The Last Magus

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Bad luck comes in threes…

Joe, as has been said, was out, he in fact had an appointment to keep, a personal one! He was going to perform a magic show, a very special free show at the hospital. He had memorised and selected a very special spell for one very special young lady in the hospital. He had come by bus this morning rather than bothering Natalie, she was busy with her computer screen and Draco. To his annoyance the bus had been five minutes late due to roadworks while a squabble between a passenger and the driver over the new fare prices cost another ten minutes as they bickered. His hospital shows had become a regular item in the children and the geriatric wards.

“Funny, there I seem to show magic to the young and the old.” Joe mused as he rested his forehead against the window glass. Would that passenger ever let this bus get moving?

Joe always showed up in his full wizard robes and always took especial care to check with the staff. With the children he wanted to be aware of any children who were new and any that had seen any of his previous shows. He always managed to wow them, leaving the staff and the children looking at each other and smiling. With the old folks he performed intricate shows that in a few cases had brought patients to tears over memories. Joe overall felt these shows were the ones he considered the most important to him personally. OK he could perform at some birthday party, wow them and get paid with his usual cheque, but to see the faces of these people, some of whom were seriously ill, light up as he performed did his heart an absolute power of good.

But there was this one little girl, his reason for being here today, she was only four years old. Amy, lovely little Amy. Amy had terminal cancer and had been put through her last hope chemotherapy session. Joe, with her parents permission, wanted to try a little healing magic, assuming he ever actually got there!

“Move dammit!” Joe cursed under his breath, “look just pay the bloody fare and sit down already.” Still the passenger argued. Joe mused over a well aimed missile, just to get him to sit the hll down!


Joe walked up to the reception desk of the children’s ward, he could hear the excited chatter already, some of the children had spotted him. He was in his full wizard regalia. He smiled to himself and made a grand flourish greeting the sister behind the desk, she looked up from the desk and smiled broadly.

“Good morning Joseph, good to see you.” Her accent and dark skin tone betrayed her Caribbean origin. Joe smiled back equally broadly.

“Good morning to you too sister, wondered if one of my shows might be appreciated. A little illusion to lift the spirits, a little magic to soothe the soul…Sorry if I’m a little late there was trouble on the bus.”

The sister laughed, “Are you kidding, the children are already buzzing, they’ll love it. What you got for us today?”

“Oh you know just some illusions…couple of new ones maybe. One very special spell for one very special little lady.” Joe tapped the side of his nose, “but I don’t want to say too much…spoil the surprise!” Joe smiled and winked knowingly.

“You know I’m still trying to work out how you did some of the last ones. You’ll definitely cheer the place up…we need it too.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

The sister leant forwards to whisper, “Amy, the girl with the end stage cancer.”

“Yes?” Joe suddenly got a sinking feeling, he felt he’d suddenly been punched in the stomach, his heart had become a lump of lead, “Oh God no, not her! She was such a bright little thing, she can’t have been more than four.”

“She was five a couple of days ago, we had a party and everything.”

“You should have let me know, I’d have done a special show just for her.”

The sister leaned even further forward and dropped her voice to a hoarse whisper, half mouthing the words silently, “Well she passed away about ten minutes ago, the doctors’ are still in there with her. We’ve been expecting it, she relapsed and the cancer was more aggressive than ever. Terminal cancer is by its name…terminal Joseph, so we did our best to make her comfortable, moved her to a side ward last night. Her parents are with her even now, they were with her right up to the end. It was peaceful, at least that was a blessing, she wasn’t in any pain at the end. She went to sleep…just didn’t wake up again.”

Joe’s heart sank to his shoes, he felt close to tears, not Amy! Life was so unfair sometimes. Joe mentally pictured some of the most powerful men in the world, none of them a day under eighty some even getting into their nineties. Most were the very personification of the word evil, stirring up trouble or causing friction just to improve their own lives and bank balances still further. Yet then there was little Amy, barely five and already her life finished, gone. Joe sighed deeply, the old saying of only the good die young seemed very apt. “I know you said there wasn’t much hope for her when I visited last time, that chemo was her last shot. That’s why I wanted to be here now…Oh God, just a few minutes ago? A few minutes earlier and…I could kill the bus driver!”

