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Magic Mr. Mahoney


Crystal Bay

     On sweaty saturating summer afternoons in Ventura, most kids hung out in their back yard pools. Everyone in our neighborhood had a pool. Everyone that is, except for me. I outgrew my pathetic kiddie pool years ago and spent my days begging my neighbors to let me swim in their pool. Sometimes they let me, sometimes they told me to go bug someone else. Usually the latter. I had a reputation for doing cannon balls near parents lounging in lawn chairs. I was hyperactive and all the kids loved me but their parents didn’t. So during the summer of 1971, I was forced to find something to do while everyone else partied in the pool.

            Sometimes my best friend David felt sorry for me and kept me company. We had fun collecting potato bugs and frying them under magnifying glasses. We would also have a blast dancing around the sprinkler until mom finally told us to knock it off after we tore the front lawn apart and turned it into a giant mudslide. 

            One day, David and I were collecting potato bugs for another torturous science experiment when I noticed my reflection in a pair of perfectly shined black shoes.

            “What are you two doing down there?” A jolly man’s voice bellowed at us. We looked up and saw the biggest man ever. He was almost seven feet tall and wore a black suit with a colorful striped tie. His hair was dark brown and sprinkled with flecks of white. We gaped at him in wonder.

            “Nothing, sir.” David managed to squeak out and threw the magnifying glass behind him, as though we had just been sitting in the lawn staring at the cracks in the sidewalk the whole time and nothing more.

            “Well, here’s something you can do that doesn’t involve unfortunate death.” The man boomed. The Lord Himself might have opened the clouds and spoken; the man’s voice was so powerful. He twirled his hand in front of his face. David gave me a look that plainly said: He’s crazy. I agreed. What was this man doing?

            Then, to our surprise, he pulled a dollar bill out of his ear and handed it to us. “Go get yourselves an ice cream cone.” He said and walked off to his house two doors down.

            I stared down at the dollar bill and then at David. We were wondering where we were supposed to get an ice cream cone when the familiar Pop Goes the Weasel jingle began to sound from down the street. The beloved white truck with the faded Popsicle pictures pasted on the side slowly turned the corner of our block. Like magic, kids burst through every front door on the street, racing to get a Fudgesicle or Rocket Pop. David and I followed suit and took the giant’s advice. We slurped our icy desserts quickly before the sidewalk got more ice cream than we did.

            The days went by and soon, David and I grew fascinated by the gigantic man, who walked up the sidewalk two doors down from where we hung out. He showed up like clockwork everyday, which was a quarter past three every afternoon. He always gave us a nod, a wave or a trick. The second time he did a trick was two days after he gave us the dollar bill. He stood in front of us like a tree blocking the sun and smiled. David and I were speechless and were never able to squeak out a thank-you for the ice cream.

            “And how are you young folks this fine afternoon?” He asked. We were unable to reply. I’m sure we looked like idiots with our mouths hanging open. Then he opened his mouth and began to pull out at least six feet of multi-colored handkerchiefs knotted together. Our eyes were as wide as quarters when he draped it over our shoulders and continued down the sidewalk, whistling a nameless tune.

            One Saturday afternoon, David and I discussed our mystery man and made the courageous decision to knock on his door and introduce our selves. We had already come to the conclusion that he was magic and we were both curious as to what else he could do. We also worried that he could do bad as well as good and maybe he wouldn’t like two kids coming to his house uninvited. Maybe he would turn us both into lizards or worse, potato bugs since he had seemingly disapproved of our insect-frying activities.

            “If he was gonna do that, he would have done it already.” David reasoned, probably more to himself than to me. “Besides, he must like us if he gave us a dollar for ice cream.”

            “I hope you’re right.” I said.

            After a brief argument over who would knock on the door, we finally agreed to knock together. We crept up his front porch cautiously and opened the front screen. Giving each other a nervous glance, we both gave the door a rap. We waited. Nothing happened. We knocked again, this time louder. Still, no answer. We had seen him go in, so we knew he had to be inside. I tried to peak through a crack in the curtains, but they were pulled tightly together. Feeling disappointed and a little bit relieved at the same time, we gave up and headed home.

