Stumble Upon Magic

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We all have a place where we find magic. It might not always be in a place that makes sense, it may creep up on you, it may only reveal itself to you in its absence – but we’ve all found it.

I’ve found magic on my travels this summer. In the people I have fallen in love with, the places I have discovered, and the challenges I have overcome, something everlasting and pure and fizzy has bubbled under the surface of the everyday. I felt it in the air last night: in the brightness of fairy lights as they hung from trees, and in the furry skins of stuffed toy animals. I piled my bags into the taxi on my way to finding home, and I met a man who held a very different kind of magic.

The driver had a thick tongue that caught on the roof of his mouth as he spoke, and a lawn of midnight black hair wrapped around his lower skull. He gripped the steering wheel with an attentive hold, and would anxiously glance back to make sure I was comfortable, pointing out bottles of water and offering me gum.

Soon he began telling me stories about his past as a musician, his qualifications from Trinity College in England, his passion for the drums.

‘But I don’t play for the world anymore. I play for Jesus. I play for him.’

I am not a religious person. I don’t know if my faith would have a label, but if it did, it wouldn’t be Christian. I wouldn’t name a being called Jesus. I wouldn’t clasp my hands over rosary beads and mutter to the heavens.

But I am in awe of the faith that resides in those that do all of those things.

I asked this man why he stopped playing for the world, asked him why the world doesn’t deserve his music any more.

‘Ten years ago, my life did a 180. I was a bad man, doing bad things. I drank too much alcohol, and I smoked – oh I smoked 80 cigarettes a day. Soon, everyone hated me. My wife, my children… they only stayed because I had money.

Then one day, during a rehearsal, I fell down with a heart-attack. For two days I lay in a coma, and while I was unconscious I had a vision. It was Jesus. He came to me and said ‘I want you. Come to me.’ When I woke up, I told my doctors and my family. My wife was always religious and she cried on my face. They ran tests and found no nicotine in my blood, no alcohol. I don’t care what scientists call it, I call that a miracle. Jesus brought me back and gave me new blood.

‘Every day since, I play in the Church. I serve. I don’t play for the world any more, but I do serve it. I make sure people like you get home safe at night, and I play them my music, and I tell them about God.’

So it was at midnight last night that I found a new blossom of magic on the freeway to home. I saw this man and I felt that buzzing feeling when he spoke. Something extraordinary was thrumming behind his words; that something that I had felt earlier in the lights hanging in the air. Like me, that man knew magic existed.

And like me, he was going to hang on to it as hard as he could. 

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Just for a second

The cat is back. But this time he has hundreds of companions, all padding softly by his side. Ginger and white and brown and black, their fur slides against each other and their pin prick paws tap the floorboards. I can feel the army march as I lie flat on the wooden ground. I twist my head to see him.

There he is, eyes of electric green and angled like almonds: to him, I smile.

But you cannot play favourites. The others see and move towards me. I feel the pressure pads as one after another clambers, claw footed, onto my legs and stomach. One, folds of fat wrapped around his gut like rubber rings, thrums with a guttural purr as he settles over my womb and then opens his tiny jaw to yowl. Again. Again.

Quiet.

I reach out to them and at first they respond. Triangle noses bash against my fingers and rough tongues flick at my skin. I knot my hands into their fur and stroke them, welcoming them.

Green Eyes is stalking up my body. The sea of felines part to let him pass, their heads bowing, but a shiver decends on the room when he touches his nose to mine. Their eyes shrink to slits, and a sound like a burst pipe issues from them. I gasp as I feel their claws elongate, curling under their paws and piercing through my clothes to my skin. The sharp pain as the needle nails draw blood is somehow familiar and dreadful.

In panic, I look for Green Eyes, but he has disappeared. He has left his family on me, scratching at the muscular swell of my legs, the soft pillow of stomach, the arches of my breasts, the bones of my shoulder, all the way down my arms to my knuckles. I scream after him but I get no other response than a mimicking screech from the feline army enveloping me, mocking me. The pain now is sharp and constant, like the slow, drawn out sketch of a tattoo. Tears start rolling down my cheeks: I try to breathe, but the inhalation pushes my chest and stomach out so their claws reach deeper. I cannot move, cannot push them away, they will not listen. More are coming.

As tails flick in my face and choke me with fur, as blood blossoms from unseen holes and I leak from my skin, I close my eyes.

And for a second – just for a second – I stop breathing.

A Fleeting Love Affair with Comic-con

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There have never been so many people in one place. Like glistening beetle cars, they bottleneck around me before bursting free in a scurrying race across the road. Costumes jostle each other, boxed humans peering confusedly out of their cardboard helmets as they teeter on stilts or platform shoes. There is black body paint smeared on my elbow, residue from the dark shadow man that brushed past me; the rippling darkened muscles of his back as he walks away seem menacing, and passing children stare up at him in awe and horror.

