I am a very old wizard. I spend my time in the city, eight hours a day, fashioning wooden pegs into wands, and when I am done with them I box them on the factory floor and ship them to the packaging boys, who wrap them in tissue paper and seal them in plastic blister shells with cardboard backs. The backs of the cardboard can be cut away and saved as stat cards, with all the specifications of the wand tallied so that they can be compared to other wands made by the other wizards on my floor. Some wands are 11 centimeters long, others are almost 40. Some are designed to ward off dragons, others for divining water in arid spaces, or distinguish poison mushrooms from the edible ones. Every season we create a new series of wands. For holidays, we make novelty copies of old ones. Last year for the fourth of July I built a wand that shot red, white and blue sparks. It was colored like a grilled burger, charcoal cross-hatches on sanded cherry wood.
When I come home (and I live in a cave outside the city), I sit down at my kitchen table. I slice a hunk of cheese from the big piece on my mantel. I take what’s left of the bread I baked last week, and the cold meat that’s kept at the back of the cave, and I eat a small supper. After I finish my meal, I push what’s left of the food away and lay out my materials on the table.
I unroll the scrap wood, the flotsam of dead branches I find in the brown and red leaves at the edges of the highway, driftwood from my walks to the beach. I lay out my carving knife, my shaving tools. I leave the magic in a small pile in the center of the table, between the driftwood and the cheese. (I try not to let any of the magic sprinkle the cheese. The last time that happened the cheese developed an insidious habit for belting showtunes at the crack of dawn. I had thought that eating it would be the end of it. But it sang all the way down. And whatever part of it was singing, it didn’t end with its digestion either…)
When I have all my implements, I say the words, usually “Abracadabra,” but sometimes I get fancy. Sometimes I say “Coca-Cola,” and sometimes I say “Perestroika.” These do not alter the spell very much. The air will taste differently, but I say them because they are the kinds of words that sound like they ought to, and that is all that matters. Once warmed up, the magic makes the wand easier to build.
I make wands in the city. I punch the clock to get in, and at lunch, and when I get out. I have few friends, and no hobbies. Except for the magic, and the wand. And the longer I work on it, the less I think there is anything I will do with it. So sometimes I leave pieces unfinished to polish the next evening. When I get stuck, I take a walk outside my cave or I turn gnats into frogs. Only for a little while.
After that I return fresh and sit down to another night of me, and the wand. (And some cheese, if it doesn’t sing.)