            The next afternoon, David, who had given up on the swimming pool and was having much more fun trying to solve the mystery of the giant magic man, sat on my front lawn with me, waiting for our friend. Like we expected, we saw him in the distance, coming towards us the same time as always. Instead of acting shy, we both jumped to our feet and raced up to meet him. He seemed startled by our change in behavior.

            “Hi, my name is David. And this is my friend, Robin.” David said excitedly. He stuck out his hand like the polite gentleman that he was. The towering man smiled and returned the gesture.

            “How do you do? My name is Mr. Mahoney.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.”

            “Um, we just were wondering…” I started, nervously fingering the bottom of my T-shirt. “We just wanted to know, uh, how you do those things you do.”

            “Yeah. Those magic things.” David added.

            ‘”You mean, like this?” Mr. Mahoney showed us his empty right palm, closed it, and opened it again, this time flashing us two dum-dum pops. He handed one to both of us. David got raspberry. Mine was butterscotch.

            “Ye-yeah. Like that.” David stammered.

            “Well, that’s a secret.” Mr. Mahoney said and off he went, disappearing into his house before David or I could respond.

            “Do you think it’s poison?” I asked after ten minutes of silent awe.

            “Nah.” David ripped off the wrapper and stuck the pop in his mouth. “It doesn’t taste poisonous.”

            Day after day, Mr. Mahoney was on our mind. We didn’t share him with anybody else. Whatever we were doing came to a halt when a quarter past three rolled around. We stopped frying potato bugs altogether. We liked to sit in my front yard, listening to my mini record player that I had gotten for Christmas and wait for Mr. Mahoney.

            “Let’s draw Mr. Mahoney a picture.” David said out of the blue one day.

            “Okay. Let me get my colored pencils.” I raced inside my house to grab my red art box. But before I took off, I quickly unlatched the box and tossed my old plastic bag of broken crayons onto my bed. I didn’t want David to know I still used crayons sometimes. Crayons were for kindergarteners.

            David and I set to work on our artistic abilities. I didn’t have any, but David was an artist. He always used light sketchy strokes then he’d erase and blow the pink bits off his paper but gently so not to smudge his work of art. It always turned out wonderful. He drew a picture of himself jumping off the diving board into his swimming pool. I awkwardly drew a picture of me (which resembled the Gingerbread Man) doing a cartwheel in front of my house. David was kind though.

            “That’s a cool looking snowman.” He said. I could tell he was lying.

            “Thanks.” So now it would be a snowman instead.

            We finished just in time. Just as I was putting my scattered pencils back into my art box, Mr. Mahoney came walking up the sidewalk. We hurried to greet him.

            “Hey Mr. Mahoney.” David said.

            Mr. Mahoney nodded. “Hello.”

            Suddenly we were bashful. Slowly, I handed him my portrait. David did the same. Mr. Mahoney took one picture in each hand and held them up to get a good look.

            “We made ‘em for you.” David said, shyly. “For all the tricks you did for us.”

            “And the suckers.” I added.

            After a moment of thought, Mr. Mahoney smiled broadly.

            “Do you like them?” David asked, eagerly.

            Mr. Mahoney tucked them inside his suit. “I think these pictures are just wonderful.”

             We stared up at Mr. Mahoney, whose face was way up in the sky, and waited.

            Then, like magic, as always, Mr. Mahoney gave us a grin and from behind his ear he pulled two shiny quarters. We opened our sweaty palms as he dropped the cool coins onto them and stood staring at the quarters as though they too were magical. Mr. Mahoney gave us a nod and started on his way and we were left speechless by another one of his mysterious performances.

