He wore his humour around him like a cloak. It made him invincible. Worries and fears, those niggling silent agents of erosion, couldn’t get at him through his cloak. He made people laugh, even at themselves, before they realised the joke was on them. And he made them think. He was a great wizard, his magic peppered with kindness, tricks, treats and packets of joy. People went to him when they wanted their questions answered, when they wanted respite or when they just wanted to be. He was The Great Wizard of Happiness, and everyone wanted a piece of him. He was happy.
One day, The Great Wizard of Happiness was performing to a packed hall; like ever, the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, when he spotted Her. She sat there, somewhere in the middle rows, trying to obscure herself in the crowd, but once his eyes connected with hers, there was no looking away. He was surprised that the audience was oblivious to what was happening… wasn’t there a crackling live wire connecting the two of them, sparks flying, singeing those who came too close? How could they miss that? He was more meticulous that day than ever before, hyper aware of each gesture, each word, gripped by the feeling that everything was reaching out to her, and she would decide to stay or to run away solely based on this one act of his.
After the show, he kept his cloak on while smiling and shaking hands with the long line of people who had gathered to see the master magician in person. Children reached out to touch his beard, women all but swooned at his smile and men expressed their grudging admiration. Usually, The Great Wizard of Happiness found these minutes to be the best part of a performance. This connect he had with people, he thrived on it. But today, all he wanted was to meet her and his cloak of humour barely masked his impatience. He could have asked his staff to look for her but he felt an irrational fear that she was just an apparition. That nobody could see her but him. The long line of eager humans dwindled, and he was disappointed to see that she wasn’t in it. The day felt dull and grey around the edges and all he wanted was to go home and think over what had happened. He asked his entourage to go ahead, that he would find his way home.
He sensed her before he saw her. He was lying back on his chair, his head thrown back beyond the chair-back, his long locks like a curtain. He felt the gloom lifting and an inexplicable feeling of lightness filled the room. His locks swayed of their own volition and he felt a giant throb of energy running through him. He opened his eyes and she was at the door, looking down, hesitant, like she was wondering if she should step in and conquer the world or run away and spare them both. Not pausing to think, he jumped up from the chair and started towards her. The cloak of humour felt like a straitjacket around him and he let it go as he reached out to her. When she raised her head and looked into his eyes, he felt she could read his soul. Still not thinking, he gathered her into his arms. Tears glistened in her eyes and he was seized with a mad impulse to kiss her tears away and wrap his cloak around the two of them to keep her safe forever.
The embrace was all he wanted and all he feared. It made him want more, to hold this moment close in the palm of his hand and not scare it away with even a breath. She looked up at his face, leaned up on her toes and brushed her lips softly against his, an invitation that he could not resist but knowing, without knowing, that there would be damnation and condemnation. And in that moment, he didn’t care. He claimed her lips as his own, banishing thoughts and fears into rarely-opened trunks in his mind, finding her passion and reciprocating with his own. When they finally broke apart, he saw that the tears were flowing freely now and that she had an angelic smile on her face. He gathered her close again.
He knew before she spoke that she would talk about going away. That she had stolen a few moments from her Life to find this man whom she connected with, though she had never seen him before. She spoke of her Order, her vows of celibacy and chastity, her words tumbling out like a clear mountain brook that he wanted to drink deep from. He held her tighter as she spoke. He was sure he wouldn’t let her go. She told him of how she would talk to people who had watched his performances, or met him, and try to glean everything she could about him. She told him how she had longed for this day, her desire for him making her limbs slow and heavy even on her busiest days.
He lifted her up as she spoke, settling her into his lap as he sat back in the chair. She still had her arms around his neck, her fingers playing with the hair at the back of his head, making his skin tingle all over. He knew then he had been waiting for her all his life but he feared the hurt that was coming. He tried to wrap his cloak of humour around him, and she laughed at his clumsy attempts to fix the tattered cloak. There would be no forever, she said, and he knew it was true. She might be punished for overstepping her boundaries but she would be brave about it, she said. A knot formed in his throat as he thought about her being brave. He swallowed hard, knowing he would protect her if he could, knowing that it would never be.
They heard the commotion building up outside. It was time to go, she said. That would be her people, checking on why she had overstayed. She would go, she said, even as she stayed in his arms, her only movement being to tighten her hands around him and nuzzle against his neck. He wished he could use his magic to make Time stand still. He was The Great Wizard of Happiness after all; wouldn’t Time listen to him? He laughed, pulled her into a kiss that broke both their hearts. Then he wore his cloak of humour, and helped her up, walking her to the door. There he met her people, laughing with them, putting them at ease, placing her hand in theirs. Letting go.
As she was leaving, she turned to him and said, “Will you come visit me when I am on my deathbed?” He nodded, knowing he would, wishing he didn’t have to.