Read Seven-Day Magic Online

Authors: Edward Eager

Seven-Day Magic (13 page)

BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

As she walked, she thought about her father and about the wish. Lots of good things were going to happen, in a money way, because of it. And yet Abbie wondered if her father were really going to be as happy as he'd been before she made it.

She had heard of a thing called human dignity, and it seemed to her that her father had always had quite a lot of this, small-part singer or not and too short or not. Something told her that he would always go on having it, but something also told her that singing,

"Chickadee tidbit, chickadee tidbit,
Skedaddle skedaddle pow!"

for a living was going to make it harder for him to keep a firm hold on it.

She thought maybe if she could make a poem about this and tell it to the book, the book might know the answer.

Abbie was a poet who had not made many poems, as yet. The thoughts were there in her mind, but so far she could rarely bring them out of it and onto the paper. A line or two would usually come, and sometimes a whole verse, but that would be all.

There was a particular deserted woods down the road, where she liked to go to think out her poems. There was a sunny clearing at the near end of the woods and a rocky glen beyond, and if she couldn't find a line or two in the one place, she usually could in the other.

Today she perched on a log at the edge of the clearing (for the grass was still dewy), took out the pencil and paper she had brought along with the book, and wrote down,

"Alas, for human dignity!"

Then she sat and looked at the sun climbing higher in the sky and a brown butterfly on some orange butterfly weed and two towhees that were darting near her and shrieking far too loudly (for their nest was nearby and they thought the poem was a magic spell to blight their offspring, only Abbie did not know this), and no words came. Her thought was perfectly clear, but it wouldn't take shape. So she decided to try the rocky glen instead.

There was a big rock at the top of the glen where you could sit and look far down at the little stream below, where bloodroot grew in spring and cardinal flowers in summer, all among the dappled shade. It was a place for thinking vast thoughts.

But today as Abbie approached the rock, she saw that a man was already sitting there. Furthermore, the man had a pencil and paper and was writing. Quite a coincidence, thought Abbie, as she drew nearer. The man was so intent on his work that he didn't look up, even when she came quite near. He was small and untidy, with rather wild gray hair and large horn-rimmed spectacles, and altogether he looked like nothing so much as the pictures of writers you sometimes see on the covers of books. This gave Abbie courage.

"Are you an author?" she said suddenly. She had never met a real one.

The man peered at her nearsightedly over his spectacles. "More or less," he said. "I'm a poet," he added rather apologetically. "Does that count?"

"Why, so am I!" said Abbie, delighted.

"Good," said the man, and went on writing. But he didn't seem to mind Abbie's being there; so she sat beside him on the rock, as one author by another. "Do you
finish
many poems?" she asked after a bit.

"Yes," said the man, "I do." "I don't," said Abbie.

"You will," said the man, "if you keep trying." There was another pause. And since her own poem didn't seem to be getting any further, Abbie looked idly at what the man was writing. "That's not a poem," she said, "is it?" The man looked at her. "What makes you think so?"

"It doesn't rhyme," said Abbie. "And the lines are all different lengths."

"It's a play," said the man. "It's my first play. But it's a poem, in a way. It's an opera in a way, too. At least part of it has to be sung. That's what makes it so hard."

"To finish?" said Abbie.

"
No
," said the man rather defensively. "It
is
finished. I'm just polishing. No, I mean that's what makes it so hard, getting it on the stage."

Abbie nodded wisely. In her experience of the entertainment business, hopes were often blasted.

 

"You mean nobody'11 want to put on a play like that."

"Oh, it'll be put on all right. You see," and again he looked rather apologetic, "I happened to win a poetry prize a few years back. And a man came to me and said if I'd write a play, he'd produce it, no matter what it was. I think he's crazy, myself. It won't make a penny. Probably won't run three weeks."

"What's it about?" said Abbie.

"That's a good question," said the man. "You might say it's about modern times and what's wrong with them. Or you might say it's about a nice little man who's lost in a world of bombs and advertising and big business, and yet he won't give up. Or you might say it's about human dignity."

"
Really?
" Abbie beamed at him. "This
is
a coincidence. That's what
my
poem's about, too!"

"It is?" said the man, looking at her with new interest.

"I think it sounds like a wonderful play," said Abbie. "I don't see what you're worried about."

"Finding the right man to play the part, for one thing," said the man.

"You want some big star, I suppose," said Abbie.

"No, that's just what I
don't
want. I want somebody who's good, but people don't know about him yet. I've been looking at actors and listening to singers till I'm sick of the thought of them. I've even suffered through television shows. I saw a little man the other night who might almost do. He had the voice for it and the right face, too. Friendly-looking and lost and puzzled."

Abbie had an exciting thought. "Was he singing 'Chickadee Tidbits'?"

"Some trash or other. I even thought of finding out his name and sending him the play to read. But he probably wouldn't understand a word of it. Probably just another mindless idiot."

There was a silence. Abbie could hardly trust herself to speak. Finally she said, "Will you do me a favor?"

The interest went out of the man's face, and he looked tired and cross. "No," he said, "if you mean will I read your poem for you and tell you how to finish it, I will
not.
Students always ask me that, and it's something you have to figure out for yourself."

Abbie forgot her father and "Chickadee Tidbits" and everything else but her own outraged artistic feelings. "Of
course
I didn't mean that! I wouldn't let anyone else
touch
my poems or even look at them!"

It was the man's turn to be silent. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. "That shows you're a true poet," he said, "and I apologize. I see I misjudged you. Why not show you forgive me by making an exception and letting me see your beginning? Since we're working on the same theme?"

With many misgivings Abbie handed him her sheet of paper.

