Authors: George Selden
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For Edward J. Czerwinski, who is something of a genie, in his accomplishments, himself
A Bad Beginning
“Even great deeds that are done by magic can be forgotten utterly.”
At least that's what Dooley says. He says that he's even beginning to forget the times when he worked for the Master of Magic himself. Humanity taking over, I guess. And of course Sam is only too glad to forget his past. That's humanity again, and very natural in the case of Sam. Aunt Lucy and Rose don't have anything to remember. They never even suspected what was going on right under their noses. I hate to admit it, after all the excitement of everything, but I'm getting a little fuzzy on the details myself. We human beings are mostly just forgetful, that's all. And unobservant and pretty unbelieving, too, a lot of the timeÂ â¦ But Dooley says, with that secret smile of his, we have “many subtle compensations.”
It was Dooley who suggested I write it all down. It does seem a long time ago now! That must be the magic. It makes everything feel unreal. But the whole thing happened just this summer, right here in New York.
I guess the beginning was one morning in June. A very gloomy beginning, too, despite how bright and sunshiny the day was outside. I was still feeling depressed and angry and lonely about Lorenzo's death. He was my father. (I
believe he was dead, though; it took me weeks just to get that far.) And when Madame Sosostris happened to mention, with a phony light tone in her voice, that Aunt Lucy and her lawyer were dropping down that morning to see me, my suspicions got nervous.
“What are they dropping down about?” I wanted to know.
“Ohâjust something to do with Lorenzo's will,” said Madame Sosostris, with a casual wave of her hand that made me feel as if I'd been whacked on the head.
“And that's all? Just the will?” I said.
“Well, I think your aunt said something about your future, too.”
That did it. Doomsville! When a kid hears that grownups are going to discuss “his future,” he'd better watch out. Especially if he's had as much fun in his past as I did down in Greenwich Village with Lorenzo and Madame Sosostris.
For an hour or so I moped around the shop, pretending to examine the new consignment that had come in the day before, but really just waiting for my “future” to be discussed. You see, the front room of Madame Sosostris's apartment is her antique shop. She calls it her junk shop, but that's really not right. She has a great eye for furniture and objects and things, and although her shop is one of the smallest in the Village, it's also one of the best. The antiques are how she supports herselfâand me and Lorenzo, too, when we lived down there. But her real passion is in the back room, with the big round table and all the supernatural gadgets. That's where she holds her sÃ©ances and gets in touch with the Spirit World. Or at least
to get in touch. Boy, does she ever try!
So I was walking around, looking at all the new things, and Sam was padding after me. Sam was my dog. You're going to hear a lot about him. He was a mongrel. It turned out that he was half basset hound and half springer spaniel. But that comes later. We didn't know that then. It gives you some idea of his size, though. Pretty big. He was always bumping up against chair legs in that cluttered antique shop, and a couple of times he broke some things, too. But in all the five years that he was my pet, Madame Sosostris never scolded him once. Not even the time when he knocked over the crystal candlestick. She knew how much I loved him, and that's just the kind of woman she is.
Sam knew something was wrong that day. When a dog has a boy as long as Sam had me, they get to know each other pretty well. Even when I stopped to look at the antique American bull's-eye mirror, he knew I was faking enthusiasm. It was the kind of mirror that has the curved glass in which you can see a whole room, and the gold frame, and the eagle on top, and I've always had a thing about them. But I couldn't fool Sam. He waddled up and put his head against my leg, and his hangdog expression hung down even further. You know what basset hounds look like.
“That's a beauty, isn't it, Tim?” said Madame Sosostris.
I nodded. “Sure is.”
“I think maybe it's time you had one of those mirrors for your own.”
“Let's just wait and see what happens,” I said, hoping that what was going to happen wouldn't start right away.
But it did. Just then Aunt Lucy, Henry Watkins, her lawyer, and Maurice, the chauffeur, drove up in that big car that Aunt Lucy didn't like at all. She admitted it to me later when Dooley and I persuaded her to get a new little one. She didn't much like Maurice either, although she'd never admit that. But she inherited him, along with the big car, from Grampa Lorenzo, Lorenzo's father. I'd seen Maurice a few times before, up in Aunt Lucy's apartment in Sutton Place. The thing I remember most about him is his mouth. It was always tightened up, as if there was a string in his lips that pulled them together like a lady's purse. Oh, and I remember he called Aunt Lucy “modom.” I think it's pretty silly to call a woman “madame” anyway, unless you live in France perhaps. But Maurice didn't even call her that. He called her “modom,” and his mouth would end up all puckered together.
Now, about Aunt Lucy. The best way to describe Aunt Lucy is to show you Madame Sosostris firstâbecause they were opposites. To begin with, Madame Sosostris wasn't Madame Sosostris. Her real name was Muriel Glicker. But one day she and Lorenzo and I were sitting around reading poetry out loud. We read a lot of poetry together on rainy days. And on this particular day we were reading a poem called
The Waste Land.
