By Justus E. Taylor

2,600 Words

Copyright © 1994 by Justus E. Taylor

        The title "Pucky" sounded to Charles Wainright like the perfect way to get past an afternoon after an unusually large lunch. A warm, cozy movie house with darkness, hopefully quiet and plenty of room would give him a needed break from having to watch his back every minute. Nothing like a heart warming family movie to allow him some missed sleep.

        The corner of Fourth and Atlantic avenues in Brooklyn was such a wide open strip of concrete that the late fall wind got every chance to eat up pedestrians. It made the prospect of a daytime movie ever more luxurious as Wainright shoved the four dollars into the booth and secured his ticket. Groping in the dark for the first few moments and almost touching a woman seated alone in a whole row of empty seats, he was surprised and a little disappointed by a musty, unwashed sort of odor that seemed to hang around the dim room. Seated, finally, and turning his attention to the movie screen, he noticed that the last of the opening credits were passing in front of a warm country scene that featured woods, a vegetable garden, chicken coop and a small two-story house that was just beginning to wish for a handyman.

        "Pucky? It's gettin' dark now you'd better come in. The bugs'll be bitin' you and you can't tell what all could be walkin' 'round after dark. Pucky...Puckieeee?"

       Grandma's voice felt mellow and protective as always to Sylvester as he perched in a sugar maple on a limb that was only about ten feet off the ground. He liked to make Nanie come and look for him. It was the only way he got to play hide�and-seek in the summertime, since rural houses were so far apart that there were no playmates.

        "Puckieeee? Com'on now. You know I could find you, but I don't wanna strain my eyes." However, it just so happened that Grandma was "searching" in a big circle around Sylvester's hiding place, although the two acres that she owned abounded with other mature trees. He was sure of why she couldn't see him. "Kradeb noisiv," the new words he had learned from his favorite comic book,"Amazin Man," just that day were especially powerful...guaranteed to make you invisible anytime you wanted. Well, he'd better answer her, he figured, since waiting around and being invisible would mean that dinner would be getting cold.

        "Nanie, I'm up here, see?"

        "Oh my, oh my how did you get up so high child?" Grandma questioned in mock awe. "You must have some kinda special powers, and only eight years old too. I'm goin' in the house and you kin follow me. Maybe you kin fly and I don't think it'd be right for me to spy on you. But bring 'long a few pieces of the big wood so we can heat some bath water for you 'fore bedtime."

        Nanie became a shadowy figure 'to him as she receded toward the screen door, being tall and angular but with more than enough of soft breasts. Top-heavy, maybe, with socks and flat shoes. Her white hair was in a single pigtail hanging to the front of her left shoulder, touching her chest. The evening shadows softened the seventy years of lines that populated her brow and cheeks.

        Dinner justified itself, as usual. Although he suspected that he didn't really need to eat food, having insides of steel and, in some places kryptonite, nevertheless Nanie's cooking was something he never wanted to miss. He occasionally wondered if his mother had been able to cook, and what she really looked like...not just the pictures, and why she had died before waiting till he could remember her. But anyway, he had Grandma. He loved her, even though she was a little old. It was only her and him but they did alright, considering it was simply his training period before his father (a king, he was sure) would come and tell him that by not living in the castle he had proven himself fit to be the next king.

        "Here, grab the other side and we'll break it," was Nanie's interruption of his daydream, as she showed him the wishbone from the dinner's chicken. "Be sure'n wish for somethin' you'd truly like to have, like strength, bein' smart or real good lookin' and I'm sure that's what you'll get."

        Sylvester's bath was negotiated, requiring Nanie to read him his favorite fairy tale, "Jack and the Beanstalk" before the good night kiss. He was fully able to read the story himself, but he enjoyed it so much more when she read it to him because his mind could wander over so many more fanciful possibilities. As he was falling asleep he remembered falling out of the sugar maple earlier that day and only skinning his knee. Now that had to be because he was special, maybe even the next, "Amazin Man." That was probably why the moon followed him around whenever he and Grandma were out walking at night.

