This is an unedited piece of writing from a prompt at a local writer’s group.
You are an audience member at a magic show and are invited onto the stage. What do you pull out of the hat?
‘Do I have a volunteer?’
The small audience looked around, each person fervently hoping that someone else would raise their hand.
‘Come on, now. I don’t bite. I leave that to Paulo’s Performing Pooches – they’re on stage next. Come on, ladies and gentlemen, don’t keep them waiting.’
Performing dogs? Edith groaned. This was the last time she’d let Margaret book their Third Thursday Group outing.
At the front of the cramped auditorium the magician was looking anxiously at his audience.
‘I just need one volunteer,’ he said. ‘How about you madam? Yes, you with the turquoise cardigan. Would you call that turquoise? Or maybe teal?’
The woman he pointed at shrank down in her seat and studied the photocopied playbill intently.
‘What about you, sir?’ A man in a tweed jacket turned in his seat, looking at the exit door with the longing of a Labrador for a sausage. Good grief. If someone didn’t volunteer soon the poor magician was going to burst into tears. Soonest done, soonest finished.
Edith stood and shuffled sideways along the row of seats, waited until the couple on the aisle – the only other people in that row – moved their carrier bags and coats, and then walked purposefully toward the stage. The relief on the magician’s face was pitiful.
‘Thank you, madam. If you’d like to come up on stage?’
Edith looked up at the stage which was level with her shoulder. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘Oh, umm. Just a minute.’ He waved frantically at the usherette who was leaning against a pillar, peeling green polish from her finger nails.
‘Excuse me, love. Can you bring this lady round to the wings?’
Love pushed away from the wall with one foot, grabbed Edith’s sleeve and pulled her through a curtain to the right of the stage.
‘Up there’ Love grunted, pointing to some rickety wooden steps. ‘Watch out for splinters.’
Edith climbed the stairs and walked through more curtains. She was momentarily dazzled by the bright stage lights and started when a black-coated, sequin-spangled figure stepped in from of her.
‘Thank you for volunteering,’ the magician said, leading her out into the middle of the stage. ‘What’s your name, my love?’
‘It’s Edith – and I am most certainly not your love.’ An appreciative chuckle came from the darkness beyond the stage edge.
‘Edith. OK. Sorry.’ Edith stared at the magician. It was only when she was up close that she realised how very young he was. No more than a boy, really. She waited for him to continue.
‘What would you like me to do?’ she asked when the silence was becoming uncomfortable.
‘Oh, yes.’ He whipped the top hat from his head and held it out to her.
‘Can you confirm for our audience that there is nothing concealed in this very ordinary top hat?’
She took it from his hand. It was unusually heavy for a hat. She could see a suspicious bulge in the lining at the bottom – or should that be the top – of the hat. She glanced at the young man’s anxious face, put her hand inside the hat and made a show of feeling around inside. When she pulled her hand back out, she turned to the audience and said in a clear voice, ‘It’s just a hat. Nothing special.’
‘Thank you. Now,’ he pulled a long length of scarlet gauze from his pocket and draped it over the hat so that it fell over Edith’s forearms. Waving his hands over Edith’s, he called out ‘Alakazam, kareem, shazeem,’ in an overly theatrical voice. A flutter of glitter fell from his fingertips. Presumably, she thought, the audience were meant to think this was evidence of magic in action.
The young magician whipped the gauzy fabric away and tucked it back into his pocket. Taking the hat from Edith he said, ‘Now, my love,’ Edith tutted. ‘Sorry. Now, Edith, would you please put your hand back inside and see what comes out.’
Trying hard not to roll her yes, Edith plunged her hand into the hat. It seemed much deeper than it had before. Suddenly she heard a snarl, a growl and a loud SNAP. Quickly she dragged her arm away and stared at the fingerless stump that emerged, and the small terrier clamped to her arm. As the dog lapped at the blood streaming from her wrist, the magician announced,
‘Ladies and gentlemen. Please welcome Paulo’s Performing Pooches!’