Two hundred thousand bodies, probably more, in a throbbing heaving mass pushing towards convention doors. The building spans the length of five, six blocks, with pointed steeple roof and sheet metal windows. A single road and tram lines separate it from the outside world – and this is where I roam.

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Assault courses, laser tag, Mythbusters, all dotted in hotels, parks, and on street corners. Queue queue queue for snippets of video, panels with Avengers, illegible scrawls by famous illustrators. Duck and dive and swoop in between mothers with prams, their baby Thors clutching their hammers as they grip onto their guardians’ palm. You are spun around by a Prince Charming as he slurs a drunken ballad; stumbling, you bump into the Hulk and dodge his smash.

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Screech to a halt: there is no passing by here.

A hell march of zombies has consumed the streets, flesh dangling from faces, un-dead pets rotting in their arms as they lurch at cameras and terrify observers. You must wait for this reeking crowd to part before you can dart through them to the next street.

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Keep stuffing leaflets into hands and chanting your familiar mantra. You are a tiny dot of promotion, the smallest speck that does not belong with this fandom – but you must learn their language. It is a fascinating one. Wait for a pixelated sword made of blue diamond and pounce on the friendly icon. Twenty minutes of excited gameplay exchanged before you move on.

One day in the manic rush you are given the golden ticket to get inside: enter the cathedral of worship and see what all the fuss is about – one hour only.

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A strange buzz fills your veins when you step on the floor. You are different from everyone else: you cannot move with the lazy drag of their feet that shows this is their hundredth circuit, time is too precious.

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Unbeknownst to you, there are secret loves and passions for comics and characters and films and franchises that you never knew you had. You flit from one stand to the next, stuffing money into hands and cramming goodies into bags. Endless snaps of photos are taken, and mouths open so often it’s like a fish gaping for water as one extraordinary thing after another lines up in front of you.

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You emerge panting from the stands to find yourself in the artwork section. The most incredible work, you want it all but the empty purse is light in your hands and the clock is ticking.

Time is up, Cinderella.

You gather the bags like the hem of a skirt and run tripping from the room, pouting at the early exit. One last look back at your painted hero, Wolverine, before the doors swallow you whole and spit you out on to the road back home.

Ribbon City

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land, wedged in between racing cars and suburban yards. It is marked along its borders by chain link fences that ripple when they’re touched, the dull metallic scales undulating like the lazy swim of a fish.

It is its own city with rules and family. Tents are pitched, sheets of plastic tied around trees and stretched out to the pins in the dusty ground. Towels, grubby clothes, an umbrella, are piled on top of the makeshift roof, shrivelling in the sun.

The cool blast of air-con is whipping strands of hair back from my face as I zoom past and see an exhausted man in this ribbon city, bending over a small girl. He is topless, the folds of his stomach overlapping the waistband of his jeans and his pale skin gleaming in the harsh sunlight. He is holding a bottle in his hand; squirts white cream into his palm; rubs it onto the child’s nose. Before they disappear I see a grin hoist up the weight of the young child’s face.

A few meters along is a gathering of women, sitting around a small stove fire. They are perched on floral loungers, the rusted legs digging into the dirt. Limp cigarettes hang from their mouths and the soles of their feet are grey. One of them waves and shouts something to a person out of sight.

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land marked by chain link fences. There is family and love and story telling here. There is dirt and poverty and blistered skin from the sun.

There is a whole ribbon city, in the shadow of the free way to home.

Hush

The door clicks shut and there is silence. 

Stop.

Helicopter blades chopping through the night air, thick varnished leaves squeaking against the brick wall, and the rustle of rough bristled curtains. 

Alone.

This is the first moment in three weeks. Exhale. Feel the breath tunnel through your pursed lips and find joy in your puffed, hot cheeks. Everything washing over you in a wave of yesterdays. A montage of faces smiling, singing, slurring, blurring into one. A myriad of places, of mountains and deserts, of boardwalks and sidewalks, and females with feathers.

Blink and you see computer screens and limousines and taxi cabs careening down tarmac, shrieking a blaring note that locals ignore. 

Blink and starry skin is wrapped around your waist, and you grin with a FLASH and the moment is gone. 

Wink at the next girl you see because you share in secret love the city that won’t sleep, just hurls you into tomorrow. Wave it hello and plunge back in. 

Blink and yesterdays line up like ghostly spectres, fluttering and whispering and reminding you of their past lives. 

Hush.

Blink and bright lights dance along lids, winking you into sleep that won’t rest your bones – because in your dreams you danceIMG_6095[1]

Black Cat

You are my feline, whispering stealthily from ear – to head – to heart. Promises you can / cannot keep, wishes you grant / cannot grant; I hear the purrs and grasp your neck between my fingers.

Be mine.