“Well look don’t go beating yourself up about it Joseph, these things happen, maybe there’s no reason for them; at least none we can see. God knows when it happens to one like Amy it’s hard, but I like to think it is all part of his greater plan you know? Maybe it was just Amy’s time…” Joe knew the sister was a devout Christian from talking to her on previous occasions, he wished he had that sense of belief; his had died the day he’d last visited his mother in her care home, ravaged by cancer and senile to the point of not recognising him.

“Maybe you’re right…but Amy always had the biggest eyes for my shows. I suppose with her gone I can tell you I had a special magic spell prepared just for her...”

“Really?”

“Yes not all of my magic is illusion you see, I wondered if a little magical healing might help her chemo treatment. I’ve been researching, the magic I do isn’t great on healing but it has got some spells. Thanks to some obnoxious passenger not wanting to pay for an increased fare the bus ran late!” Joe’s heart felt heavy as a rock, if he’s had any curses that passenger would be getting them in short order! He felt a growing fury, the fact that he could have been here in time. He sniffed loudly and hung his head as he breathed in and out twice, at any moment he would be crying, or screaming and throwing things he was sure of it. “Is there anything I can do?” He said finally as he raised his face back to the sister, he could feel tears welling up in his eyes.

“Well her parents are still with her in the side room, I can ask if its OK for you to say goodbye to her too? I know they said she talked about you a lot.”

“Please sister, it would mean a lot to me. I think she was my biggest fan here, always smiling even when the pain must have been indescribable.” Joe heaved a huge sigh, his shoulders lifting and falling, he felt beaten, whipped, why did life have to do this? “Even if my magic healing couldn’t help her I’d still like the chance to say goodbye you know?”

“I’ll ask…I can’t do any more! But look at me Joseph, I know its hard when it happens to one so young as her but don’t be too down…you have to remember there are all those other children waiting for you.” The sister motioned with her hand towards the ward which was rapidly starting to sound like the monkey house with the excited chatter going on. “There’s three new arrivals too: a boy broken leg, a girl broken collar bone and multiple fractures to her arm and another boy bad head injuries. Two brothers and their sister. I’m told their parents are in the adult wards, the mother is in the ICU even now.”

“The whole family? God what happened?”

“Car crash. Returning from a day out their car was involved in a bad motorway crash. It took the emergency crews some time to cut them all out of the wreck, the mother was the most seriously hurt in the passenger seat. They’re saying she’s lucky to be alive.”

“Thanks sister…I’ll…I’ll look out for them.” Joe turned from the desk, his shoulders sank again. Without little Amy’s excited face looking at him in wonder Joe wondered if the show would feel the same for him. But then as the sister had said perhaps, no rhyme or reason, if God decided your number was up there wasn’t anything you could do about it. So with a deep shrug of his shoulders and a resigned sigh, Joe passed a hand over his face and literally wiped his frown and turned it upside down, smiling, even though inside he wanted to cry. He strode into the children’s area and gave them a magic show some would never forget…


As Joe got into the swing of his show in the children’s ward, back at the house that bordered Joe’s back garden Paul sat looking out of his conservatory window. He was sitting next to a telescope that he’d managed to buy some time ago. He’d told Darlene he was going to take up astronomy, watching the stars or the moon or whatever it was astronomers looked at. In truth he had spent far more time with the telescope surreptitiously pointed at his neighbours, he knew he was being a peeping tom, but what they didn’t know didn’t hurt them did it? He’d seen quite a few sights as a result, a few he’d really rather wish he could unsee…like Mrs Johnson in her bedroom one night when she’d been a bit slow closing the curtains. Mrs Johnson was approaching retirement age so literally everything was sagging, she was also suffering excessive obesity and to top it had a voice that made fingernails scratching a blackboard sound melodious...and thanks to his telescope Paul now had the image forever burned into his memory of her semi-naked doing a rather vigorous exercise routine…Paul shuddered at the memory and had been unable to look her in the face since!

