Friday, May 14, 2010

The Legend of Brendan Ward

It was Jesus Week, the first week of summer vacation when Brendan Ward came to town to perform his street magic. We called it Jesus Week because on the last night in town, Brendan performed an illusion where he walked on water. It never failed, even after eleven straight years, to wow the audience. We just never got tired of seeing him tread barefoot across the pond in Angel Park. It might not have been so spectacular if he’d brought his own body of water and set it up. This was just plain old Angel Pond in Angel Park in downtown Angel Falls.

My friends and I worshiped Brendan. We’d literally grown up with him kicking off each and every summer since grade one. And we were all in love with him. Even in our senior year at high school with boyfriends draping their hopeful arms around our shoulders, we all secretly hoped that Brendan felt some measure of reciprocation for our adolescent devotion and we’d made sure that we were where he was all week long. Our boyfriends were so jealous by the end of the week, what with all the Brendan this’s and Brendan thats, that they were either clinging to us or openly eyeballing our competition. We weren’t all that worried, though. We all knew we’d be making it up to them after Brendan left town.

As usual just about the whole town came out to see Brendan walk on water. The park was packed with expectant towns folk jostling for position and speculating on how it was done. The only cloud was... Well, a huge black cloud gathering in the eastern sky that threatened to break open and spill its cold, wet contents on the party of the year! The speculation started to include whether or not Brendan would even be able to do the trick at all and as the evening inched forward in a race between the storm and the magic, the crowd began to get restless.

But Brendan would not be hurried. He would appear out of nowhere at precisely eight o’clock and walk through the crowd toward the pond. Along the way he would shake hands and sign autographs and pull coins from out of toddler’s ears. Everyone would “Ooh” and “Ahh” and either hope he’d stop and do a trick for them, or pray he wouldn’t. It was difficult to decide where to stand because no one ever knew for sure where he’d suddenly appear. “The real trick,” my father always said, “was to be in the right place at the right time.”

The clock ticked slowly toward the appointed hour. The people kept a close watch on the gathering storm and bobbed up on down on tip-toes scanning for any sign of the magician they were braving the weather to see. A cold wind blew up, whipping hair and skirts around and driving couples into the shelter of each other’s arms. Parents wrapped babies and toddlers tighter in blankets and coats, but no one was giving up. There was a fair bit of threatening to do so, though.

Finally someone on the far side of the pond yelled out, “He’s here,” and heads began to turn in the direction of the original shout, which was echoed back and out until all eyes were on the giant cottonwood tree on the north side of the pond. A puff of smoke and a blur of bright red cloth and Brendan Ward was at last among us. A cheer rose up from the crowd just as a distant rumble of thunder rolled over us. It was going to be close. Very, very close.

Brendan made his way toward the edge of the pond. He didn’t stop to shake hands or sign autographs or pull coins from anyone’s ears. He knew that the audience was in a bit of a hurry and he didn’t want to disappoint. My friends and I were close to the pond at nine o’clock to Brendan’s entrance. We had a perfect view and, in spite of the protection our boyfriends were giving us from the wind, we all stepped forward to get as close as we could to the action. My eyes were locked on Brendan’s handsome face and I swear that for just a second, right before he reached the edge of the pond, he looked right at me and smiled. I couldn’t help myself; I swooned.

With my back to the storm, I sensed rather than saw its final approach, but my attention was glued to Brendan as he slipped off his sneakers and put one tentative toe in the water. Little white caps had formed on the surface and the pond looked like the ocean in miniature during a hurricane. I gasped when Brendan took his first hesitant step onto that choppy little tarn, waiting to see if the waves would hold him. They did and he put one beautiful foot carefully in front of the other, teetering slightly as if the wind was about to knock him off balance. The crowd was silent. Only the howl of the wind could be heard as we watched the magician feel his way toward the center of the pond.
The first drops of rain hit just as Brendan reached the halfway point. He stopped. He looked up and our eyes met. There was something wrong. I could see the fear in his eyes and I screamed. But my scream went unheard. A bolt of lightning cracked across the sky and a deafening peal of thunder shook the earth and Brendan fell straight down into the pond. I watched in horror as the frothy water closed over his head.

