The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Eighteen

Home Again, Home Again by Kris Saknussemm
I Shefam Im, an annotated story by Nancy Graham
The Sad Fate of the Graduate Rocamadour Muskaria by Ignacio Padilla
The Bridge by Brian Biswas
A Tram Ride by Brian E. Turner
Bitches Brew by André Sant'Ánna
Man at Wall, Attempting a Certain Chore by Bob Comenole


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A Tram Ride
by Brian E. Turner


The tents and sideshows in the fairground were being dismantled. The Impresario was standing beside the big top supervising operations. He was a stout man chewing on a cheap cigar and dressed in flashy showman's apparel. He wore two rings: on the left hand was a large moonstone set in iridium; on the right hand was a small bloodmarine set in mithril. He carried the wand of mystery which he gave to the man standing before him.

"What is your name?" he asked.

The man was wearing a black cloak which covered him completely. A white hand reached through the sleeve of the cloak and took the wand.

"I have many names but no one knows my secret name." The voice was muffled within the folds of the cloak.

The Impresario removed his top hat from his balding head and took a piece of paper from inside the crown. It was ancient parchment, yellowed with age, and written with strange runes. He could not read the writing so gave the paper to the man.

"This is your mission today."

The man read the parchment through a slit in the fold which covered his face. He removed the cloak with a flourish and let it fall to the ground.

"My name today is Franco. I am a magician and a clown. My mission is to entertain the children on an excursion ride to the Land of Arcanum."

Franco was tall and lithe. He wore the costume of a clown but his mask was the mask of a magician. He had a red striped vest, pantaloons and large shoes. The tram drew up at the waiting station. It was a red city tram festooned with balloons and streamers. The children on board were laughing and talking. They had not been told where they were going; merely that it was a journey of mystery and magic. There were no adults present. Even Franco could not be classed as an adult as he came from another world, the world of eternal fantasy.

"I shall see you in due course," said the Impresario. "Here is my hat. Ensure that it is in working order."

Franco waved the wand and pulled a white rabbit from the hat. He then boarded the tram which clanged its bell and moved off with a shower of sparks from the trolley pole. It swayed from side to side as it moved faster and faster past the houses and cars. Franco walked down the aisle with trays of hamburgers and fizzy drinks.

"Thank you, Franco," shouted the children as he passed around the consumables.

"It is my pleasure, young sir (or young madam)," he replied.

"I have been promised a special treat," said a young girl in a pink frock and a white cloth hat.

"What is your name, young madam?" asked Franco as he consulted the passenger manifest.

"Clarisse."

Clarisse was set down for strawberries and ice cream and a walking-talking doll. Franco removed the top hat that the Impresario had given him. 'Hey Presto' and a wave of the wand and there were the strawberries and ice cream. The children crowded around.

"It's real magic," they cried.

"I want some ice cream too"

"We all want ice cream."

"And strawberries."

"And we are children who get what we want."

Clarisse passed around the strawberries and ice cream. The food multiplied in the same way that The Lord multiplied food when he fed the multitude with loaves and fishes. Franco waved his wand again and out from the hat came the walking-talking doll.

"I have to get off soon," said Clarisse. "Will you tell the driver?"

But there was no driver of the tram; it went where it needed to go without direction.

"The tram will stop," said Franco.

"The crab will be waiting for me. Then I'm going to stay with Nana."

The tram stopped. There was a yellow plain with thunderclouds over the distant hills. The crab was an old man with wizened skin and a friendly smile on his face. Clarisse disembarked and took his hand. They walked along the road. Two parallel lines meeting at infinity. Beside it was an old two-storey house on a hill where Nana lived. The tram clanged and started off again on its way.

The children were quiet for a time as one of their number had departed the mystic journey. Then a rumbustious boy cried out: "Let us play games."

The children started playing noisy games. One of the balloons burst and the tattered fragment fell to the floor. Franco went forward to the driver's compartment. The driver was there in fact however it could not be seen or described.

"The children are playing games," said Franco.

"It helps to pass the time," replied the driver.

"It is necessary to pass the time."

"That is why there are games."

"Of course."

"In due time they become better at it. That is another reason."

"Improvement?"

"Isn't that why we are here?"

"I wonder."

"You are a philosopher."

"Just a clown. A foolish clown."

"Only the clowns are wise. We will be stopping soon; there is another passenger who wishes to disembark."

Franco went back into the carriage. The children were still playing rowdy games and balloons were popping. There was one boy sitting in a corner by himself and holding his cap in his hands.

"What is your name?" asked Franco.

"Robin."

"Why aren't you playing games, Robin?"

"I never win." Robin looked so sad. A tear trickled down his face. Franco consulted the manifest. Robin was set down for a little furry kitten and a book of philosophy. Franco waved his wand and pulled the kitten from his hat. Robin stroked it and held it to his breast. He gave a smile at last. "I'll call it Fluffy."