Now though, he had his telescope pointed very firmly at Joe’s house. He sat watching the house, he had been watching since first light. Nothing was moving, it was odd, he’d have expected to see Joe or that little bitch moving from room to room but there was nothing. He could have sworn the house was empty! Joe did have a conservatory of his own added to the rear of the house, it had appeared one day soon after Joe’s windfall, twice the size of Paul’s of course, the unfairness of that made his teeth grind. Whoever had put the thing in Paul had to admit had done an excellent job of it, though no builder had been found to admit to doing it...that was odd!

Paul assessed the house, he was primarily assessing his chances of breaking in. Two storeys of red brickwork, four rooms he could see into, five if he included the conservatory. Steve must have been on something...too much German beer could do that! Paul could see the house it had to only contain at best eight rooms. Next Thursday when Joe and his girl, Paul gagged on that image, Joe and his girl…What right did a loser like Joe have getting a babe like her? If that land deal had gone through maybe he would have been the one enjoying Natalie’s charms instead!

“Ach!” Paul hawked back a spit ball and turned his head aside to spit it out. Well whatever, when they went on their next cinema visit he was going to pay that house a little visit. Steve had been next to useless, all that raving about stuff that was impossible. The thought of those gold coins burned inside Paul, Joe must have more of them, he must have! The fact that he had renovated the entire house and gardens the way he had must mean Joe was rolling in cash! No way did that lot cost him only three hundred grand, not if you included living expenses and everything else. So Joe must be rolling in cash! Paul therefore wanted it...as much as he could get! During their time at school he remembered constantly relieving Joe of his lunch money, until Joe had started taking a packed lunch instead! But Paul had simply switched to relieving him of that. At the bare minimum Paul wanted what he considered Joe owed him. Paul had considered trying to hire someone to replace Steve, but that would mean expense and above all having to trust the person he hired not to run away with everything. As a result he’d decided that if you’ve got a job worth doing…then do it yourself! He may have been no housebreaker but how hard could it be? Jemmy a lock here, break a window there and you were in like Flynn! He would therefore break in, get those coins himself...by hook or by crook. Whether he then gave any to Franklin Jolly was another matter, “Bloody bankers all the same, they want the benefits while you take all the risks! None of them are worth a damn any way!”

Paul pulled his eye away from the eyepiece of the scope momentarily and made a note in a small notebook, he looked briefly at his watch noting the time before taking a mouthful of coffee, it had gone cold while he’d been watching so he pushed the mug away in disgust, then returned to the scope. That house was definitely odd!

He had been watching it second by second from early this morning, it was odd! That was the only word for it...odd! The fact that absolutely nothing appeared to be moving at the rear of the house. He could see right into the lower level windows of the rooms at the rear, he knew, or guessed that Natalie worked from an office inside; but for the life of him he could not see one that resembled an office by any description. That house wasn’t big enough to have, as Steve had said, more than six or seven rooms at best, so where the hell was her office at? The roof wasn’t high enough for a loft conversion, didn’t look like it had one anyway, and Joe wasn’t the type to lock away a babe like her in a basement, besides what if she needed to entertain visitors. “Visitors? Now there’s an idea…hmm I could visit and maybe get a layout of the place before Thursday...”
The oddest thing though was that…maybe it was a trick of the light, but Paul could have sworn that before making himself a sandwich and his coffee the kitchen had been on the left side and the dining room on the right. Now they appeared to have switched places! Paul momentarily withdrew his eye from the scope eyepiece and shook his head, as if clearing something, then carried on observing and making notes. Luckily Darlene had taken Ashley to see her parents so he was alone in the house, he’d cried off stating he had other more important things to do. Ashley had finally got the verdict over his little magazine stunt, he had been suspended from school until the beginning of the next term, four weeks away. At that point his reinstatement would be examined. Ashley was therefore suspended pending full expulsion, Paul was not pleased about it while Darlene had gone beyond not pleased, bypassed pissed and was in a foul rage! How dare the school threaten to kick her son out, her son was too good for their school...on and on! But right now Paul had other things on his mind, a burglary to plan and with any hope execute…To the devil with Darlene and Ashley!


