time had adorned it with moisture spots, and a few holes. ‘Didn’t think to spell it against moths, did you?’ She rolled it up and tossed it back in the box. ‘Maybe a cloth wizard will give us a few coppers for it.’ She picked up the box and lifted it to her voluminous hip.

Aldus’ gaze followed the piece of red fabric protruding from the top of the box, like a dog looking at a food bowl carried across the kitchen. He had genuinely liked the robe. It was the one he had worn when he met Myra.

She stopped at the top of the stairs, saw his sad eyes and sighed. ‘Come on, dear, it isn’t that hard.’

Aldus shook his head. It wasn’t that hard? It was a conspiracy against him by two females – his mother and his wife, who got along far too well. His mother would be staying at their house for four weeks. Four whole weeks! Wasn’t a wife meant to hate her mother-in-law? Somebody had better tell Myra. Aldus shrugged and waved a feeble hand at the all dust-coated things on the attic floor, too old to be useful, too full of memories to throw away. ‘Can’t you do a disappearing spell?’

Myra snorted. ‘Yes, but then all this stuff will turn up somewhere else and we’ll get no money for it–’

She stopped mid-sentence. Her face hardened and Aldus knew she had spotted the box of wizard marbles on the floor. She said nothing, but stared at it for at least a minute.

He cringed, waiting for the outburst.

Even after all those years, he could still hear her voice ringing in his ears, ‘…and we have a wedding to pay for, guests to entertain, a house to furnish and you spend – how much–‘

‘But Myra, think of how much fun we’ll have playing with these. See, real Merrychuckle–‘

‘For your information, Aldus, I am not interested in wizard marbles.’

He could still see her standing there, hands on much slimmer hips, curly red hair springing from her plait. Merlin’s beard, she had been one fiery witch.

But age had mellowed even Myra. She pursed her lips and turned away. She didn’t even remind him how little he had used his expensive selfish present. Well, he could hardly play by himself. Wizard marbles required a partner, or two, or three.

Not until she started down the stairs did she speak, and then she only said, ‘I’d like to get a new dinner table.’

To Aldus, the message was clear. He sighed, got up and put the box on top of the pile of old books. As always, she was right.

#

The day was sunny and full of bird song and the buzz of bees. The signs stood outside the gate, beckoning buyers into the front garden. Myra wore a yellow robe. She flitted between tables like a huge yellow butterfly, nervously arranging and re-arranging items on the tables. She conjured tomato juice and sandwiches for the buyers.

She ordered Aldus to look after the price tags – he was a number wizard, after all. He did as she asked. Ten florins, six florins, twenty coppers, zip, zip, zip. His wand danced in his hand as if he was conducting an orchestra. But it was playing angry music. His things, his life was being sold. Cleaning the attic – what for? His mother could just as easily sleep in Dora’s old room. Since she had married and had left the house, she no longer needed it.

No, all these women ever thought about was cleaning. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. What did an empty attic symbolise if not a life devoid of pleasant memories?

He stopped and stared at the table in the middle of the lawn. There, taking centre-stage, was the box of wizard marbles. Myra had stuck a clumsy handwritten price tag on the lid – as a cooking witch, she couldn’t do number tags. He read the spidery writing and nearly choked. What? Two hundred florins? Much too cheap – someone might actually buy them! A flick of his wand and the tag said four hundred. He turned to the next item with a smirk on his face.

There were the first zooms and clunks of brooms being stacked against the fence. Bargain hunters, preying on other people’s misery. While Myra led the customers around, Aldus retreated to the corner, eying the box on the table like a hawk. These customers, a bunch of young students, weren’t interested in wizard marbles. Aldus relaxed and made his way to the table in the corner to get a cup of tomato juice. Passing the table, his gaze carelessly travelled over the centre table and – shock horror – the price label had changed back to two hundred florins. He whipped his wand out of his pocket and directed a number-fudging spell, his speciality. Anyone who would now look at the price tag would think it was too expensive, no matter how much money they had.

It was only just in time. Two more clunks against the fence announced the arrival of the next buyers. Myra, at the gate with the students, carrying a pile of Aldus’ old books, welcomed them into the garden. Aldus took one look at the elderly couple, poked his wand under his arm and put a quick un-noticing spell on the box of marbles. He couldn’t do a proper invisibility spell, that was the domain of illusion wizards, but this was the next best thing. It made someone overlook the spelled object, no matter how close they were.

Carrying his tomato juice in trembling hands, he sauntered into the garden, under Myra’s hawkish eye. He had no doubt she knew what was going on, but this time, the visitors were his friends. She could hardly afford to make a scene in front of them.

The lady witch of the couple had taken interest in a set of cauldrons that had become too big for just the two of them. Her hot pink robe spoke of style and quality, but then again, she probably had picked it up in a garden sale, too.

The wizard wandered between the tables, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his robes. Every part of him, from his greying ponytail to his orange cloak and his dragon leather boots, said ‘I don’t want to be here,’ something Aldus could highly sympathise with. He went to the table in the corner and picked up a cup of tomato juice. ‘Drink?’

The wizard’s bronzed face creased into a forlorn smile as he took the cup.

Aldus went to stand next to him. ‘You hate shopping as much as I do?’

‘Don’t talk to me about it. She does nothing else all day. You should see our house – full of all sorts of stuff. At least you are doing the right thing here.’

Aldus gave a wry smile. On the other side of the garden, Myra stood by while the witch was rummaging through the box containing Aldus’ old robes. ‘Oh, these are so amazing, genuine silk. You don’t see that so much these days. You know, my husband buys only cheap robes. He doesn’t have to iron them. Even with ironing spells, I tell you…’

Myra gave her a sympathetic look. ‘Yes, dear, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Take my husband. He spends money on the most ridiculous things, and then doesn’t use them at all.’