        Wainright couldn't understand why he wasn't falling asleep in the warmth and quiet of the theatre. Perhaps it was that Pucky reminded him of himself when he was young. Many of Pucky's thoughts seemed very familiar and the security of the life being portrayed on the screen took him back forty years. But then he felt that his emotions had been set up only to be knocked over as the next scene opened in a cemetery with Pucky reading Nanie's gravestone. "Ethel Magus, 1909 to 1988. She Believed."

        Since there was very little money left after the bank's mortgage and the funeral expenses, Sylvester took the advice of Grandma's former neighbors and enlisted in the Army. Even though he was short one year of finishing high school, he had a feeling that he was bound to do well because it wasn't as if he was just ordinary. A significant part of him regretted that there wasn't some sort of war going on, as that would be the fastest way to get the Army to appreciate his special qualities. Such qualities don't come out in everyday life, such as the fact that he might be able to topple a tank with his bare hands if he ever got angry enough!

        The trouble with boot camp was that the Army didn't seem to want anybody to be special. He couldn't get a conversation out of anyone who wasn't a trainee like himself. The NCOs lacked interest in anything other than cursing at you, about you, or about your family and forcing you to do belittling and useless dirty jobs. On one occasion when he thought there was an opening to ask the platoon sergeant who he thought might win the National League Pennant, he immediately regretted it as the sergeant's response made him viciously angry; "Sylvester? What kind of a candy-assed name is that? I wonder what your parents would have named you if they had been sober when they made you. But since they were prob'ly standin' in alley at the time, I 'spect that the best part of you ran down your mother's leg."

        By the end of the third week of the six weeks of basic training Sylvester was waiting for a chance to go AWOL, forever. He was always so tired he found it impossible to make reveille. This, and his sullen attitude, guaranteed that he'd be given extra work details every day, which, along with his hostility, prevented him from preparing his gear for the weekly inspections. This resulted in more work details.

        "Boy, oh boy," Sylvester pondered, "if only these sergeants could be with me in combat. In a couple of days l'd be an officer and they'd be taking my orders. Everyone else would be getting shot but I'd be dodging all the bullets and wiping out the enemy with hand grenades, right where the general could see me. He'd discover me and put me in charge right under him."

        Sylvester's reverie meant that he didn't notice the platoon sergeant and his staff sergeant staring at him as they passed by his bunk on their way to the far end of the barracks. Of course, he was also too far away from them to over hear their intense conversation, which now included a corporal. The corporal had always been particularly annoyed by any and everything Sylvester did.

        "I'm sick and tired of that freak gettin' this platoon on report for a lousy inspection every week," was the platoon sergeant's frowning and spitting delivery to his two subordinates. "And you two ain't wurf a damn at straightenin' him out." His breath created a heavy alcoholic cloud that enveloped all three of them.

        "That's because you won't let us take him out behind the latrine and kick his butt, Sarge," pined the staff sergeant.

        "No, you can't get away with that sort of stuff these days, you ought to have thought of somethin' better after all these weeks. I've seen his type before. He's the kind that's got to be run off or out slicked." After pausing to release a belch of stale beer, he continued; "He's got possibilities but he's got his head messed up wiff wantin' pers'nal attention, to be an in-di-vidule and all that crap. Well, since he's the worst pain in the ass we got, and since it would be a lot of trouble to get him kicked out of the Army, let's make him a temporary squad leader. It just might do the trick, straighten him right out when he gets a chance to be one of the bosses. When they get to pass the orders on to others they don't complain about nothin'! We can give him the squad that has the best record so far. They'll listen to him. They're so obedient they'll listen to anybody. If that shapes him up we'll give him some stripes!"

        Wainright was still wide awake and the movie had been on for more than an hour. His rapt attention had wavered only once, when the lone woman in the theatre had for some reason (maybe paranoid, he speculated) moved several more rows away from him. Refocusing on the screen he noted that ten years had passed and Sylvester was then himself a staff sergeant training recruits. He was firmly convinced that he had finally been recognized as special and given the proper promotions. He was sure that he would even be an officer some day.

        Sylvester had a reputation in the company as a strict disciplinarian, although he was usually fair. Among the new recruits it was considered unlucky to be in his platoon since every trainee had to toe the line exactly or find himself building up toward a discharge as unfit for service. This was demonstrated with exceptional speed on one occasion after he overheard two recruits talking in their bunks one night. He felt a rapidly rising anger as he heard one of them remark...