The kitten's Egyptian name was Amatahol and her secret name was Peace. Franco waved his wand and the book of philosophy appeared out of the air. It was written in a language that no one could understand, but was bound in leather and the title, "Enig Thew oth Dwen," was embossed in gold letters. (It is quite easy to translate the title if you know the key.)

The tram pulled to a stop. There was a bare white landscape and the land was called Peace and Tranquillity. It was a place where there were no games to play, nothing to achieve, nothing to do but rest in peace. The children called from the windows:

"Goodbye, Robin."

"We have to stay."

"We are playing party games."

"Going on a journey."

"Come back if you wish."

"Goodbye, Robin."

Robin waved goodbye and walked out of their sight into the mist. The tram clanged its bell and moved away.

"I liked him," said one of the children.

"I didn't, he never joined in with the games."

"But not everybody has to."

"He was different."

"He might discover a way to read that book of philosophy."

"And then what?"

"Find out what it's all about."

The tram started moving up an incline. It went slower and slower. It was a hill which had autumn trees growing on it. The colours of the dying leaves were yellow and red and purple and they formed a carpet on the ground. Up ahead was a tunnel. The children leaned out of the window and willed the tram to move forward. It was going slower and just as you thought it might stop the incline levelled out and they entered the tunnel. It was a long tunnel and dark. Franco had been this way before and knew it was time to entertain the children with his magic show. He pulled ribbons from his ears, sawed a child in half and put her back together, made an egg disappear and magically reappear, swallowed a sword, disappeared in a puff of smoke, with a wave of the wand restored all the balloons that had been popped. He pulled the right card from the pack. The children applauded, whistled and cheered.

Eventually the tram emerged from the tunnel. The landscape was sere and bare. It was winter and the trees were leafless. Their fingers cut holes in the sky. Franco consulted the manifest. There was only one more passenger to disembark before the final destination. His name was Shane and he would go when he won the game. Franco sat down to watch the children play. The game was King of the Hill.

The children stood in a circle and counted around starting at the south corner.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.

The person at the end of the count became King of the Hill and went to the centre of the circle. The others walked around until the music stopped. After a time Shane worked out how to become King. He had to get into the correct position when the music stopped.

"This is the last turn," he said. "The King this time is the King forever."

When the music stopped Shane moved into the correct place in the circle and became King Forever. He went to Franco and asked for his prize. He was down for a crown and robes of ermine.

"I have to get off soon. The other children are bound for a hum-drum destination but I am bound for fame and fortune."

Franco pulled the crown from his hat and placed it on Shane's head. Then he waved his wand and, lo and behold, Shane was clothed in a gown of ermine. The tram came to a stop. There was a plain with a large city and a castle on the hill in the distance. The Secretary was waiting for him. She wore a business suit and rimmed glasses. She gave Shane a briefcase and a pen. There was the sound of thunder and witches flew in the air. Bats swarmed from their caves underground and covered the sun. All of the city buildings turned into gravestones.

"I want to come back." called Shane, but the tram had gone off on its way.

"He wanted to be king." said one of the children.

"I liked him. Every country needs a king."

"A king needs to have a country."

"A country without a king is like a king without a crown."

"But he was greedy. He cheated to become king and his legacy became city of death."

The children were beginning to develop wisdom as a result of the experiences of the journey. Even so there was a deeper wisdom that escaped them. One child, with glasses, listened studiously to the clicketty-clack of the wheels.

"The speed of the tram is related to the speed of the clicketty-clacks," he pronounced.

The bare trees in the winter landscape now began to bear buds and soon the land broke forth into a profusion of leaf and flower. Winter was over and the spring presaged the arrival at the final destination. The children packed their toys and spare clothes into their bags and sat quietly on their seats in expectation. Franco went into the driver's compartment. Ahead he could see houses and a city of spires in the distance. On a field outside the city there was the fairground. The tram came to a stop at the waiting station. The children ran out from the tram into the fairground.

"We will have fun today."

"Bags I the coconut shy."

"The tattooed lady."

"The wall of death."

"Marvello the magician."

"The merry-go-round."

"Candy floss'"

"The dodgems."

"The Ferris wheel."

"The roller coaster."

"The carousel"

"Hot dogs on a stick."

"The tunnel of mystery."

The Impresario was standing by the entrance of the fairground holding Franco's cape in his arms.

"All went well, did it?" he asked.

"A normal run," replied Franco. "Here are your hat and wand."

They exchanged hat, wand and cloak.

"And there were departures?"

"Three, only."

"Ah yes, just three. To get off the tram is a great relief. The end of the journey is the beginning, but not to travel is a release from all joy."

Franco wrapped the cloak about himself and slowly dissolved into the light of day.




Brian E. Turner is a native and resident of New Zealand. He's mainly written plays, many of which have been performed in back-alley theaters in New Zealand and overseas. He has also published two novels. His short short, "His Exegamination of Poelemtics as Addressed to the Audience," appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal; "Three Short Plays" appeared in Issue #9; "Comedy of Art" in Issue #11; and "surd person circular" in Issue #14.


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