Extract > A Short Story by Jonathan Carter
The Marvellous Mancini stood waiting in the wings, cracking his knuckles and checking the tricks in his pockets. He was always nervous before going onstage, especially in small theatres like this one. Grim and grubby, and clogged up with the past. But as long as people kept paying to watch him, along with his doddering peers, he had to keep performing. It was all he had left.
Tonight, he was to follow Bobby Shilling, an unfunny funny man who thought he could sing. The sad fact was that his singing was far funnier than his jokes. He was out there now, baying like a demented dog. Soon he would be striding offstage, waving to the crowd and noisily breaking wind as he approached the wings, leaving Mancini to shuffle out amid the fug and sparse applause.
Mancini was marked out from other conjurors by his glamorous spangled cloth cap. This, though, was dry humour: he was the magician in slippers who conjured pork pies from undersized suit jackets, a depressed man who did depressing tricks. Over the years, he’d become known as The Sausage Man. It was a cheap trick but it worked, and it was now his signature. Bellies coughed laughter into pint glasses at the mere sight of him handling a sausage. His big pug eyes said it all. He looked like a fish who’d swallowed a hook.
Bobby Shilling was now bowing to the whooping crowd.
“May I introduce The Marvellous Mancini,” he said, gesturing towards the wings.
Mancini took a deep breath, while the air was still clear. Then he grabbed his little magic table and walked out onto the stage.
“Good evening gentledies and ladymen,” he cried, to cheers of recognition.
Then he frowned and pulled a string of sausages from his trousers, pausing creatively with the production of each one, flinching as he liberated the final sausage. The bellies in the crowd went into spasm.
Mancini offered one of the sausages to a woman in the front row. She clapped her hands around her pink cheeks and made an O with her mouth, then laughed with her shoulders going up and down like pistons.
“Oooh,” said Mancini. “She didn’t want my banger!”
The crowd said “Aaah” and duly rocked with laughter.
Courting sympathy, Mancini lifted his spangled cap. There were titters from the crowd: his hair was attached to the hat. He scratched his egg-bald head and replaced the cap, then shuffled some cards miraculously while hoofing wearily in his slippers.
“For this next trick I’ll need someone from the audience,” he panted, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket. A packet of condoms fell out. Big red laughing faces turned to each other then looked back at Mancini. “And I’d need a bloody miracle with these!” he said.
So far, it seemed to be going well.
The spotlight now tracked his tortuous journey as he climbed down from the stage and made his way into the crowd. He could see them nudging each other and smiling: an entertainer was approaching.
He stopped by one of the rows and hung the playing cards over his arm, brazenly revealing their trickery. There was mild laughter. He then reached into his jacket. “Here, take a card,” he said, handing a business card to a man at the end of the row. “I’m available for weddings and bah mitzvahs.”
The man laughed and put out his hand, but Mancini conjured the card away. “Oops, I’ve got another one in here somewhere,” he said, frisking his suit. Then he brought out the sausages again to much acclaim, with everyone noisily applauding.
With a hammy frown, Mancini raised his cap to reveal a piece of paper on his pate. He read aloud: “You left your playing cards in your other suit.” (Laughter.) “I haven’t got another suit.” (Laughter.) He read on: “Do the watch-smashing trick, but be more careful this time.”
The man who tried to take the card leaned back in an instinctively theatrical gesture, shielding his watch. There were yelps from the crowd. Mancini told the man not to worry whilst producing a big mallet from his trousers. The crowd whooped as if at a hanging.
Hesitating somewhat, the man took off his watch to a volley of applause. A big hollow grin hid genuine reluctance. He then handed it to Mancini, saying that it was a little slow.
Mancini held the watch aloft. “Ooh,” he laughed. “He says it’s slow. He thinks I’m going to repair it!”
He made his way back onto the stage as the crowd whooped. Yielding the mallet, he put the watch on his little magic table. “That’s the easiest way I know to steal a watch,” he said. The man without the watch laughed loudest.
Mancini milked the mallet for all it was worth, posing then adjusting the pose, before crashing it down onto the watch. There was a small dramatic explosion and the table collapsed. Mancini dropped the mallet, clamped his hands together and offered a wordless apology to the man.
The man laughed until his stomach ached and tears came into his eyes.
Mancini opened his jacket like a bird opens its wings, to reveal a dozen watches hanging like medals. “This one looks like yours,” he said, holding up one of the watches. He then dropped it. When he picked it up it was sprouting obvious springs.
The man almost split his sides, and there were stitches from the crowd.
The sausages then made a brief reappearance to much jubilation, before Mancini finally produced the undamaged watch and held it up for all to see. The man came readily to the stage. Mancini offered him a sausage while a woman hooted ecstatically in the front row. The man turned to the crowd and laughed with them. He then took the watch and returned to his seat.
Now standing centre-stage, Mancini took a frying pan from his jacket and began to fry two of the sausages. He whistled as he casually produced a plate and rolled the sausages onto it. Putting the frying pan back in his jacket, he lifted his cap. A rasher of bacon was on his head. Laughter now became rapturous applause. The bacon trick had never been so celebrated.
He bowed his head to let the bacon fall onto the plate.
The crowd gasped. The plate had suddenly become unsteady in his hand. The food had disappeared, and there was now a dove shifting its scaly feet uneasily on the china.
Mancini couldn’t speak.
He could feel his heart pounding. The more amazed he seemed, the more the crowd reacted. He lifted the plate suddenly to make the dove fly. Instinctively, he threw it after the bird and the plate instantly became another dove.
He was shaking now as he went to the microphone.
“That’s real magic!” he said. “I mean real magic!”
The crowd cheered.
He looked with disbelief towards the wings. He could see Bud Paris, the well-known ageing cabaret singer, angrily tapping his watch. “That was real magic,” mouthed Mancini.
“Fine. Now get the hell off the bloody stage!” mouthed Bud.
Like a child, Mancini threw his hands into the air and shouted, “Abracadabra!”
A bicycle with ten gears suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
A hush descended.
Mancini felt weak as he looked to the wings again. “It’s real magic,” he mouthed, with tears now running down his cheeks. He took the microphone once more. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is genuine magic you are seeing here tonight,” he said, feeling short of breath. The crowd applauded. “And now if I can, I want to show you something very special indeed.”
Suddenly, Bud Paris marched onto the stage with desperate glamour, singing That’s Where The Music Takes Me. Mancini’s blessed hands shook as he waved them at Paris.
The crowd gasped. The singer had vanished.
Mancini’s legs gave way, and the room fell silent. Suddenly, singing could be heard from afar.
“Er, Bud owns the club,” said Mancini trying to get up. “And I won’t get paid now.”
He struggled to his feet amid the laughter, but fell again. The curtains suddenly closed. When they opened, Bud Paris was at the microphone.
“That was the Marvellous Mancini!” he bellowed, clapping towards the wings. Then he silenced the applause with a song. Only a few moments ago, he’d found himself singing in the gentlemen’s toilets.
This was to be Mancini’s last appearance as a conjuror. He never stood upon a stage professionally again. Mr Paris saw to it. He was a powerful man in clubland.
But the bicycle with ten gears was Mancini’s to keep. And now, whenever he is well enough, he goes for rides along the Thames. He cuts a fine figure, with his spangled cloth cap and slippers. His big pug eyes say it all.
He’s often to be seen beside the river, throwing his hands at the air and shouting, “Abracadabra!”