30th September


‘Pick a card, any card,’ the man said. I’d seen him coming and had hoped he’d miss me. No such luck.

‘I’m busy,’ I said.

He leered at me like a pilot upside down in a small aeroplane. ‘No you’re not. You’re reading a book, that’s all. Pick a card, any card.’

He’d been working the room, not very successfully it seemed, but that was partly because there was hardly anybody in. I suppose it was bound to be my turn eventually.

‘Is this what you do?’ I said. ‘Go round the pubs annoying customers?’ I nodded towards the bar. ‘Did you get permission?’

‘Once round and out,’ he said. ‘That’s what they allow. Single roses, evening papers or card tricks, makes no difference. Once round and out again.’

He had a narrow, shaved head and a wide nose with a fair amount of shrubbery at the nostrils, which were otherwise open to view. He pushed the fanned-out pack under my face. ‘Come on, pick a card, any card.’

‘What if I do?’ I said. ‘Do I have to pay?’

‘You can if you want,’ he said, ‘but it’s not compulsory. I’m on a scheme. Trainee magician.’

‘Who’s training you?’

He gave me a severe look, as if I’d crossed a line. ‘Il Maestro,’ he said,
stretching the syllables out like pasta. And then, ‘Just give us a break, pal, eh?’

I sighed, closed my book, pointed at a card.

‘Not that one,’ he said.

‘You said any card.’

‘Aye, but not that one.’

‘Trainee magician?’ I said. I pointed at another card. ‘All right?’

‘Great.’ He slid it onto the table. ‘Pick it up and look at it.’ I picked it up and looked at it. ‘Now put it back in the pack.’ I put it back. ‘Now you take the pack and shuffle it.’ I shuffled.

He took the cards from me and went through them. Very slowly.

‘That the card?’ he said eventually.


‘Fuck. You sure?’

‘Aye. Mine was the nine of clubs.’


He stood there, looking pensive.

‘What are you reading?’ he asked.

I covered the book, put a pound coin next to it.

‘You tell me,’ I said.

Reader: Rowan Smith
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music