My father was a magician. I suppose a lot of little boys must think that of their fathers at a certain age, but in my case it was literally true. Close-up magic; cards, coins, cups, dice and other simple props. He was a sleight of hand man. It’s not easy to make a living doing that kind of thing, because your audience is necessarily small. Small but appreciative. He made a living, so I suppose he must have been fairly good at it. It is hard for me to be sure.
By the time I was old enough to offer a critical assessment of his abilities he had already gone blind. This presented him with a number of problems, but he was a stubborn man. He persevered. He was no longer able to learn new tricks, but that is true of lots of people who do not go blind. He honed the old ones. To a degree.
I would stand among the small group who made up his audience outside the International Magic shop, not certain that he knew I was there. Sometimes he would drop a ping pong ball and not be able to find it again. He would carefully place his dice and an unkind watcher would move them or turn one of them over. Or he would put down a coin and a passer-by would pick it up and walk off with it.
There is a species of embarrassment that is only available to blind magicians, and their children. He would play many variations on that trick where he would ask someone to choose a card, forcing it on them obviously, and then shuffle it back into the pack and cut and deal and finally produce the card again and say, “And is this your card, sir?” And then the bloke would look at it and say, “No”. Even though it was. For a joke. “This is the Two of Clubs,” he would say, looking at the Jack of Diamonds. There might be a woman in the audience, perhaps my mother, who would save him, but often not.
He was a stubborn man. He honed his skills. So, another day, and he would go through it once more. The wag, a different one, would get the Jack of Diamonds and my father would shuffle it away, cut and deal and ask him to pick a card from the deck. He took the Jack and said, for a laugh, that it was not his card. Father raised his sightless eyes and asked, “What about these?” And he threw four or five Jack of Diamonds onto the worn baize-topped table he used. People clapped, although not all of them. I still don’t know how he did that one. He said that when his tricks did not work, he was told that he was not really a magician and when they did work, he was told that he was not really blind. I think he liked that.
Robert Stone was born in Wolverhampton. He was educated at UEA, Norwich and at Jesus, Cambridge. He works as a press-analyst in London. He has been a teacher and the foreman of a London Underground station. He has had stories in Stand, Panurge, Wraparound South, Clover & White, 5x5, The Write Launch and Palm-Sized Press. He has had a story accepted for Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar chapbook series. Work aside, he reads, writes and mooches about.