Noon arrived as Joe came back from the hospital, he had managed to say his goodbyes to Amy and expressed his condolences to her parents, the whole time he’d felt like crying. Amy’s mother had been crying copiously but they had both been delighted that Joe had brought such pleasure to their little girl’s final days. The mother had between sobs been effusive about the impact Joe had had. They’d thanked him and, almost without thinking about it, he’d handed them one of his two remaining gold coins from his initial five. “A friend valued this at three hundred grand, I want you to use the money you get from this coin to set up some sort of memorial for her, maybe it might even be enough to fund research into the cancer she had.” They’d thanked him again blessing him and his genrosity and all three of them had cried as Amy’s body was finally removed from the room. Joe had left with an open invitation to the funeral, he wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to attend...leaping on the coffin and begging God to let him trade places with Amy wouldn’t be very seemly.
Joe thus walked in through the front door, he dropped his bags quietly and made his way into Natalie’s office. She was relaxing back in her chair enjoying some pasta she’d cooked up for her lunch.

“Hi Joe, mmm!” Natalie waved her fork at him as she swallowed her mouthful of spaghetti with a small slurp, “How did the show at the hospital go? Wowed them like usual…”

“The show?” Joe looked around distracted, he couldn’t get the thought of Amy out of his head. “Yeah…fine I suppose…usual rave reviews, just get the papers and read all about it.” He slumped down into one of Nat’s chairs and looked blank.

“Well don’t break out the bunting will you…what’s wrong?”

“Oh it’s probably nothing Nat, just call me sentimental…maybe I’m just getting old!”

“Joe, look at me...clearly it is not nothing…you are not old. So come on I’m your girlfriend too remember you can tell me…”

“Well I got some rather bad news when I got to the hospital.”

“Like?”

“Well for a start I caught the bus as you know, I didn’t want to disturb you. But that stupid bus ended up fifteen minutes late, there were roadworks and then some God awful passenger argued endlessly about the latest fair rises.”

“So?”

“So I got to the hospital fifteen minutes later than I planned to.”

“And that’s what’s upset you?” Natalie reached a reassuring hand forward to touch Joe’s knee. Unexpectedly he shied from her touch. “You don’t set a time on those shows, you just turn up, so what’s the hassle? Unless you turn up at dinner time they let you perform.”

“The hassle is…was…” Joe heaved a sigh and hung his head, “little Amy…you remember the little girl I told you about only four and fighting end stage cancer?”

“Yes, you said she was your biggest fan. Something about her getting chemo.” Natalie forked another mouthful of spaghetti, sucking at a string with a slurp before giggling.

“Yes, that’s her…” Joe wiped a hand across his brow and his voice fell to a hoarse sort of whisper, “bright as a button whenever she saw me and always totally captivated by the magic. I think I found in her a true believer Nat.” Joe smiled weakly, Amy had been amazing, a couple of times Joe had used her as an assistant. Joe heaved another sigh before he continued, “That chemo was her last hope, it was kill or cure time…” Joe heaved another deep sigh, “it failed.”

“Oh Joe…” Natalie put her pasta bowl and fork down and reached across to touch his shoulder.