You are still. Frozen; you know I have caught you but instead of bending to my will you pretend you are not there. You embody, you become the oxymoron. Fluffy feline and foxy predator. If I hold my breath for long enough you will think I am no longer there. And oh, so wrong you will be.

Longing does not exist with lust. Longing is the aftermath of lust, tinted with ‘what ifs‘ and ‘should I’s‘ and ‘maybe’s‘. I long for you. With every breath I wish you closer.

And with every breath I wish you gone.

Walking home in the dead of night, you visit me. Sleek black coat, claws that click on pavements, sharp eyes that glint. A tail swishes from left to right in the afterglow of an orange street lamp.

Still here.

Waiting.

Embracing.

I do not miss you.

I do not miss you.

I do not pine for the touch of your skin when you step out of the shower, the hot, sticky drops that rain on my sleeping body as you bend over to kiss me. The water beads that herald the presence of coffee and foamed milk, the crumbling disaster of pastry in bed.

I do not yearn for the panting breath of evening skies as we tackle the climb from the sea back to the shelter of home. Blood moon rising behind us like a lantern guiding the way as we duck under a tree to steal a kiss.

I do not long for the days spent lounging in each others’ arms, laughing and teasing, clambering over the thick branched muscles of the limb to grab the splayed twigs of fingers that wave tantalisingly in the air. Come down from there. 

I do not miss you.

Alone in what we call home, I fumble around the kitchen and make foods that I know you hate, just to see if you will smell them from halfway across the world and hurry back to get me to stop. Make something else, you’d beg.

I need shampoo but buy Head & Shoulders for Men. I stand in the stream and scrub and scrub and scrub, but all I get is the smell of you and people stare when I wedge my hair over my nose like an oxygen mask.

I am counting the days on my shaking fingers, mapping the global movement with bright pins on calendars and coloured sheets of the world. The tiny red dot that is you haunts me when I pass it on my way to bed, and is burnt on my lids when I close them to dream.

I do not miss you.

I do not miss you.

crave you.

 

Life in a New York Minute: Part 4

By Day Four in New York I had got this notion into my head: I HAD to go and see the flower market. With no real idea of what to expect there, I was largely basing this whim on all the travel blogs and tv shows I’ve seen that display glorious pictures of endless fields of flowers. So we hauled our tired behinds out of bed and braved the sweating, heaving metro filled with morning commuters to get to 28th Street.

1239929_10200548478856111_360140350_nIt was one of the strangest streets I’ve ever been on. Here in Britain, flower markets aren’t generally a tourist attraction. They take place in the early morning and they’re predominantly for business men and women to trawl in the hopes of finding stock. Like fish markets, they don’t seem to make the list for ‘must-see’ destinations.

But if you are ever in New York, you should go along to 28th Street. The pavements are literally lined with trees; orange bushes and buckets of firecracker flowers I had never before seen screening pedestrians from the road. I found myself reaching out to touch the beautiful velvety folds of a plant, transfixed by the pure alien-ness of it. We entered shops 1233629_10200548481336173_200418687_ncautiously, with men calling out in an Italian tongue that lay heavy and fast on our ears, and found ourselves in warehouses that reached back further than we could see. The colours were blazing, the shapes twisted and elegant, the stalks thick, proud and covered with dew.

Just before we left the street, emerging amazed at the other end, I saw a small shop with buckets lined outside the front door – the picture is just to the right. They were my favourite flowers of the day. Like fireworks frozen in nature, they simply popped. 

From there we wandered around countless streets, through Chinatown, before finding ourselves in Little Italy. It looked like Christmas to me, with red, white and green tinsel dangling from one side of the street to the other: a city ready for Santa Claus. Tanned, dark haired men beckoned you in to their restaurants, promises of pizza and pasta and an ice cold glass of water difficult to resist.

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But there was no way we would stop here for pizza. We had another goal in mind.

Finally, after what felt like miles, we found ourselves at the Brooklyn Bridge, joining the throngs of people on bikes, tourists clutching cameras, and determined women striding forward in suits. It sounds corny and obvious but it was JUST like all the movies: one of those moments when being in New York really hits you.

I never imagined I would really be here. (The one with the beard and the camera is obviously not me)

I never imagined I would really be here. (The one with the beard and the camera is obviously not me)

It’s a much longer bridge than you’d think. The wooden slats under feet start to burn in the extreme heat, but every step closer to Brooklyn feels like a success. You find yourself forever looking up and around you, wanting to absorb every brick, every wire suspending the giant structure, every bolt in the railings. The well-known skyline of New York unfolds behind you (though more of that later).

SO worth it.

SO worth it.

Remember our seemingly foolish refusal of pizza? Frank Sinatra was a pizza man. He was actually quite famous for being a pizza man. In fact, he liked a certain pizza so much that when on tour he would order it and have it flown out to him. This pizza came from the restaurant we made a beeline for on entering Brooklyn: Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. And on trying some for myself, I have to agree with Frank. It was some of the best pizza I had ever eaten. And the fact that it was huge and conveniently placed before me after our five hour trek down through New York city didn’t hurt.