It's a very good poem, too. And in it the author talks about someone named Madame Sosostris. Well, when Madame Sosostris heard that name, she jumped up from her chair, smacked her forehead, and said, “That's me!” From then on she was known to
as Madame Sosostris. Because that's who she
That same afternoon she tie-dyed a dishtowel and whipped it up into the best-looking turban this side of Baghdad. (Dooley agrees. He knows, too, about turbans and pantaloons and things like that.) And she changed the name of her shop from Muriel's Antiques to Madame Sosostris: Medium and Antique Dealer. Lorenzo and I helped her make the new sign. She said that she'd always felt that her most important work was in the Occult Sciences, not the high-class junk out front. And as for the turban, that just meant that she didn't have to keep dyeing her hair that awful red color. She said, “Let it go gray, and the hell with it!”
But Aunt LucyÂ â¦ There are some people who don't look at home in their names. Not their real names, nor the names they invent for themselves. And Aunt Lucy was one. Her real name was Lucy Farr. Which I think is pretty nice. You knowâFarr, distance, horizons, all that. But Aunt Lucy had no sense of horizons. To begin with, at least. She's short, and I think it bothered her. I mean, there's nothing wrong with being short. I'm short, too. Of course I'm thirteen, just barely, so I'm supposed to still be short. Lorenzo was short, and he said that my mother, who died when I was too little to remember, was also a very small person. Except I may remember her. There was a night, which I think was real, with the moon and street lights and a few bright starsâand somebody was holding me. So there's nothing wrong with being short.
But Aunt Lucy made you feel as if there was. Everything she wore was long. Her necklaces, her earrings, the works. It all was supposed to make you think she was long and tall herself. And her clothes were another thing that was wrong. Madame Sosostris could look great in a tie-dyed dishtowel and a pair of old Levi's, but Aunt Lucy's clothes never worked together. If her blouse was one color, her skirt would be exactly the color that fought with the blouse. And you knew just to look at her that everything she wore cost a fortune. It's a funny thing about money, though. It doesn't do you a bit of good unless you know where to spend it.
There are some people who just need help in living, and Aunt Lucy was one. (She was going to
help, tooâbut from someone nobody'd ever suspect.)
As for Mr. Watkinsâwell, I don't have anything against lawyers, but when he marched into the antique shop, with that dark gray suit and pinstripe shirt and black briefcase, I sort of wished he'd been one of the bearded hippies that drop in to browse around instead.
Madame Sosostris said hello to everybody, and then, after a few minutes of nobody knowing what more to say, Mr. Watkins spoke up. “I guess we'd better get down to business.” He glanced around, and his nose kind of crinkled. “Pretty crowded in here. Have you a place where we could all sit down, Madame Sosostris?”
“Sure. The sÃ©ance table in the back room,” said Madame S.
We left Maurice outside, leaning against the fender of Aunt Lucy's car. A crowd of neighborhood kids was beginning to collect to gawk at them, because you don't see a car like that
a chauffeur in a uniform very often in that part of Greenwich Village.
Madame Sosostris led the way to the back. Sam and I came last. Usually Sam gets just as excited as I do when we go to the sÃ©ance table. His tail wags like mad. That's how he broke the candlestick. But it wasn't wagging now.
The good times we've had at that big round sÃ©ance table!âwith the dark maroon cover over it and the Tiffany lamp hanging down from two of Lorenzo's neckties, because we kept forgetting to get a new chain. All those magical colors in the glass! Like the fun when the Willy sisters came each monthÂ â¦ I only wished we were going to have a sÃ©ance now.
More of the Same
“I think we might proceed,” began Mr. Watkins in a voice that sounded just the way his gray suit looked, “with the reading of the will of the lateâ”
Just then Sam, who was blobbing around under the table looking for a place to lie down amid all our feet, happened to step on the Lulu button and interrupted the reading of the will of the late my father. A white shape shot out of a compartment in the wall above Madame Sosostris's head and hung there, shivering.
“Good Lordâwhat's that?” exclaimed Aunt Lucy.
“Excuse it, please.” Madame Sosostris stood up. “It's just Lulu, my ghost.” She put Lulu, who was a piece of sheet attached to the end of a spring, back into the wall.
Mr. Watkins interrupted the reading again to ask, “Have you ever gotten a
ghost, Madame Sosostris?” His nose crinkled once more, skeptically.
“Not yet, Mr. Watkins,” said Madame Sosostris. She wasn't angry either, the way she could have been. She just went on to explain reasonably, “But I will. I know Lulu here is a fake, but how I feel is, if the real Spirits know that I'm on their sideâand Lulu shows I amâthen sooner or later they'll show themselves to me in person.”