The Wizard’s Magic Pipe
Paul R. Wonning
The initial shock of cold water slapped Cecil Barnes awake. As the water heated, he stuck his head under the stream and wetted his hair. He reached for the shampoo, squeezed a small puddle of it into his palm and lathered his hair. The rich smell of the shampoo permeated the steamy air. He felt the hot water sooth the stiff muscles in his neck and back. He hadn’t been sleeping well. He needed a new mattress. As this thought settled into his mind, he knew that his mattress wasn’t all that he needed to change.
As he worked the shampoo through his hair, his mind drifted back to grade school. He remembered something his history teacher, Mrs. Herman, had said many years ago.
“History is more than events which happened long ago. Our lives are a part of this collection of stories. Where we are born, the way we live our lives, those we love and how we die are all elements of this unique story.”
Cecil rinsed the rich lather from his hair. The sudsy water ran down his body and into the drain. His hand sought the washcloth and soap. While he washed himself, he remembered the rest of her lecture.
“Our children, parents and friends are all ingredients of this montage, and we of theirs. In addition to this, we are also part of a much older story, the chronicle of the earth and its people. Each person who ever lived is a thread in this tapestry, and these threads weave together like threads in a tapestry. These tales combine to create the history of our world.”
Cecil felt that if that were true, then his story would be a boring chapter in that history. His job was humdrum, his love life nonexistent, and his chief entertainment consisted of going to flea markets.
Cecil had a plan, though. He would get that new job in Indianapolis, get married, buy a house in the suburbs, and sire a couple of kids. He would also have a cat and a nice car to haul everything. Cecil had no idea as he sat down on the edge of his bed to put on his shoes that his story was about to change. It would change in a way that he could never have anticipated. He slipped on his shoes and began tying the laces.
“Darnn,” Cecil said aloud, as his shoestring broke with a snap.
Since this was his favorite pair of shoes and he had no spare laces, he would have to improvise until he could buy more. As he began loosening the laces, his cell phone rang. His mother’s number was flashing on the display screen.
He picked up the phone and said, “Hey, Mom, what’s up?”
“Hello, Cecil. How are you this morning?” she asked.
“Okay. I am just getting ready to go out.”
“Are you going to the flea market?”
“Yes, Mom, you know I like to go there on Sundays.”
“And eat all that greasy, unhealthy food?”
“Yes, Mom, and eat all that greasy, unhealthy food.”
“I hope you eat healthier the rest of the week.”
“I do,” Cecil said, feeling guilty about the lie.
“Are you still collecting and smoking those nasty old pipes?”
“Yes, Mom, I still collect them, and I do smoke one occasionally.” He cringed inwardly at the fib. He loved relaxing to music and a pipe of tobacco each evening after work.
“That is a nasty, vile habit. I don’t know how you ever got started with that. You certainly didn’t learn it from me.”
“No, Mom, I didn’t.” A memory of sitting in his grandfather’s lap while the old man smoked his favorite pipe crowded into his head. The pipe had a horse’s head, and Cecil could still smell the wonderful fragrance of the tobacco as the old man told him stories.
“Did you talk to that company in Indianapolis again?” His mother’s voice shattered the memory.
“Yes, I am still talking to them. One of their sales reps is going to retire, leaving a position open. It won’t start for two months, and then there is a one year training period before I can start.”
“Why so long? Surely it isn’t that complicated.”
“The owner is a stickler for starting at the bottom. He wants all his sales people to work three months on the receiving dock. Then they work for three months in the warehouse. After that they put in three months processing orders. I work with the retiring sales rep the last three months.”
“But you’ve already done some of that stuff in your current job.”
“Yes, but the owner wants his sales people to know the entire operation so they are knowledgeable with customers.”
As he talked, he managed to get his shoe laces loosened up. He pulled the broken end out far enough to tie it. Then he tightened up the laces again and tied his shoe. The frayed end of the shoelace looked somewhat shabby, but it would have to do.
“Are you going to that flea market alone?”
“Yes, Mom. No, I don’t have a girlfriend yet,” he answered, anticipating her next question. “I don’t want to get tied into a relationship with a girl and then move to Indy.”
“But that isn’t far from Columbus. A girl would move there with you, if you had a good job.”
“There are girls in Indianapolis, too, Mom.”
“Well, maybe,” her tone was uncertain. “They are probably all farm girls with straw sticking out of their ears.”
Cecil rolled his eyes and said, “Hey, Mom, it’s been nice talking, but I have to go.”
“So soon, dear? Gosh, we just got started talking.”
“My cell phone battery is about to die.”
“If you would get a normal phone, we could talk longer. That always happens when I call.”