        "The Army ain't worth a shit! It's been three weeks now that they've had us here and they still don't know nothin' about us, as individuals I mean. For all they know I, could be some kind of special agent put here by the President to see how bad they were messin' up. I'm not just some ordinary private. The trouble is there ain't nothin' to do that tests what powers you have. I wish there was a war on so it would have to come out who was ordinary and supposed to get killed and who was meant to be the leader. I bet there ain't any NCO here who could match me if there was real fightin'. They're just lucky I ain't never been tested or xrayed and examined by real doctors. Then they'd see how special I'm."

        At that moment Sylvester gave himself the mission of getting the Army rid of this trouble making dreamer. His method was the usual, to continually criticise, overwork and humiliate the boy until he would either go AWOL or strike a superior. Sylvester succeeded with the latter tactic but only after he cornered the boy one night alone in the latrine and accused him of being a sissy, momma's boy who thought the world could be conquered by magic and secret sayings. Sayings that would protect you from all harm. "I'll bet you could fly if you wanted to, couldn't you? And someday you're goin' ta be discovered and rewarded for all your good deeds and all the common folk will bow down to you and all that shit. Well, you little fag, you're nothin' but a damn broke dog dick that ain't worth the Army's time or trainin' tryin' to make you into somethin' more than just the stink in a shit house! You're lucky you were let into the Army but I'm gonna see to it you get let out too. You god-damned day dreamer. Learn how to work your way through this world like the rest of us do. There ain't no special magic about you. You're nothin' but a weak fart whose best part ran down his mother's leg!"

        By the time that the scene ended Wainright was ready to cheer Sylvester's speech. Realism, he added, was the proper role for a true adult. But then he would have to question his own life as a struggling writer. Writing was hard work, but expecting to get rich from selling it to somebody else might be said to be a belief in magic. Hard to say...Certainly gambling was believing in magic but on the other hand writing instead of getting a job was a way of gambling. Slowly, Wainright realized that he had begun to hear his father's voice..." to Columbus a movie on a screen would have been magic but it's actually the result of a lot of people doing hard, boring, repetitive work until they produce something designed to make an audience believe there really is magic. It Feels good to believe in magic but success in the magic business has to come from tedious practice, same as in any other business. Magic loses it's magic until you can package it and sell it three for five dollars!

        The screen now portrayed sergeant Sylvester as an elderly retired Army veteran who was spending much of his time in occult book shops, mostly in the sections dealing with reincarnation and mystical religions. He never had gotten into combat and now, at seventy years of age he frequently told his few acquaintances about receiving visits from Grandma in the darkest hours of the night. She seemed happy and she would sometimes remind him of the old stories, "Amazin Man," and "Jack and the Beanstalk." He believed that on one night she told him that young people need magic in order to be able to deal with life and old people need it to be able to deal with death. But that didn't make it real. She said that life was full of coincidences that posed as miracles!

        The prospect of simply dying and occupying a damp grave was intolerable to Sylvester. He clung to the idea that there must be something ahead that life served as the foundation for, perhaps to be reborn as someone important. He surmised that if he was reborn he would eventually have all the knowledge that two lifetimes would give him . That would surely make him special.

        To Wainright the final scene again seemed strangely familiar until he realized that he had seen it before. He concluded that he had stayed for three showings, but had slept through almost all of the last two. He felt self�conscious and glanced around to see if any of management was becoming concerned with his presence. Since everything seemed to be quiet he decided that he had better take care or the other matters that had been planned as a part or his theatre visit. Activating his partly sleeping legs he probed his way through the darkness to the lobby and into the men's room. He was happy to find it empty and after peeling off several layers of clothing he quickly washed his face, chest and underarms. He re-dressed and then entered a booth where, after relieving himself, he cleaned around his groin and his bottom with a moist paper towel.

        Wainright's time in the men's room had been used efficiently, even the brushing of his teeth. It had amounted to only fifteen minutes. The evening was cold as he exited the theatre but he was pleased and comfortable. He was positive that it had been some kind of magic that had allowed him to find the ten dollars that had paid for his lunch, the movie and still left a dollar over for a try at the lottery the next day. He hoped that the same magic would turn up a warm place for him to spend the night.


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