"'Alas for human dignity,'"

he read. He seemed to think for a minute. Then he handed the paper back.

"That's a very good first line," he said. "In fact, it's so good that I wouldn't try to do anything more with it now. Put it away and take it out every year or so and look at it. Some year you'll know what to say, and then you'll have a poem. And now, what was the favor you were going to ask me?"

"If it isn't too much trouble," said Abbie, "will you walk me home? I want you to meet my father."

 

Later that morning Abbie left her father and the famous man (for that is what he was and her father had recognized him right away) talking to each other in the living room and went out on the lawn, where Barnaby and John and Susan and Fredericka lay idly chatting.

"You've still got the book," said John, seeing it in her hands. "I suppose we might as well take it back to the library, since the magic's all finished."

"Is it?" said Abbie.

"Barnaby said would I give up my wish," said John, "and I said I would, and I guess it worked. Your father's going to be famous, singing 'Chickadee Tidbits,' and that's a pretty good happy ending. Nothing more'll happen now."

"Won't it?" said Abbie.

"Only let's not walk to the library just yet," said Fredericka. "It's too hot." For the fresh promise of the morning had turned to blaze and humidity, as too often happens in June.

"Who's the man with Father?" said Barnaby. "What are they doing?"

"I think they're talking business," said Abbie. She sat down and pulled up a blade of grass to nibble at the juicy white part. "Daddy'11 prob'ly tell you all about it."

At that moment her father and the famous man came out on the porch.

"I still say you ought to think twice," the famous man was saying. "It'll be hard work, and it won't make you rich. You'd do far better with that 'Chickabiddy Itch,' or whatever it was."

"Let's forget about that," said Abbie's father. "And I don't mind how hard it is. It'll be an honor to work with you, sir."

And they shook hands.

The famous man started down the walk and stopped near Abbie. "That's a good father you've got there," he said. "And you"—he turned back to the porch—"have quite a daughter."

"I know it," said Abbie and her father at the same time.

"We shall meet again," said the famous man. And he walked away up the road.

Abbie's father came to her and stood looking down. And in spite of the mystified others, for a minute it was as if he and she were alone together on the lawn.

"I wonder if you know what you've done for me," he said. "You've brought me the biggest chance of my life, just when I thought it was too late. Do you know that man's probably the greatest living poet in this country?"

"No, I didn't," said Abbie. But looking back, she wasn't surprised. "He's awfully understanding," she said.

She remembered wonderingly that the greatest living poet in the country had said her first line was a good one. With a shiver of joy and awe in her heart, she promised herself that she would do just as the great man had said and think about human dignity every so often, and when she finally had a poem, she would show it to him again, if they were still friends. And she felt somehow that they might still be.

But first, she would show it to her father.

Right now her father was staring at the playscript he held in his hands. "I can't believe it yet," he said. "How did it happen? How did you find him?"

Abbie thought of all the things that had happened since the day before yesterday that she could never tell him because there were no words for some of them and the rest he wouldn't believe.

Then she looked around at the others and winked.

"I made a wish," she said.

7. Keeping It?

That night after dinner Abbie's father read the play out loud to the whole family, and to John and Susan because they asked to be included.

Parts of it were exciting, and parts were so funny that Abbie's father could hardly read for laughing. Other parts were hard for the children to follow (though Barnaby claimed he understood every word), but the poetry was so beautiful that Abbie felt humble. When she said as much, her father admitted to feeling humble, too, at the thought of acting a character that was so long and complicated and demanding and rewarding.

"Are you sure you ought to do it, Roy?" Abbie's mother wondered.

"I'm sure," said Abbie's father, "that I ought to try."

And then everyone separated for bed.

But for the third night that week, Barnaby came tiptoeing into Abbie's room, after all the lights were out.

"I've been thinking," he said. "I promised to give up my wish if it'd help Father, and so did John. But how can we be sure we have to now? It was
your
wish that made that poet turn up. Maybe he'd have come along anyway if John and I hadn't promised a thing. I don't think it'd do any harm to test the book and see if there's still some magic left."

"Maybe not," said Abbie. But when Barnaby had departed for his own room, she lay waking and doubtful. It seemed suspiciously like double-dealing to her. Still, who was she to say so? She had
had
her wish, and it had turned out in the end to be the best wish of all.

And Barnaby hadn't had a turn but had been having ideas and helping the others, from the beginning. Who could blame him for wanting a wish of his own before all magic failed?

Meanwhile, in the house across the street, John was having the same thought. But because his mind worked more slowly than Barnaby's, light didn't fully dawn until breakfast-time next morning. When it did, he hustled Susan through her oatmeal and across the street, where Barnaby and Abbie and Fredericka were weeding the petunia bed, which was their morning chore.

Many hands made light work, and soon the petunias were free of the sourgrass and plantains that had gotten into the bed with them, and the five children sought the shade.

"Now," said Barnaby, and he and John started talking, both at once, each explaining his own idea. But since their ideas were exactly the same, the general sense came through.

"How about it?" said Barnaby finally. "Shall we have a try?"

"Why not?" said Fredericka.

Abbie said nothing, but she felt troubled.

As for Susan, she was only half listening as she idly glanced through the book, reviewing its colorful descriptions of their adventures in the past. Now she closed the cover, but it fell open again at the back flyleaf, and something caught her eye. She looked closer. Then she looked up.

BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson
Grudging by Michelle Hauck
Sasha's Portrait by B. J. Wane
Sidecar by Amy Lane
Kate Berridge by Madame Tussaud: A Life in Wax
Milosz by Cordelia Strube
The Whirling Girl by Barbara Lambert
Red Cells by Thomas, Jeffrey
Better than Perfect by Simone Elkeles