* * *

Tummies full and hearts heavy with glutted sin, we left Grimaldi’s and wandered over the river bank. I loved this place. From here the skyline of New York spanned from left to right across the blue rippling ribbon. Yellow taxi boats skimmed from one shore to the next. Grass lined the bank where couples and students and families lounged back on their elbows with food scattered around them. And along the way, in the shadow of the beautiful, breath taking, industrial Manhattan Bridge, a dainty bride took the hand of her new husband and stood on the shore line for photos in front of an excited crowd.

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* * *

That evening was our last one in New York City. We spent it the way it should always be spent: in the front row of a broadway show, singing our hearts out and dancing for an encore.

Late that night, we strolled our way through Times Square and back to the hotel, the harsh lights of the plaza blinking behind our eyelids as we slipped into sleep.

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Life in a New York Minute: Part Three

There is no going to New York without eating breakfast in a god’s honest American Diner. Which is where you would have found us on our second morning: perusing a menu and revelling in the fact that eating pancakes WITH bacon wouldn’t be seen as weird in this magical place not called home.

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…I won’t lie. I had a distinctly uncomfortable feeling as though I was carrying a football around in my belly for the rest of the morning, but it was worth it. Bacon. And Pancakes. That is all.

dinosaurWe then headed Uptown to the Natural History Museum, just about managing to duck inside as the first warm droplets of rain splashed down on the sidewalk. It’s one of those buildings that you can get lost in. Everywhere you look there is marble and giant replicas of impressive dinosaurs and mammoth bones bigger than the tallest man in the room. Sweeping staircases lure you onto one floor, plunge you down to the next, tease you up to the top until your head is spinning and you are so dizzy you have to take a seat. Which we did. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the building under a domed starry sky, listening to Whoopi Goldberg as she took us through space and time.

When I was a child, I used to dream of being an astronaut. My dad bought me a planetarium, with plastic planets that you could paint and fit onto spikes that stretched out from the torch-sun, and that you could spin around in orbits. It even came with a cap for the sun, with constellations on it that you could project onto your ceiling at night. The show we watched catapulted me into space and reminded me of that dream, zoomed me into the void to come face to face with those constellations I had cooed over as a child. It was incredible.

Funnily enough, when we exited, if anything we were more dizzy than when we had entered.

There was a beautiful tower somewhere on the ‘fossil floor’; a beautiful circular structure with curved benches that you could rest on. We took a pew and looked out over Central Park. How could anyone get tired of this view? It was just – and remains to this day – astounding to me that such a clear cut pocket of green can make such a unique and beautiful stamp on a city so big and so utterly consuming. It was as if I was watching the leafy green heart of the concrete body that is New York pulsing fiercely, churning out the life force of the city, pumping blood and oxygen through its veins.

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That afternoon was a splash through the northern part of the park, ducking under trees for shelter and ultimately giving up and rushing, drenched, to a local bar where Ma settled in for a beer, and us two girls smacked our parched lips over an ice cold water.

horse and carriage 2It wasn’t until dusk, when the rain had stopped, the streets were dry, and our feet had stopped throbbing with pain, that we hopped on the metro like locals so as to clamber aboard a horse and carriage like tourists, and get a royal view of the park. We trotted past runners and cyclists and goggle eyed children, bouncing slightly on our velveteen seats, and waving like the Queen of England before we realised probably no one would get the reference.

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And the day wasn’t over yet! We still made it to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where we enjoyed our food whilst the waiters performed show songs, dancing on tables and shaking their collection hats for extra singing and dancing lessons. Each one of them were Broadway hopefuls, and I loved that they spent their evenings working to reach their dream, winning over the hearts of the customers and belting out their passions over mac and cheese. It was also the place where I had my first slice of red velvet cake, so naturally, I’m going to sing it’s praises.

dinerThe table to our left had four of the most friendly people I had ever met. They were all from Louisiana and were on a one day stopover between travelling – they’d been to Italy, Spain, France, and England, and were passing through the Big Apple on their way home. They told us fantastic stories about their travels and wished me a happy birthday over cake. One of the women told me to come back to the diner, that she had been three times and she loved it every time – and that I would one day see HER on Broadway. I can say with all the honesty in my heart, that I cannot wait for that day.

We rounded off the day with an evening at the very top of the Empire State Building. Yet another maze to pass through, the view once you get to the top speaks for itself. There is a reason it is a landmark of New York. And a reason it became one of the landmarks of our holiday.

For this one though, I’ll let the picture do the talking.

empire view

If you missed the other instalments of Life in a New York Minute and want to catch up, you can start with the very first page of the story here.