The Magician & The Fiddler

Image Copyright: Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Marvin the Marvel takes Browning’s advice, ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp’, a little too literally. Alas, all his vaulting ambitions are matched by a capability only adequate to plunging off the end-of-the-pier – where he belongs – into the murky depths below. Stick to children’s parties and seaside resorts, is my advice to him.

Harry reread the review, over his morning cup of Earl Grey tea. He mouthed the words to himself, lingering over their shapes, framed by a pleasant, mild tea-taste. The grapefruit juice that chased it down was bitter. He felt the tiniest pang of guilt; but decided that he loved his job after all.

‘Were we too harsh?’ asked Monica, folding her newspaper and setting it beside her.

Harry shrugged.

‘I mean, it was terrible, there’s no denying that,’ Monica rationalised.

‘It’s our duty to keep our readers informed – and forewarned,’ Harry said cheerfully. He stood up and stretched, turning towards the window. ‘It’s a lovely day outside.’

Harry had no reservations about writing bad reviews; indeed, claims of moral duty aside, Monica suspected he enjoyed them rather more than was strictly necessary. Monica’s qualms, on the other hand, may have had something to do with her own insecurities as a fiddler. She had never attempted public performance – she suffered from a mortal terror of critics. Instead, she played an accompaniment to the crickets living in the hedgerow behind the house. She found this made for a more comforting arrangement of sounds.

Harry and Monica were theatre critics for different newspapers. Which meant they often got sent to watch and review the same shows. Last night’s had been a random addition – the RSC had cancelled their production of The Spanish Tragedy, and they’d decided to review a much-hyped magic show instead. Years of experience as the panto dame at the local corn exchange comprised the extent of Harry’s knowledge – quite a reasonable qualification, he thought.

Marvin the Marvel, magician and author of such esoteric volumes as Dangerous Fabrics, Voodoo for Beginners, The Multiple Uses of Cats, and one detective novel – Long-Distance Murder, had just launched his first solo show. It was cheap and tacky entertainment fare. It might have gone down quite well at Butlins, thought Monica – but Marvin was well out of his depth with last night’s audience, and he didn’t know the first thing about dealing with hecklers – the show started its slow grind towards an agonisingly awkward drawn-out halt as soon as the little girl in the audience yelled out, ‘I can see the string!’ Marvin had ended the show on an – admittedly spectacular – finale, going up in smoke. Everyone had cheered; no one harder than Harry. Monica had held her breath too long, and had simply been grateful for the opportunity to release her pent-up laughter.

With no work till tomorrow night – press night for another re-visioning of Beckett’s Endgame – Monica decided to devote her time to practising on the fiddle, and Harry idly contemplated doing some work in the garden. He wanted to see how the strawberries were coming along.

The phone call was a little out of the blue, but Harry and Monica had learned to expect the inconveniences that came with being a critic – the angry letters bristling with hurt pride, the deadly shards of glass, the occasional death-threat.

Monica answered.

‘Hello, it’s Marvin the Marvel here.’

Monica could barely contain herself. ‘Oh, hello Mr Marvel.’ She couldn’t manage any more than that; the urge to giggle was rising like an irrepressible tide.

‘I read the reviews.’ Silence.

‘Oh, that’s – good.’ She drew in deep breaths and steadied her quavering voice.

‘You will regret this.’

Marvin spoke in intensely dramatic tones, every word seemingly calculated to conjure up a spell. This was too much for Monica. Peals of laughter tore away at her reserve. ‘I’m sorry…’

‘You will be.’ The line went dead.

‘Guess who that was.’ She told Harry. The shared laughter over the affair raised their spirits, and cast its happy glow over the rest of the day.

That evening, they had a couple of glasses of red, and a lively discussion on hubris in Julius Caesar.

Monica crawled out of bed at 11am to answer the doorbell, the next morning. She signed for delivery, and waited for the parcel to be unloaded. ‘It’s the whole truckload, miss. Would you like any help?’ She shook her head.

She circled the truck in bemused wonderment. What could it be? Stage props? Scenery? Their own independent production of her play, Where has all the marmalade gone? (a cross between cutting social satire and Winnie the Pooh) wasn’t due to enter the rehearsal-process till September.

Did Harry mean to surprise her?

