The sharp rap on my door nearly knocks me out of my chair.
I run and unlock the locks with a series of paranoid clicks that must sound to Tesla, standing in the hall, a lot like poor old Stanley sounded to me yesterday night.
I am so not the same sort of super as Stanley. I’m not.
“My Abracadabra minute turned out to be forty,” Tesla says, cradling the two promised bottles of shiraz in the crook of his arm. “Sorry I’m late. Are we still on?”
“Absolutely. The pizzas are in the kitchen pleading to be eaten. Would you mind locking the door?” I jog back to my home office. “My iMac just crashed, and I don’t know what to do.”
I hear the reassuring clicks of the locks but, by the time I arrive at my home office, Tesla is already there, hunched over in my chair, his long bony fingers flying over the keyboard.
I have to blink. “Gosh, you move fast, Tesla.”
“Hey, I’m an electronics wizard. I can’t stay away from a computer in trouble.” He peers at the screen. “You’ve been writing some heavy shit on this thing.”
“You got that right.”
He taps twice on the keyboard with his left forefinger, and the flashing question mark dissolves into the usual calm blue background nested with menus and icons.
“How did you do that?” I say. “Oh, that’s right.”
“An electronics wizard,” we say in unison.
“You want me to shut it down?”
“Please. Where’s that wine? My custodial man left me a Swing-A-Way. I’ll go pop the first cork.”
Like a prestidigitator performing sleight-of-hand, Tesla plucks the bottles off the floor beside him and hands them to me while he shuts the iMac down.
I’m impressed. “Could you apport a couple of decent wine glasses, too? I’ve only got paper cups till the movers come tomorrow.”
“Sorry, apporting is way out of my league. Paper cups suit me fine.”
I find paper plates, napkins, and cups in the kitchen, bring the uncorked shiraz and the pizza boxes out to the living room.
We sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the fireplace, pizza and wine parked on the marble hearth. I open the box of Java Logs, find a tube of fireplace matches next to the box, and run a lit match along the seam of a log.
I watch fiery tongues of flame flicker up. The director Alfred Hitchcock famously used flaming fireplaces to visually symbolize passion. I steal a glance at Tesla. Do I feel that way about him?
No, not at all. Tesla is a friend, quickly becoming a good friend.
We toast each other with our paper cups, and I bite into the most salivatingly delicious pizza I have ever tasted in my whole entire life. Addictive pizza. Magic pizza. Pizza you can eat, well, every night.
I sip the shiraz, a mellow red fermentation with hints of blueberries, wood smoke, and crisp apples. Whatever that means. A blissful end to a bitch of a day. “Now, Tesla. You must tell me about your curse. Maybe I can help you break it.”
Tesla devours a slice in one bite and reaches for another, sighing sorrowfully. “You can’t break my curse, Abby. I wish you could, but you can’t. You’re not a witch.”
I pile three slices on my paper plate. Pizza glutton insurance. “No, I’m not a witch, but I am a magician. And I’m learning Real Magic at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts. I started class today.”
“I knew you had power when I met you, but this is amazing.” He gulps his wine. “You’ll make a great magician, Abby, no question, but that’s not the same thing as a witch.”
“Okay. What’s the difference?”
“A witch conjures with her gut. A magician conjures with her head and her heart. The magic is pretty different.”
I mull that over, and Tesla is absolutely right. Bonwitch suggested as much in class today. “And a witch did this to you?”
Tesla nods mournfully. “I love witches. Always have. I fell in love with Tabitha. What a Venus of a witch! She sells spells and potions on the Av. One day she smiled at me and gave me a potion and man was I hooked. The sex, I can’t begin to tell you. Ah!” He dabs at his eyes with a napkin and sluices the rest of his wine down his throat. “Marriage? Maybe. I’d never thought much about a commitment like that before, but I thought about living with Tabitha forever.”
I top off his paper cup. “What went wrong?”
“I was a jerk. Your classic, Grade-A, shit-for-brains asshole.” He slides another slice in his mouth. “One day I was hanging out at Starbucks, okay, and I met another witch. A very, very bewitching witch. But all we had was a cappuccino together. Just a cappuccino, you know?”
“Let me guess. You had to see her again?”
“I had to see her again, but just one more time. Just one more time, because I loved Tabitha.”
“She saw you together?”
“She caught us lying on the grass in People’s Park, holding hands and kissing. Just a little kissing, okay?”
I shake my head. Go figure men. “She freaked out?”
“You never heard such screaming in the middle of the afternoon. The bicycle cops thought I was murdering her. I nearly got arrested.”
I drain the rest of my shiraz and pour myself another yummy cup. “And then?”
“Then she cursed me. She cursed me. She pointed her right middle finger at me and screamed,
‘Oh, faithless man, so now curse I,
Toil ‘rise to ‘set till the day you die.’”
I ponder the odd words. “Toil ‘rise to ‘set–”
“Stop! Please! Don’t repeat it!”
“Sorry.” I nibble my second slice. “Um, where do you toil?”
“At the Computers ‘R’ Us megastore in Emeryville, from sunrise till sunset. I’m talking every day of the year. Weekends, holidays, even my freakin’ birthday. No vacation time, none whatsoever. The manager always finds something for me to do. Sweep up, take inventory, fix buggy computers, reprogram the accounting system. He doesn’t even have to pay me overtime. He loves it.”
Tesla opens the second pizza box and sighs, resigned. “It’s easier now that the days are getting shorter. Summer is a bitch.”
I uncork the second shiraz, still pondering the curse. Maybe there’s a double meaning to the odd words?
“You’d think I’d be turned off by witches after Tabitha, but you know? I am so totally, hopelessly in love with Esmeralda. Isn’t she the most enchanting witch you’ve ever seen?”
Wow, is he bewitched. I haven’t met that many witches before I met Esmeralda–in fact, I hadn’t, to my knowledge, met any witches–but I have to agree that Esmeralda with her sable-and-silver mane is one foxy witch.
Tesla frowns. “She’s always with that dude every time I see her. That snarling creep with his dirty looks.”
I ponder that problem. Tesla is cursed to toil from sunrise to sunset, then free to enjoy his night till the next sunrise. And Senor serves Esmeralda as a dog from sunrise to sunset, then as her man from sunset till sunrise.
No wonder Tesla has never met the shapeshifter in his canine incarnation.
“Tesla, he’s a dog.”
“I know,” he says miserably. “The way he follows her around. Who can get near her?”
“No, listen to me. He’s a dog.”
His mouth drops open. “You don’t mean?”
“Wow. Wow.” Tesla springs to his feet and paces across my living room. “If only I could see her alone after sunset, see her without him around when I get home from work! Maybe she could help me break my curse. Maybe. . . .I don’t know. Maybe we could get together.”
I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t think he’s ever going to see Esmeralda alone, without Senor around, especially after sunset. Plus I don’t think Esmeralda is an especially helpful sort of witch. More of a bitchy witch.
We devour the second pizza and drain the second shiraz down to the luscious last drop. I let Tesla out my door and lock the locks from floor to lintel, including the sturdy chain lock. Will locks protect me against vampires, against the Horde, against supernatural murderers, against the demons of the night?
And what about the demons of my heart?
I turn the iMac on–which works fine now, thanks to my electronics wizard–and finish and polish my essay. Know Thyself. Yes, indeed, Know Thyself. Who knew that contemplating the First Fundamental of Real Magic would unlock the rage and resentment of years I’ve held in my heart?
I email the demons of my heart to Professor Bonwitch and call it a night.
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