It was a cool, damp day. The sun was low and white and the air had a bite of early frost to it, causing Kaspar to pull his black woollen scarf closer to his pale jaw and mingle with the black stubble there, stark against the white of his cheek. Kaspar was making his way to hospital for the fourth time that month. He was heading for a meeting with a new client, and had located the spring in his step; this one would bring him to target.
He was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, dangling it from his long fingers as he walked. The trails of silky, smoky liquor following him and marking his path in ghostly tendrils were, in waves, suddenly snatched away by the teasing wind that followed. Kaspar enjoyed the smoking irony, so strong he could taste it; these things took five minutes off your life, each. An expensive hobby, especially in his line of work. But Kaspar’s luck was high, and instead he thought about the glass of red wine he’d have later to lengthen his span by five minutes and ‘cancel’ the cigarette. Doctor’s orders. Sort-of. Only pleasures in these contented, yet stringent, times.
At this passing thought, he couldn’t help but let his mouth turn to the slightest of grimaces. He thought now about the mortgage due, the length of time it had been since he’d properly worked, using his mind instead of being just a salesman, but being made redundant from his only passion, his career... Then his expression softened into his more recently habitual look of soothed transience, present since he had started his new ‘business’ nearly six months ago, and he smiled, somewhat relieved, to himself.
His original job - as a Physicist - had started him off well. But the universal switchover of the natural order from Science to Magic two years ago had completely put paid to his career. Nothing now was needed of detailed scientific discovery or formula. Now, one could wave a wand or say a word and reduce your trouble at once. The agreed-upon magic, so popular once and forgotten, and now enjoying a fashionable resurgence that had led it to replace, in a sceptic’s view, the more traditional R&D with D&D, had lifted the current millennium into the stratosphere of simple and easy pleasures it could only have so far have dreamed of. He knew of several phenomenologists who had committed suicide rather than relent to the breaking of the laws of physics – their own rules of existence - for the sake of an easier and consequence-proof world, in which an answer seemed to have been found for everything. Although - he noted to himself, bringing the cigarette to his lips for an expedient puff - most mathematicians he knew had weathered the change, becoming sorcerers of sorts, honing their powers of prediction as seers.
With the loss of science there was no possibility of cures, but with the gaining of magic there was no need for religion, or morals, that might have continued the search. Magic took the pain out of most suffering. Despite the lack of actual cure, most people were happy, and despite the overall use of magic being heavily regulated, the people thrived. Food and luxuries were still to be bought with currency in order to keep the economy running to a certain degree, and now gold, still impervious to magic as the alchemists had long ago discovered, was now currency of the realm and still had to be earned. Which is what Kaspar, in the only way he now thought possible, now that his speciality was lost and the world turned over to superstition that actually worked, was trying to do.
The only relief to the situation was the discovery that magic could not prolong life shortened by certain diseases – Cancer, for example, which was a sort of magic of itself, reproducing the wrong cells in the wrong places. Instead, magic was used to combat the symptoms: a glamour for fixing hair lost by pre-magic chemo; the ritual of the waning moon to reduce the most superficial of lumps; a binding spell to keep the size of larger tumours at bay. It still mystified Kaspar that pearly teeth and curling hair cells could be reproduced at random to turn up inside even scrotal or mammary tissue. He grimaced; imagine that inside your sac. Or, even worse, your brain. It would be as if a tiny version of yourself was living inside your precious processor tissue, all teeth and hair, and possibly (murder for him) holding the position of conscience almost-personified. You wouldn’t be able to ignore it for once, it would force you to think and account. He physically swatted this image away, said a charm over his privates for the protection of his future offspring (pointless habit now, no chance of him daring to bring life into this world) and kept up his pace.
Kaspar turned the corner and headed towards the red-and-blue of Balham Underground, passing still-shuttered shops where electrical appliances had mouldered in their factory-fresh boxes for over a year. Thinking about it, the only other scientists he could think that were better off since The Switch were the quantum physicists and higher dimension theorists, and they were having a field-day; most laymen had thought they were wizards to begin with. Doctors, surprisingly, hadn’t done too badly out of it, as most regarded them as still the only really competent folk to wield medical magics, as if their fast-paced med-speak from before had trained them for it. It amused Kaspar slightly that he had turned from Physicist to Physician of sorts. People had always got the pronunciation wrong before. Nowadays the meaning was almost indeed synonymous.
Almost. Walking briskly now against the frozen air, unswirled or warmed by traffic, Kaspar looked down at the scruffy briefcase he carried to pretend what he was doing was a viable alternative to his beloved career. He coughed, smudging saliva into his stubble with the back of his cigarette hand, and then taking another drag. Real doctors had had proper doctors’ bags, a signifier for their trade in curing; here is the bag from whence all cures come, we shall all be well. All he offered as an alternative to cure and care was scratched up from a second-hand school satchel, weather-beaten and worn in a way that was less than charming. Kaspar suddenly hoped, glancing down at the careworn scratches on the sides that they said ‘experienced’ instead of ‘tramp’, and ducked into the Tube.
Sitting in the packed, cramped carriage – even at this hour – his head lolled and he let his gaze wander around at all the other passengers. All stared off, trying to ignore each other. Some things hadn’t changed.
The lights flickered; the whole company of glassy eyes was as if switched on and off in the dark, illumined by occasional track sparks, like lightning. He noticed more and more the lines around people’s eyes as their morning glamours wore off. People all seemed a little older these days, as if the hedonism of an easier, magical lifestyle were taking its toll. Kaspar briefly wondered if any of them could be ‘donors’? Maybe he should leave his card on the seat as he left? People who still rode the Tube instead of flying their own broomstick or magic carpet were at the most pragmatists, at the least nostalgics, and might be interested in the product he had to offer, or desperate enough to consider selling their most underused personal asset. He mused, alone in the crush.
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