“There’s more…the doctors realised the chemo had failed, the cancer acted like it was pissed someone had dared to try to stop it, it came back harder than ever. We all have our monsters Nat but why did a four year old girl get such an aggressive one? The doctors told her parents to prepare for the worst, it was only a matter of time. They said it was one of the most aggressive cancers they’d ever seen! A true monster that...” Joe choked back his tears, he could feel them coming, “that a little girl of four had been fighting all her short life. Amy was such a little fighter too, hanging on this long, anyone less would have died after a year.” Joe wiped his eyes with the cuff of his robe sleeve as he heaved back a sniff. “I could see it eating away at her just like it had with my mother.” Joe wiped a hand across his eyes again, the sight of Amy and the memory of his mother had awakened old feelings he thought he’d dealt with. He heaved a deep sigh and looked Natalie direct in the face, his face must have been an image of sorrow as Natalie looked on the edge of tears herself. “Amy got much worse last night, they moved her to a side room and her parents stayed the night with her...right throughout.”

“That was good of the hospital. I suppose they do that sort of thing where little kids are concerned…”

“No, you don’t see it Nat...she…” Joe choked again, the last word, maybe if he didn’t say it it wouldn’t be true. “Died!” he said pathetically weakly, Joe collapsed like a rag doll forwards in his chair and started to weep openly. He felt useless as he slumped forward, his hands knitting their fingers then pulling apart. Within moments his weeping increased and tears started to flow down his cheeks unchecked.

“Oh Joe, no…”

“She died Nat...she died! Just ten minutes before I got there. If that bloody bus had been on time, if that stupid pig hadn’t argued so much or those roadworks hadn’t been there, or maybe if I’d got you to take me after all, I could have seen her one last time.”

“Joe I don’t know…”

“I never said anything, but I had a surprise for her, a special spell I’ve been studying just for her. I’ve been researching some of the healing spells, it might have helped her! It would not have been a cure, magicians and wizards can’t do proper healing…but it certainly would have put the cancer on the back foot for a time, maybe enough time. With that chemo I thought a little magic might give it a boost. Vanquish the ravening monster…save the little princess!” Joe wept uncontrollably now, heaving sobs as his shoulders lifted and dropped with each breath. He wasn’t crying for Amy solely, all of the pent up emotions he’d buried for years were flooding into him.

“I know Joe, I know...” Natalie stood and shuffled her chair closer to him so she could hug him. “I’m not saying don’t cry, that would be pointless, but it isn’t like she was your little girl.”

“I know that!” Joe shrugged her off for a moment he felt a spike of anger which rapidly disappeared. “It’s just not fair Nat, none of it!” Joe felt his anger rising again, mixed with the grief and the pain; he slammed his fist into Natalie’s desk causing her pen and pencil holder to jump, “Tell me how is it that some overpaid, over privileged banker can scam people, make billions, pay themselves seven and eight figure bonuses for what is essentially criminal behaviour…and still sleep at night!” Joe’s voice was gaining a terrible edge. “All that money, all those billions everything they took…to feed their own stupid ignorant greed! It could have gone to a treatment programme. It makes me sick, their arrogance...a little girl like Amy...” Joe wailed a cry of anguish as he said her name, his shoulders shook with sobs. He fought to control his emotions and for two minutes just sat crying, wailing tears that would have put a banshee to shame. Finally he sniffed loudly, “…a little girl like Amy, only four, couldn’t get decent medical treatment! Tell me why…”

“I know Joe, life isn’t fair, nobody ever said it was or should be.” Natalie’s own eyes were welling up, she had never even met this little girl, Joe did his hospital shows without an assistant preferring to use one of the awe struck audience.

Joe sat now almost shrunken back into himself, his voice had lost the power of his anger, “At least I got to say goodbye to her. Her parents let me see her after the show, before they took her away. I’ve got an invite to the funeral but I’m not sure I can control myself enough to be able to go.”

“Was it…well was it…painful…for her I mean at the end?”

“No, maybe that’s the only bright point here, she went to sleep, closed her eyes and then stopped breathing, no pain.” Joe raised his chin a little, “But it’s not fair Nat, she was only little! The hospital had a birthday party for her a few days ago, while I was here in bed with that illness. I wish I’d bloody known I’d have been there even if it killed me to do so.”

