Vignette

Are you the sort of person who would, in a heartbeat, drop everything?  I think… I think you are not.

And yet, given the right stimulus, the right motivation, in the proper circumstances, you just might.  You would go, stopping only for the barest necessities, caught up in the excitement — and before you realized what was happening, before you had a chance to fairly catch your breath, it would be two days later and you’d be looking up at the Pacific Ocean.

And that would be Magic because you would do something that is not in you to do, not normally… not any day but today.  Today, for some reason — the stars are aligned or you had one of those dreams — something, Lord knows what, but something operated to make you take an action that’s entirely out of character, something that wasn’t you until just now — and then it was completely you, absolutely totally right, the perfect thing, the only thing you can do.

And that, That!  That is Magic when it happens (and may it happen to us all at least once in our lifetimes.)  So many of us go through our lives without ever feeling the magic, not ever.  You live from day to day, doing the same things you did yesterday or last week, without feeling, without thinking that there is something wrong — something desperately wrong with never moving outside your bounds, with never seeing what is over the next hill, without ever dropping your life and just going until you stop.

And when you stop it will be because you couldn’t not stop, because you were compelled to go this far, just this far and no further.  And life has acted on you for a change and brought you some place new by means of magic, by means of something that is beyond your capability to understand — for what else is Magic?  Truly, what else is Magic but that which you cannot explain, cannot possibly understand with your knowledge of the world the way it is.  And this is precisely that sort of thing you would never ever do.

We are living in a time when a man talking to the air could be speaking to someone in the next county or the next country, a thing a thousand years ago would have been thought madness or witchcraft and a hundred years ago would have been thought of in wonderment, today we do without thinking.  And this, this is Magic; we just call it Science.  And this is how magic loses its mystery and becomes commonplace, becomes part of the ordinary, becomes everyday, becomes nothing, nothing to wonder at, at least, nothing to think about, nothing to give us pause.

Today’s Science is yesterday’s Magic; we just renamed it and harnessed it.  But yesterday’s Magic was a human magic, it was a magic that if we could not understand it at least it worked for good or ill in our lives; it changed us, and made us new; it was about us.  But science — that science which is technology — does no such thing.  It does not change us; it merely walks with us, harnessed to change. The power in the light bulb, the power in the wire just does our bidding, existing doglike, slavelike, only to serve us.

And just like that life loses its mystery, its rough enchantment, its excitement.  It loses the power to take us where it wishes, where life wants us rather than we, where our plans have no power.  And it is not merely magic but half miracle that you did that thing which is not you, that is the unthinkable, and drop the reins the control the power over your life and left, just left.  Not calling anyone, not even checking to make sure the lights were off.  And you end up here on the beach watching the sunset over the Pacific, amusement park on the pier nearby shut down standing silently empty in the ocean breeze and you don’t know where you are or where you’re going from here; you just know that you are and that what has happened is so outside of your ordinary day that it must be Magic.

Because, much though we believe we have magic bound to our will by wires and circuits and technology, we don’t. Magic still appears, now and then, not a dog at all but a cat, one that seldom comes when called.

It gets cold as the sun sets, not freezing but cold in a way that sucks the strength from your bones and you feel it cut through you in a way you never did back home.  And so as the dew begins to settle you pick up those few things you brought with you and head back to where the car was that you left standing in a lot nearby this morning, before dawn.  When you get there you see that somehow people left your car alone, that where you half expected to see it towed away or at least a ticket there is nothing; no one has stolen the hub caps, broken in and taken the radio and then you look again and see that someone did indeed notice your car. The gas cover is open; the tank is empty, siphoned dry — but that is part of the magic too, the Magic that brought you here must need you with an empty tank for some reason.  What that reason is of course you have no idea, but it must be so, you think staring.