Minutes passed and Brendan didn’t surface. At first people were too shocked to move. There seemed to be a collective internal debate going on between taking shelter and rescuing Brendan. It felt like forever, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds, before someone took action. That someone was my father, who stripped off his coat and shoes and dove into the pond. Another eternity passed before he came back up for air and dove again. The pond, murky at the best of times, was a turbulent soup of mud. Visibility was zero. Three more men joined my dad in the fruitless search for the missing magician.

By the time they were forced to give up, most of the crowd had left the park. Half of the women were crying. A few of the men were too, safe to do so in the driving rain that disguised their bitter feelings of loss. My boyfriend tried to make me leave, and when I refused, he simply left without me. I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to leave until Brendan was found – dead or alive.

It was late when my father finally made me return home, cold and drenched and grief stricken, while he rallied a search team together to meet at the fire hall. I made my way into the living room where my mother was busy dusting the contents of a curio cabinet. She did this sort of thing whenever she was upset. I wasn’t surprised to find her polishing her precious antique plates in the middle of the night. The loss of Brendan was met with no less sorrow than the loss of any close friend or relative would be. Never mind that he didn’t know us from Adam. He was a part of us, a part of our community and he would be missed.

I was just about to wrap my soggy arms around her when she screamed and dropped the plate she was polishing with a soft cloth. The plate, an expensive antique, shattered on the hardwood floor. For a minute I thought I had knocked it out of her hand, but when I looked at her, my mother was pointing at the door behind me. I turned and there stood Brendan Ward. Bone dry and smiling.

“That,” I said, forgetting my grief, my adoration and just about everything else that I had ever felt for the man, “was a priceless Chinese willow pattern porcelain plate from the sixteenth century. It’s irreplaceable.”

Now I loved Brendan Ward. But I loved my mother more and I think it was that precise moment when I realized just how much she meant to me. Her antique plates had always been a source of pride for her and an equal source of consternation for the rest of us. Seeing one in shards on the floor, though, there was no contest between this crazy traveling street magician and my dear old Mom. Of course, the fact that he was seeing me dripping wet with mascara smudged all over my face and my hair plastered to my skull in snaky tendrils while he looked like a million bucks didn’t exactly help his case.

“My plate,” my mother cried out after the shock of seeing Brendan materialize had worn off. “Look at my plate! It’s ruined.”

Ruined? This wasn’t an evening gown. It was a rare antique. Destroyed was the more appropriate adjective, I thought.

“I can fix that,” Brendan said. He walked into our house like he was a welcome guest and knelt down next to the smashed porcelain pieces. “I’ll need a broom and dust pan, a paper bag, some glue and a table cloth – preferably black or red.”

My mother, like an obedient child, went in search of the items Brendan had asked for. I stood with arms crossed and heart crosser glaring at his insolence.

“You can’t fix it,” I said. “This isn’t one of your tricks. What are you doing here anyway? And do you have any idea how worried people are about you? What the hell happened out there?”

Brendan stood up. He took a knitted afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped it around my shoulders. “You’re shivering,” he said as he led me to the piano bench to sit down. He may not have been concerned about giving the whole town a fright, but he certainly didn’t want me dripping on the sofa.

“Of course, I’m shivering,” I shouted. “I just spent the last three hours in the pouring rain trying to find your dead body.” This wasn’t how I fantasized our first real meeting would be like.

“And I’m sorry about that. I really am,” he said gently. “I didn’t mean for things to turn out the way they did. I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

“No you shouldn’t have.” I refused to look at him. “But I think you should leave. Mom’s been through enough for one night.”

“I had to see you,” he said.

I remained aloof.

“Do you remember when you were eight and you gave me that card that you made?”

Oh, dear God! He remembered that? Could this day get any worse?

I was in grade three and on the last day of school my teacher asked us all to make a card for someone just to tell them how special they were. She had hinted strongly that she might be a good candidate for recipient and many of the kids, hoping, perhaps, for better grades, obliged her. But my card was for Brendan. It was a picture of him walking on water surrounded by hearts and it said: Dear Brendan, you are a miracle. You make it summer. I love you.