            The summer days went by with amazing speed, but every afternoon, at exactly a quarter after three, we rushed to greet Mr. Mahoney as he made his way up the street. And he always pleased us with one of his magical tricks. Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Mahoney had become our friend and we looked forward to our encounter with him every day.

            But one afternoon in early September, something happened. David and I were making a wrestling ring out of chalk on the sidewalk and planned to put two praying mantises within the circle in hopes they would fight. It was almost four when David looked down at his watch. He looked at me and neither of us said a word. Something was wrong. Mr. Mahoney had not strolled by.

            Worried about our magician friend, we were on his doorstep in no time flat, pounding away at his door. I knew in my heart he wouldn’t answer, just like before. But we stood there for fifteen minutes, knocking, waiting. Knocking, waiting. Nothing happened. And as always, his curtains were sealed shut so we couldn’t peak inside.

            “I know.” David said. “Let’s sneak around to his back yard and see if there are any windows.”
            “I don’t know. That’s trespassing.” I said.

            “Come on, Robin. Something could be wrong with him.”

            So carefully, we climbed over Mr. Mahoney’s eight-foot fence and dropped to the grass below. We scuttled over to the side of his house and peeked around the corner.

            There wasn’t a window or even a door. Feeling worried and disappointed, we finally went our separate ways for supper.

             Sitting at the dinner table, my mother frowned at me.

            “Why are you picking at your plate, Robin? Is something bothering you?” She asked.

            “Just not very hungry.” I mumbled. After a few minutes of thought, I looked up at her. “Mom?”


            “Do you know Mr. Mahoney?”

            “Mr. Mahoney? No, I don’t believe so.” My mother replied.

            “Oh.” With a small sigh, I picked up my glass of milk and took a small sip.

            Mom looked thoughtful for a moment, then she sat down her fork and looked up as though she were trying to remember something. “You know, I think I do know a Mr. Mahoney. He was a very tall man, always wore a suit….Sure, I remember who he is.”

            “You do?”

            “Yes.” Mom said. “He was such a mysterious man. He always delighted us with his magic tricks. He’d pull nickels and dimes from his ears and he always seemed to know when the ice cream man was coming before anyone else. He’d always give us a quarter to buy a cone. I think he truly loved kids though he had none of his own. All of us kids loved his magic tricks.”

            “So he’s done magic for you too?” I gasped. I wondered how Mr. Mahoney and Mom could possibly know each other. I knew Mom had lived at the end of this very block when she was a kid, but I couldn’t imagine Mr. Mahoney being that old. He looked about the same age as Mom.

            “Sure. He did magic for all us kids. But that was over thirty years ago. He had an unfortunate early death. We were told his heart gave out. It was hard to imagine a heart as big as his ever giving out. He was a very kind man.”

            There was a long silence at the table. I couldn’t bring myself to speak. I was shocked. Mr. Mahoney was….dead? But David and I had seen him just yesterday! Mom shook my arm.

            “Are you okay, Robin? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! How do you know about Mr. Mahoney anyways?”

            “Some—someone told me a story about him.” I stammered. A lie. But I knew Mom would never believe it if I told her that Mr. Mahoney was still up to his old tricks.

            The next day I told David what my mom had told me. Of course, he didn’t believe it.

            “That’s crazy talk.” He insisted. “Come on. Let’s go over to his house again. He’s got to be home sometime.”

            So we went back to his house and knocked on his door. I didn’t expect him to answer and of course, he didn’t. I gave David a long look.

            “I told you.” I said.

            He rolled his eyes and put his hand on the doorknob and turned. To our surprise, the door creaked open. We slowly stepped inside.

            David looked up and down and around. “Why…No one lives here! It’s completely empty!”

            My eyes scanned the empty living room, the only piece of furniture being a dusty coffee table with a broken leg sitting near the window. I shifted my gaze towards the kitchen. “Look!” I exclaimed and pointed to the refrigerator.

            There, on the front of the refrigerator held up by two yellow magnets, was a picture of a boy diving into a pool and a snowman doing a cartwheel.

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