The Invitation

by Nancy Brewka-Clark

Francesca swung herself out over the black mirror of the Thames on the slenderest of cables.

Below, London glittered in a coma of sleepless exhaustion at 3 a.m.

She was the poet Byron’s poor jar of atoms, only too willing to be spilled out and smashed if it freed her. Someday she would climb the tallest building built by man, Burj Khalifa. Dubai. One-hundred-and-sixty stories. Eight-hundred-and twenty-eight meters. Two-thousand-seven–hundred-and-sixteen feet, give or take an inch or two.

It would have to be enough.

*

Francesca returned to her flat after yet another tedious day at work. A heavy ochre envelope lay amongst her usual assortment of take-out brochures and bills. “Doctor John Dee’s Magical Arts, Gloriana Theatre, No. 7, Old Billingsgate Walk.”

She recalled a tale: Elizabeth I the Virgin Queen had rejoiced after seeing the future in her astrologer’s black onyx mirror, the invading Armada wrecked by Dr. Dee’s conjured winds.

Francesca slipped her finger beneath the flap and carefully extracted the card tucked inside.

“The Presence of Miss Francesca Gorham, Party of One, is Required This Very Evening at 9 O’clock.”

Mysterious? Definitely.

Arrogant? Absolute power always was.

Would she go? Absolutely.

*

The cab left her blinking away river mist. A curiously crooked little building of white plaster and black timber sat squashed between two modern monoliths of smoked glass and steel.

Atmospheric.

She yanked open the studded oak door to enter a kaleidoscope of color.

*

The magician peeked into the breast pocket of his tuxedo. A stream of colored balls came flying out to bounce like beads at his feet.

Francesca peered at her watch. Really, was this going to be a case of the emperor’s new clothes? It didn’t bear thinking.

“For my next act, I need a beautiful young lady to assist me.” He was looking directly at her.

Cheeks flaming, she mounted the side stairs to the stage.

“Shut your eyes.”

Francesca heard the rumble of wheels on wood.

*

Gold branches and a mother-of-pearl moon adorned the black lacquered cabinet. He swung open the door. The interior was lined with black silk. “Step in, please.”

A partition shot down silently. Her hands traveled over the thick padding with contempt. He had a colossal nerve billing himself as Dr. Dee. Or perhaps he’d assumed that name because he could only perform the oldest tricks in the book.

“My dear Francesca, what is your heart’s deepest desire?”

“Let me go, you charlatan.”

*

The air in the painted box grew sweeter, and cooler. Her body felt light, her head curiously free of thought. The blackness grew even deeper, the air rushing around her until she felt herself lifting on the unseen current. The power was in her to rise with it fearlessly, and so rise she did, upward and upward—

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—” Flinging open the door, the magician laughed as the little black bat flapped out— “the true Francesca.”

And the cabinet stood empty.

Nancy Brewka-Clark believes there’s pure magic in sharing words, whether in poetry, fiction or drama. In 2017 her work will appear in an English theatre textbook on writing flash plays, two poetry collections, and a very long romantic fairytale. Please visit her website nancybrewkaclark.com for more coming attractions.

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