Harp & Altar
Jason Michael Bacasa
from There Was Electricity

Lynn Crawford

Elise Harris

Norman Lock
from Pieces for Small Orchestra

Eugene Marten

Miranda Mellis

Norman Lock

The Prime Minister’s opinion is that a Magus is among us—or even two, who (the P.M. cannot help his pedantic nature) must then be called Magi, whose gifts are not always so beneficent as frankincense and myrrh. Might not the General’s absence in the photograph of him on the carousel be due to a magician’s prank (unless the General is a ghost or vampyr, which the Chanteuse swears he’s not)? Perhaps he is a mental episode occurring in the consciousness (or, more likely, un-) of a jinni (whose plural form is jin). “The Arabian ambassador, whom we often entertained at home when I was in the government, often spoke of them as beings delighting in bedevilment. Might not all of us here be nothing more than toys for one, or two, of those spiteful Mohammedan characters out of Sir Richard Burton?” The Plumber, just returned from unclogging, so to speak, a hotel artery (why not allow the metaphor?), pooh-poohs the idea. “There’s no such thing, or things,” he says. “My concept of an Over Mind capable of Thought Projection is much more probable.” The Taxidermist yawns to hear again this old ground covered. He dreams of a perfect world in which everyone is stuffed and, if motility is desired, equipped with clockwork motors designed by his friend the Engineer. The Telepath happens to read his mind and scoffs: “You propose a universe of robots! Who wants to make love to a girl who winds down?” The General, who is the cause of our current wrangle, enters in his pajamas, saying: “I, for one, would not! I may be old-fashioned, even senile as some claim; but I want a girl to sleep with, not a mattress stuffed with fustian and spare parts!” I regard with envy lipstick traces on the General’s face, left there by the Chanteuse. Suddenly, I long for the Funambulist and leave them to debate the issue—P.M., Plumber, Taxidermist, Engineer, and Theologian, who until now has been hiding in the wine cellar. In the Venetian Room I find her on the tightrope, reciting from the Balcony Scene of Romeo and Juliet: “Take all myself.” “I take thee at thy word,” I reply, then continue: “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; henceforth I never will be Romeo.” She: What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night so stumblest on my counsel?” “Your husband.” [Silence, then:] “Oh.” She seems let down. Suspicious, I quiz her: “Aren’t you pleased to see me?” “I am, it’s just, I was, you know, thinking of Romeo. You are, though I love you dearly, Norman, not him.” I reply that no one is, that Romeo’s a fiction, a figment of the Bard’s imagination, a Mental Projection of Shakespeare’s mind. (There is no escaping these subtleties of existence!) “Wilt thou come finally down, dear wife?” I beg. “Not on your life!” she rudely says. “May I then come up?” Although difficult on the high-wire, love has been possible now and then, for us. “Nyet!” I sigh and leave her to her lofty pursuit of Elizabethan love. I feelhow can I explain it?the tristesse followingto speak plainlycopulation. Why this should be, since I have not coupled, is a mystery. In the lobby, among potted palms and bellboys, the Prime Minister, Plumber, Taxidermist, and Engineer are at it still. The Theologian has returned to his Amontillado, of all dry sacks his favorite. The P.M. is, at this moment, proposing a costume ball in which to trap the Magusmay the singular noun be sufficient! “He or she or it will be unable to resist dressing up as one or another omniscient and omnipotent archetype like Napoleon, Nostradamus, or the Whore of Babylon.” It is agreed, though I am dubious. That night in the grand ballroom copied from the Paris Opera House’s, the Plumber masquerades as René Descartes; the Taxidermist, a woolly mammoth; the Engineer, Gustave Eiffel with a model of his Tower; and the Prime Minister as Thomas Cromwell. Hoping to ingratiate myself with my high-wire wife (sworn never to come to ground again), I arrive, in tights and doublet, as her Romeo. Confounding me for the second time today, she passes grandly overhead as Sputnik! “Can I come to you tonight, my love?” I shout toward the frescoed ceiling. Yet again she answers, “Nyet!” Why this obsession with Russian language and technology, I cannot fathom. The Clarinetist plays, each note a knot within a net of music; but no serpent raises its envenomed head. Nearly all the other guests have come, but none reveals a demoniacal character heretofore dissemblednot one has dressed as Machiavelli, Stalin, or a modern sadist. So if there is a Magus or two among us, the case is not proved. Whether I am a unit of information within some antic brain, or all is a product of my own imaginingit matters not at all so long as I am here and my wife is roving over head.