“I know Joe…come here.” Natalie reached her arms around him and hugged him closer than she ever had. Joe sobbed and wept onto her shoulder just repeating the word Why?

After fifteen minutes of Natalie trying to console Joe in his grief he finally calmed down enough to get himself back under control. He looked thoroughly miserable as Natalie offered to make him some lunch. “Thanks Nat.” Joe sniffed loudly as he wiped his eyes for what felt like the hundredth time, they were red raw from his tears, he kissed her. “If I’ve never said it before thanks for being here. I think if I’d had to come back to an empty place well…I don’t know...” Images of the night he’d tried to hang himself flashed through his mind.

“Shh It’s OK Joe, like I said I’m your girlfriend so whatever happens I’ll be here for you…always.”

“Yeah I suppose. How’s your pet project going…the grand search?”

“Harder than I expected.” Natalie handed Joe a bowl of spaghetti with his favourite Bolognese sauce and extra meatballs, piping hot. Joe looked at it without much interest, maybe he’d eat a little, he didn’t honestly feel like it.

Natalie sat back in her chair, “I err…managed to get a globe for how things would have looked six thousand years ago based on the tectonic movements and continental shift etcetera…reversing six millennia is no mean feat I can tell you…and it looks absolutely nothing like what Draco remembers.”

“No?”

“No, I’m guessing that that battle threw such a major spanner into the works that vast areas of the planet changed spontaneously. I think your Great Magus really shook the planet up. Draco said himself much that was…is gone.”

“So there’s not much chance of finding the schools then...ah well.” Joe sighed and toyed with a meatball.

“I didn’t say that Joseph, I never give up. I told you I’m good with computers.” Natalie smiled a heart warming smile filled with obvious sympathy, Joe was grieving for Amy that much was obvious. “Don’t play with your food, eat it while it’s still hot. Now listen I think, I can create a globe as Draco remembers it being from scratch. Essentially start with a blank and overlay the land he remembers, at least an approximation. Then we can compare the two, my creation and the one from six millennia ago. That way I can then see where common points might exist, mountains or specific valleys you know. Unless your magus reshaped the whole planet in his fight, there must be some common points. It is just a matter of finding them. Once we’ve got those we put in the towers on Draco’s globe as he remembers them. I overlay the real globe and match those points so getting the towers located and then…” Natalie gave a triumphant flourish with her hands, “overlay that globe on the modern globe, track where those points have shifted and voila! I think it’s a real shot, I can pinpoint the towers.”

“Well that’s something I suppose. Draco told me that the Natural magic school had healing spells…spells that could have…” Joe started to weep again as he dropped his fork into the bowl from a weak grip.

“I know Joe, I know you feel bad about Amy. You think that your magic could have saved her.” Joe nodded, he ate a meatball in small bites. “Look you’ve got nothing in your diary for the next few days so just take things easy and meet each day as it comes.”

“When my dad and mum died I worked, I was working so I had that to take my mind off things. I sort of buried the grief to the back of my mind and just got on with it. Too much time to think now…”

“People deal with grief in different ways Joe. I’ve not had to face a death yet.” Natalie grimaced a little and let her face fall, she was hiding something, should she tell Joe? “But I know it will come at some point…it’s inevitable, that’s what they say isn’t it. Two things in life are certain, death and taxes!” Joe smiled weakly.

“That’s what they say…Love these meatballs by the way”

“My finest effort.”

“You got them from a tin didn’t you?”

“Well yes, but I still had to put in the effort to open the tin Joe.” Joe smiled and laughed a half hearted laugh, “that’s better Joe, more the guy I love!” Natalie leaned across the corner of her desk and kissed him.

“You mean that?”

“Mean what?”

“You love me?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

“Nobody has ever said that to me in my whole life. My parent’s weren’t huge on emotion. My dad was the sort that had an image in his head of the way the world should be, anything that didn’t fit…like me! Had to be changed. When I did my final exams at school the best he managed was to shake my hand when I got the results. I don’t think he didn’t care, it was just he didn’t think about how anyone else felt about anything…it was his way or no way.”