‘I have no idea where it came from. Have you tried looking inside?’ Harry eyed it quizzically.

‘No. I wanted to wait for you.’

‘Well then, let’s see, shall we?’

Monica threw open the door. Inside were rows upon rows of shelves, stacked to the heights with books. Mostly lurid paperback novels, tattered vintage comics – books with screaming titles that marched across the spines – and occasionally dripped blood-red ink – pursued by a series of exclamation marks.

There was one particular row of horror paperbacks – more lurid affairs, like bound volumes of lost Victorian penny-dreadfuls. An entire series of volumes, each dedicated to a monster; there was one on ‘Werewolves’, one on ‘The Undead’, another on ‘Frankenstein’s monster’… yet another on ‘Mummies’.

Monica’s eye caught something on a higher shelf, leaning with its back to the wall, frontcover facing out. As her gaze tried to focus, she read disappearing snatches… something about the Transformations of Fredric Marsh… Richard Mansfield… The cover-picture was a garish drawing of Mansfield clutching a beaker, face twisting itself into impossible shapelessness.

She climbed up the shelves towards it, Harry’s entreaties to ‘be careful’ vague muffled echoes on the edge of hearing. A nasty laugh cut through the dreamhaze. Though she knew it was there, the book vanished as soon as she reached out for it. Her grasp scooped air and insubstantial colours, that broke their containment and spread outwards in ripples as her fingertips dipped into the cover-that-was-no-longer-there. She groped around in the place where she was sure it had been, knowing that it was still there – merely inaccessible to her senses.

In the meantime, the monster-books on the lower shelf were splitting their bindings, and expelling their contents. Mummies stumbled forth, blindly staggering past. Bats burst forth with an explosive flurry. Gnashing wolves tumbled out, flattening Harry under padded feet. The walls of books imploded towards them, in monster-shaped fragments. Monica, thrown off balance by a giant taloned flying creature, fell to the ground. She clutched Harry’s arm, speechless, as a stream of skeletons rattled past.

Marvin the Marvel was standing on the doorstep, ushering his fiendish forces into the house. Monica and Harry ran back in, after his retreating back. The living-room was overrun with the creatures of nightmare – ravens cackled with glee as they dropped the tea-things onto unwitting zombies; werewolves mocked Lily the wire-haired terrier; and Marvin stirred sugar into his tea.

Alarmed at the manner in which they had been ousted from their own living-room, Harry confronted Marvin. ‘What… Just. What?’

Marvin nodded to two ratchety skeletons, who chased the couple through their house, and out the back door.

‘Oh, sorry about all the dirt on your welcome mat…’ Marvin threw back his head and laughed. Harry was about to say something about the whole maniacal performance being rather tastelessly overstated, but thought better of it, as the two sentry-skeletons sat down to guard the entrance. Earth fell from their joints as they marshalled their bones into a cross-legged position.

The crickets were out in full orchestral harmony that night. Monica picked up her fiddle and played, under the light of the moon. The howls of wolves picked up the refrain.

Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Edg@r @ll@n Poe (Poe Week)

Edgar Allan Poe
is looking forward to seeing THIS project come to fruition.
17 minutes ago · Like · Comment

R Corman hmmm
16 minutes ago · Like

Edgar Allan Poe why?
15 minutes ago · Like

R Corman sounds like another sherlock holmes
13 minutes ago · Like

Edgar Allan Poe :/
9 minutes ago · Like

@therealPoe

worth inventing detective fiction just for this #batman http://poe.ea/eGFthYU

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Edgar Allan Poe
had a great night in great company and GREAT BEER.
10 minutes ago · Like · Comment

A Lee xxx
9 minutes ago · Like

Nev R Moore gr8 prty. huge hangover.
9 minutes ago · Like

Prospero dude dressed s little red riding hood freaked me out
7 minutes ago · Like

Nev R Moore @Prospero DUDE??????
6 minutes ago · Like

Prospero yeah. saw pencil stache.
5 minutes ago · Like

Nev R Moore sick
2 minutes ago · Like

@therealPoe

RT@buriedalive: found dis 2

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creepy & cool in equal measure

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Edgar Allan Poe
is tired. Tiem to sleep.
36 minutes ago · Like · Comment

H P L gnight
27 minutes ago · Like