As the last dregs of the enchantment drain out of you, suddenly you realize, really become aware for the first time where you are: two thousand miles from home.  You’re cold, shaking, feeling a little ill, and what you’re doing is staring at a car that won’t run.  It won’t take you to safety, can’t carry you to a refuge of any sort.  You look around the streets; they’re not just quiet, but deserted.  Empty.  No other cars, just you here; only the street lights.  And you realize with a start that this is not a kind Magic; this is not a magic that means you well. It is a magic that was, perchance, meant for another than you, magic for someone else and you were but caught up in it.  You have been the target of a magic that does not care about you and your purposes, is indifferent to an empty gas tank.

But that too is magic, magic of another sort, a Magic that can kill you as easy as it carried you away.  It is not a gentle magic; it is harsh, but it is a part of life and it too you must deal with — perhaps not in the same way you would deal with a bad day at work or a landlord giving you grief, but deal with it you must.  You shiver; your vision blurs a little.  Your skin itches with a mild sunburn.

And you just realized you don’t know where your keys are, but yes, it is Magic still, for there they are in the ignition where you left them hours ago.  But the door is locked.  So here you are, 2000 miles from home, locked out of a car that has no gas, with nothing but a small bag, very little money ($28.33 to be precise) and no idea where you’re going to spend the night.

It is a hard fact but true as a rock that life, that life which is magic and that magic which just brought you here, has abandoned you.  And as you stand and wait for it to carry you someplace else you realize not with shock but dread that you are completely alone, and that whatever purpose brought you here, if there was a purpose, has ended, has moved on from you to another.

As you stand there in what had been fading light and now the oncoming dark of true night you begin, yes you, even you!  You begin to feel the first twinge of despair.  And why not; you are so far away from where you thought you would be, from where you planned, that why would you not despair?

But despair for all its attractions is not who you are, any more than dropping everything and moving spontaneously across the country is.  You’re not in the habit of giving in to despair; and as the habits of your former life which you seem to have discarded somewhere along the way begin slowly to reassert themselves, so too does that habit which is refusal to despair.

For a moment the thought flashes across your mind to wonder where this came from, where you acquired this habit.  But there’s no time for that sort of thing; you have a task in front of you, a job you have to do.  You have to find yourself shelter for the night.  It’s getting quite cold now and this area does not look terribly hospitable, especially now after dark.

What to do?  You do not have spare keys; you didn’t bring them with you.  They’re in your apartment 2000 miles from here where they belong, sitting on a hook beside the door where they will do absolutely no one any good.  What will you do, what can you do?

You don’t want to stand still doing nothing.  Walking would be fine; you could walk for a long time but to where?  Where could you walk to?  You don’t know this state, much less this neighborhood.

So it seems you have to — you are compelled — to get into your car and hope that it has gas left, the evidence of the open gas cap to the contrary.  For it is possible that whoever stole (and was ill mannered enough to leave the cap off) was kind (or careless) enough to leave you something more than fumes.

From here it easy to see.  The car is locked; you do not know how to pop the lock to break in, but you do have in front of you a large expanse of safety glass, not easy to break into, but not impossible.  And there behind you is a rock, a fairly large one.  Looks like a broken chunk of concrete curbing, but right now it will suit your purpose.

Looking around furtively, cautiously as though a cop would arrest you stealing your own car (if only a cop would stop; they can open doors) but no cop, no payphone, certainly no cell phone, and who would you call?  Well, dialing 911 because you locked yourself out of your car; now, you could do that, but it’s immaterial because you don’t have your cell phone.  That too is probably way back home on the kitchen table or perhaps… no, it’s probably still in the car.  At least you brought it with you… Even though you’ve been sitting out in the hot sun all day you hadn’t thought before now to look for it but there it is!  Just inside the window is your cellphone, lying on the seat where anyone could have taken it but didn’t and the only thing between you and it is a pane of safety glass — and there is that rock — and you just have to.

Biting your lip, knowing that it will be very expensive (and you have no money) very expensive to fix but knowing it must be done anyway you raise the rock to bash in the window of your car.

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