“And your mum?”

“Mum could be stern, she was like a rock, dependable, mind like a steel trap too you couldn’t get much past her. She used to be a nurse in the military. I saw a picture of her once, when I was a boy.”

“Was she pretty?”

“No, well not pretty, I guess you’d say a bit plain, she always looked so serious when she concentrated that people would ask her if she was feeling alright. She was an efficient nurse though, sister at the end. She often said she regretted having given up the nursing. It meant as a boy though I couldn’t pull any sick days unless I was genuinely ill…Mum could always out diagnose the doctor.”

“What happened to them? I mean if it’s OK to talk about them…How did they die?”

“It’s OK, it’s been almost twenty years since my dad passed away. Dad got admitted to hospital one day while I was at work, I came home, mum met me on the doorstep saying dad was in hospital. He’d had prostate cancer the year before, so it was a sort of a when not if thing.”

“How old was he?”

“Eighty two...no eighty three, they had me late in life see. I tried to go visit him, I really tried, but there was always one thing or another getting in the way. Work left me so exhausted all I wanted was to sleep. But I decided my next day off I’d visit. Two weeks had gone by so fast I barely noticed. Then the hospital phoned on the Sunday night, to say he was fading and did mum want to see him one last time. She thought about it, she’d seen him that evening anyway and he hadn’t been conscious for most of it. So just as she was about to phone them back and say no they called again…this time to say don’t bother he had died five minutes before. It was really late too, getting towards midnight, so I was trying to get to sleep, I had work the next morning. Mum, being mum, just came to my bedroom door and said Joe, your dad’s died! Goodnight! Then she went to bed.”

“God that sounds cold, she didn’t try to break it gently?”

“No Nat remember I was getting on for thirty years old then. But even if I had been just a boy I think that’s just the sort of woman she was…no nonsense, she didn’t soft soap anything.”
“And what about your mum? If it’s too painful for you though...”

Joe sighed, Natalie reached forward and gripped his hand supportively. He hadn’t really thought about any of these feelings, just buried them, compartmentalised to the back of his mind and tried to forget about them. “Mum was…” Joe stopped as if in thought, “much closer, maybe six years. I was much closer to mum too, not that I was a mummy’s boy you understand. Just with dad the way he could be I naturally went to mum. And after dad passed we only had each other. She was always so strong, so vital, I thought nothing would take her down.

“But almost in a rerun of dad she got admitted to hospital one evening. While she was there they checked her over and found a large intestinal cancer…huge! Most of her gut had been consumed by it. They gave her an operation and they cut it all out, half of her large, or was it her small intestine went with it. After that she went into a care home to recuperate. I wanted to make the house really good for her to come home to. I took out all sorts of loans and did all the home improvement stuff I could. I renovated what I could and she came back here for about two years, maybe three, daily visits from nurses. Then she got put into another care home, I tried to visit as often as I could.” Joe’s voice went plaintively quiet, it was as if he were trying to justify his actions all over again. “But when you see that cancer, how it just ate her alive. I swear in only two months she went from a vital strong woman to a dried up husk! It tore my heart out to see her like that, I kept saying that wasn’t her, telling myself over and over she was going to come home again, she was going to come home…and then finally…she didn’t, she died there in the care home.”

“Did you get a phone call like the hospital?”

“Yes and no…” Joe paused again, “It wasn’t a she’s fading do you want to come call. The care home was miles away. But that morning that she…well I was working again. I didn’t have to be up until seven but I woke that morning at six or maybe five thirty, I thought about trying to go back to sleep, then thought no point just start the day. Just as I started to get ready to go out the door, the care home called me out of the blue. I swear five minutes more and they would have missed me. They said mum had died during the night and the doctor was just confirming it.”

“What did you do?”