Aldus cringed and glanced at his companion from the corner of his eye. The wizard gave a snort of laughter, and then Aldus laughed too.

He held out his hand. ‘The name is Aldus. Myra is my thrifty other half.’

The wizard shook it with a strong, long-fingered hand. ‘Maddox. The wife’s Genna.’

Aldus gestured to the wizard’s empty cup.’ More juice?’

While Aldus filled the cups, more people entered the garden. He answered a few questions – how much is this chair? Does it fetch the paper? Do the enchanted teacups come with matching teapot? – before he returned to the centre table, and found to his horror, that Maddox had opened this lid of the wizard marble set.

What? He had seen through the un-noticing spell? He had defied the number-fudging spell? He could only be…

Maddox turned, his brown eyes almost apologetic. ‘I’m an illusion wizard,’ he said, confirming Aldus’ worst fears. ‘These sorts of spells are my speciality. Not very powerful, but impressive. Especially when done by a number wizard.’

Aldus didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted.

Maddox’ mouth twitched when he held the box up. The marbles glittered in the sunlight. ‘I guess you don’t really want to sell these.’

Aldus shrugged. ‘She wants a new dinner table,’ to which he added after a silence, ‘and in all honesty, I haven’t used them all that much. You see, Myra isn’t really into this sort of thing… are you?’

Maddox smiled. ‘Genna and I love wizard marbles. We only have an old set, you know, run-of-the-mill kind of stuff, but wow, a real Merrychuckle…’ He caressed the box in his hands.

Aldus stared at the table. How wonderful would it be to have a wife who loved to play with him. Not a high-powered violent game, but just a social game with a few clever spells. Out in the enchanted park all morning and a drink at the clubhouse afterwards. Yes, that would be a good life.

His mouth fell open. He had suddenly come up with an idea – stupid he hadn’t thought of that before!

His face split in a brilliant smile. He pushed the box into Maddox’ hands. ‘Two hundred florins.’

Maddox gaped. ‘But the tag says–‘

‘I know what the tag says. I bewitched it. Two hundred should do. I’d rather they go to a good home than that some grubby student gets his hands on them.’

Maddox didn’t give up so easily. ‘But you don’t really–‘

‘No, I’m serious. But you’ve got to promise me one thing. Invite me for a game,’ and when comprehension dawned on Maddox’ face, he added, ‘Every Sunday.’

Maddox clapped him on the shoulder. ‘I’ll gladly do that. In fact, I think I might be able to do a little more.’ Aldus didn’t see him take his wand from his pocket.

#

Genna had collected a crate full of things from the garden. While she and Myra talked, Aldus packed everything, making sure that the box of marbles found its to the bottom of the crate. Maddox and Genna couldn’t take it on their brooms, so Aldus promised to drop by a few days later with his flying carpet, and deliver the box with the marbles, so he and Maddox could go for their first game.

Two days later, a beautiful dinner table was delivered and Myra whistled all day while bewitching paintbrushes to paint the walls and ceiling in the attic, which was now empty of memories. In the corner, the sowing machine whirred making dainty curtains and matching bedcovers. Aldus sat in the garden reading the Wizard News, happy for Myra, but feeling that the house had lost some of its charm.

After lunch, he announced he was going to deliver the crate and would go to the library afterwards. Before hauling it onto the flying carpet, he checked the bottom of the crate.

The box with the marbles was not there.

What? It had been there only two days ago. Where was it? Maddox had already sent his payment!

Aldus rummaged through the crate, unpacked and re-packed it twice. He checked all corners of the attic, the hall, the garden, but to no avail. Finally, he set off with a heavy heart, a bundle of two hundred florins in his pocket to repay Maddox for his expense.

#

Maddox received him with a broad smile on his face. He helped Aldus carry the crate inside and then invited him into his workroom for a drink.

‘Genna’s gone shopping,’ he said in what Aldus should have recognised as a too-careless tone. ‘You know what it’s like with women.’

Aldus smiled, but his heart wasn’t in it. He wanted to talk about the marbles. He wanted to know if Maddox had the box or if they had been stolen, although he had no idea how that could have happened. But Maddox proceeded to show him the marvels of the realm of the illusion wizard. Or they would have been had Aldus not been so worried. It was like his new friend was glossing over something, hiding the mystery of the missing marbles under a veil of smalltalk.

He poured them another drink. The question if they weren’t meant to be out there playing burned on Aldus’ lips, but Maddox was an excellent illusion wizard. Every time Aldus came close to asking it, he would forget, or think of something else.

Late in the afternoon, two clangs sounded by the gate, followed by a squeal of laughter. Aldus sat straight up in his chair – he recognised that sound – but how long since he had last heard it? Genna stumbled into the back door, followed by Myra, both giggling if they were drunk. Maddox didn’t seem to find their behaviour strange and Aldus began to think that everyone in the world had fun except him. He pushed himself further back in the chair. Maddox wanted to pour him another drink, but he refused. ‘We should be going soon,’ he said and his mouth felt stiff.

Maddox blocked his way. ‘No you don’t. Aldus, it is time to reveal my little secret. Myra, put it on the table, please.’

And under her husband’s disbelieving stare, Myra produced the box of wizard marbles from behind her back and put it on the table.

For long moments, Aldus didn’t know what to say.

Neither did Myra. Finally, she placed a hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry, dear. I guess I never really tried to play, to see if I did like it…’

Aldus looked up in time to see Maddox tap the pocket in which he held his wand and wink at Genna. ‘Won’t the four of us have lots of fun.’

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