Still not looking at him, I nodded.

“Well, I still have that card. I carry it everywhere I go.” He reached into his coat pocket and extracted the tattered remnants of the card. “And since I’m retiring – Angel Falls is my last street performance – I wanted to tell you how much that card meant to me.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, looking up finally. “You’re retiring?”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “Didn’t quite plan on going out with such a splash, though.”

“But why?” Just as suddenly as my anger had risen, my great love for this guy, who was way too old for me anyway, returned. I couldn’t imagine not starting summer without Jesus Week.
“It’s time,” was all he said.

Just then my mother returned. “I’m afraid I don’t have a red or black table cloth. This is the best I could do.” She handed Brendan a broom, a dust pan, a paper bag a bottle of white glue and a green plaid table cloth.

“It will work fine,” he said and began sweeping the broken pieces of the plate into the dust pan.

When he had swept up every last bit of plate, he dumped it into the paper bag, poured in a bunch of glue and then neatly folded the top over three times. He shook the bag vigorously before placing it on the coffee table and then, with a flourish only magicians can manage, flipped the table cloth into the air and let it settle covering the bag. Mom and I watched, mesmerized and expectant, hopeful and wary at the same time as he busied himself tucking the table cloth under the bag. He walked around the table twice, frowning down at the lump under the cloth as if he wasn’t quite sure which magic words to utter. Then he suddenly spun around, clapping his hands and stamping his feet and did a cartwheel right over the coffee table. As he landed on the other side, he grabbed a corner of the cloth and whipped it into the air. Where the bag of broken bits had been, there sat my mom’s plate. Intact. Whole. Unmarred. Unbroken.

Mom squealed like a little girl who had just got a pony for her birthday. I just sat there too stunned to even shiver.

“Thank you!” Mom cried. “Thank you so, so much. You’re so amazing. Can I get you a cup of cocoa?” She bustled off into the kitchen without waiting for an answer.

Cocoa? Seriously?

“How...” I pointed at the plate.

“I can’t tell you how it’s done.” Brendan reached down and touched the plate with his finger.

It crossed my mind that he really couldn’t tell me how he did it; such was the look of amazement on his own face.

“I have to go,” he said and headed to the door.

“But, you can’t just leave. There are people who are looking for you. Right now they are organizing a proper search of the pond for as soon as the rain stops. You can’t just leave. I think they deserve an explanation at least.”

“Tell them I screwed up tonight. Tell them I’m sorry I frightened them. Tell them good-bye.” Then he walked out of the house and into the night.

By the time I reached the door behind him he was nowhere in sight. I called out his name, but only the sound of the rain falling hard against the roof tops and pavement answered me. I never saw Brendan Ward again.

His last performance became the stuff of legend and some people firmly believe that he died in Angel Pond in Angel Park in Angel Falls and it was his ghost that came to our home and fixed the willow pattern plate that still sits in Mom’s curio cabinet. But I know that no ghost would carry around a silly card made by an eight year old fan.

Or would it?


  1. Fabulous - kept me mesmerized! How do you think of these things?

  2. that was pulled me along though i went so willingly...a truly magicaL tale. great magpie!

  3. Enjoyed reading your post. Nothing like a good mystery.

    (We had the same thought... a broken plate. Yours fared better than mine.)

  4. A fascinating story, a real page turner.

    It had me gripped right to the end.


  5. Amazing...I was hooked with the first few lines. I could literally feel the tension of the piece. BRAVO

  6. such a great story! so rich and captivating, i totally enjoyed it.

  7. My plate was broken too - but I like your ending better for sure. Great story!

  8. I was waiting for the plate to show up
    what a unique take on the photo prompt

  9. Gripping and curious tale - finely spun.

  10. Sounds like the Old Trickster's been at it again!.. He'll be back..never really retires!! Good show...

  11. Excellent Magpie. And great tension. The ending was wholly unexpected, but I liked it.

  12. You're def. a story teller! Great job on this Magpie, it gripped me to the very end!

  13. You have received blogger awards from Peg

  14. A magical tale, woven together like a green plaid tablecloth. Brava!