“Thanked them, rang off, then carried on getting ready…then went to work.” Natalie looked shocked, she gasped a little, “No sweetheart like I said I worked to forget about it, put it to the back of my mind and deal with it when I had more time that’s me. Plus with all that debt I had to work.”

“Oh Joe, I’m so so sorry for you. You do know that burying emotions can be bad though?”

“Yes I know, but Nat you’ve got to see every time I’ve tried to show any emotions in the past they have betrayed me.”

“Betrayed you?”

“It always backfires on me. Take relationships, I don’t think I’ve told you but you’re the first woman that has ever looked at me with more than a sense of…well disgust.”

“Oh Joe don’t talk like that!”

“I’m not joking, I think many of the women I fancied would have preferred a case of Ebola to me! It’s because of that that I’ve not had anyone to share my feelings with. I guess I got used to putting them away and hoping to deal with them later.”

“But six years Joe?…And you’ve been here alone since then?” Joe nodded, Natalie patted his hand and smiled, “Look if you need anything let me know alright…anything! You want to talk I’m here. Talk my ears off if you want.”

“Thanks Nat, you know even if we aren’t together in the usual sense of boyfriend and girlfriend.” Natalie blushed a little, she knew what Joe meant, they still hadn’t slept together yet and in a way she loved Joe all the more for the fact that he didn’t seem to want to pressure her about that side of things. On the whole compared to previous boyfriends who would have been threatening to break up, or in one case break her bones, because she didn’t sleep with them on the first date. Joe had been a real gentleman! Joe leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t mind you know…I mean us not. Just so long as you are here with me Nat I’m happier than I ever thought I could be.” She blushed a deep embarrassed red before leaning across and kissing him in a long passionate kiss.

“Me too! You know if you do ever want to sleep with me you only have to ask. Don’t make me make all the running.”

“I know, but I guess I figured you’d let me know when the time was right…I don’t want you to feel backed into a corner or anything.”

“Don’t worry about that…I know where the front door is. So what have you got planned for the rest of the day?”

“Nothing much, I’ve got a couple of spells to memorise for tomorrow’s birthday party, couple of new illusions that should get everyone going..”

“That should take you until sunset…so do you fancy going out this evening, I could really go for some Chinese?”

“I thought we usually did that on Thursdays after the cinema.”

“I know! I just fancied a change that’s all, we could make it Italian instead? I heard there’s a new place opened up…supposed to be very romantic Joe, I could get all glamorous for you.” Joe smiled warmly, he could take the hint.

“Nat you could be glamorous in an old sack! OK lets do it, come find me at five and we can get ready. If you need to, go ahead and book a table, I hate all that standing in line and being considered suitable as a customer by some stuck up glorified waiter.”

“Chinese or Italian? Come on…”

“Oh decisions, decisions…You choose I’ll eat what is put in front of me…” Nat rolled her eyes up in exasperation, did Joe ever decide anything? “Alright before you say anything if there’s a new place I say lets give it a try. Italian would make a change too, I think the Chinese place is considering some sort of plaque on the wall we go there so often.”

“OK then spaghetti and meatballs it is! If you’re a good boy we could do that scene in Lady and the Tramp together.”

Joe raised a half smile, “I am not…pushing a meatball at you with my nose!”

Natalie burst out laughing, “Ha ha ha, nice thought Romeo! I don’t think the restaurant would be too pleased if we tried. But I actually meant the scene with the single spaghetti strand that leaves the two of them kissing. Go on go memorise your spells…”

Joe leaned across and kissed her cheek, “I know I’m just joking. So what will you be doing?”

“I’m going to have a shot at creating that globe again.”

“OK don’t work too hard, all work and no play make Nat a dull girl.”

“And Joe a dull boy…go on out!” Natalie shooed Joe out of her chair and for a couple of minutes after he left she sat looking at her computer screen without taking anything in. Six years without anybody in your life; Natalie couldn’t imagine going six weeks let alone six years.

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