“Sorry, Mom, but…” he hit the cut off button.
He lay back on the bed, exhausted. She always had that effect on him. A few minutes on the phone with her and he felt like he had run a marathon. He realized that in just a few minutes she had extracted everything that happened of note during the last week.
It hadn’t always been like that. After Cecil’s father died in the car wreck, his mother became overprotective. When he graduated from high school, he left New Jersey for Ohio to gain his freedom. His mother never forgave him for leaving her protective reach.
He lay there musing about their conversation and the state of his life. He was ready for a change and hoped the job in Indianapolis worked out. Then maybe he could find a lady and settle down. He got up, gathered his things, donned his flat hat, and left his apartment.
As he walked out to his car, he reveled in the exhilarating weather. The chill in the air and falling leaves’ fragrance hinted at a fine autumn day. He would find fresh apple cider at the orchard’s stand, which was always one of his favorite treats. There would be honey for his toast as well. He licked his lips in anticipation as he got in his car and drove off.
Cecil loved flea markets. The sights, the sounds and the smells all combined to create a festive, exciting atmosphere. As he entered the savory aroma of sausages broiling behind a greasy glass case greeted him. This smell accompanied pungent, spicy barbecued pork and musky smelling roast beef. He sniffed at the odors of the other high fat, zillion-calorie fare offered. Of medium height and slightly pudgy, he didn’t eat this stuff often, but at the flea market he always partook. It was one of his few guilty pleasures.
Cecil stopped in front of one of the glass cases to peruse the offerings. He decided to start with a beer brat. He would return for one of those cheesy, spicy tacos before going home. He stepped to the back of the line. The woman behind the counter smiled at him when he stepped up to place his order.
“I’ll have one of those beer brats, some onion rings, and a root beer,” he said.
“Sure enough,” she replied as she slapped a brat into a bun. She tossed some of the juicy onion rings into a bag, sloshed some ice into a cup and filled it with the fragrant beverage.
Thus armed, Cecil sat down at a table to eat.
This was what he loved. Watching the people go by as he ate, he saw a rich diversity of people. Young parents with children, excited by the merchandise, waltzed by. There were also older couples enjoying each other’s company as they browsed the vendor’s tables. He watched one young couple stroll by, holding hands. To be like that would be wonderful. He finished the brat, threw his paper plate and cup in the trash bin, and started out down the first aisle.
Vendors lined the aisles hawking every imaginable type of merchandise. He stopped periodically to look at offerings that interested him. As he rounded the end of one aisle and started down the next, the corner booth opposite him attracted his attention. A swarthy young man was standing behind a richly carved wooden table crowded with a stunning variety of pipes. He stopped to look. These pipes were neat, but expensive. But it would be fun to look and he just might find one to add to his collection.
Sarna’s apprehension grew as he watched the crowd flow by his table. His wares at the flea market this weekend had attracted little attention.
Only two elderly men had stopped to peruse his selection of pipes. His master could not use an elderly man.
The anti-tobacco craze, which had surfaced in recent years, was making things difficult. Young men were no longer attracted to pipe smoking the way they once were.
His time was running short. He had to find someone to purchase it. He must find this person soon. Not only did he have to find a buyer, the purchaser must be the right sort of person. He had very little time to make another error.
He noticed a young man coming into view. This young man saw Sarna’s table and stopped. His face displayed interest as he began walking over to the table. Sarna studied him carefully. Over the centuries, Sarna learned to judge character types well. This man displayed the necessary interest. A quick read of his personality revealed that he could be problematic. Sarna didn’t have time for problems.
He glanced at the thinning crowd. Sarna’s experience at flea markets taught him many things. Early arrivals at the market were buyers. Later in the day, the browsers replaced the buyers. This day was drawing to a close. Soon, the market would be empty and he would have to wait another week.
He watched as Cecil approached the table. Sarna made a quick decision. He reached under the table, pulled out a carved wooden box and placed it at the rear of the table.
Cecil studied the pipes. Most were ornate and didn’t appeal to his taste.
His roving eye stopped at a carved wooden box at the rear of the table.
What’s in that one? “
“This is my best pipe,” answered the man, handing the case to Cecil.
Cecil opened the case. A beautifully colored meerschaum pipe lay inside. He felt something stir in him as he rubbed the pipe with his fingers.
“That is a magic pipe,” the vendor said with a wink. “It brings good fortune to its owner.”
“Good fortune,” said Cecil. “I could use some of that.”
As Cecil felt the smoothness of the pipe, he entered a story that began hundreds of years ago and thousands of miles away. This story was about to catch up with him.
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