The Magic Flute

The Word: Flute

It was the thing about love, thought Allie, as she nested food into a lettuce leaf and rolled it like a cigar.  We called love love, but she had been in love many times, and every love was as different as… what could be so different, so varied?  Dogs maybe. Some were big and some were small, some were diggers under fences, others shed all over you, some jumped up and knocked you over.  There were lazy, lie-about loves, and nervous ones and ones that slobbered or made ‘mistakes’ indoors.  Some dogs were companionable and alert, and others were clowns, and some were just plain vicious and had to be put down.

She gazed at this man across the table in the Vietnamese restaurant, rolling a spring roll into a transparent sheet of wonton.

“What?” he asked.

And what was their love? what kind of a dog was this, this unlikely creature they were together?  A pound dog, maybe.  After all, he hadn’t dated in years, had kept himself busy reading, learning languages, collecting vintage microscopes and magic lanterns and Victrolas. He painted pictures for dollhouses.  He’d used the word ‘repudiate’ in a sentence on their first date, and ‘legerdemain.’ He knew how to pick a lock, and opened her door once to show her.  “Don’t tell anyone, it’s illegal.”  He needed a haircut.  He wore a shirt he bought at a gas station.  He could recite Shakespeare’s sonnets and half of the Tempest, but didn’t know where downtown was.

And she was a woman who knew the difference between Baskerville and Goudy Old Style, could find Surinam on a map, an enthusiast in all things.  She could solve codes and ciphers, she loved traveling and wearing wigs, she liked songs in languages she didn’t understand. She made linoleum prints and assemblage art and got a 1400 on her SATs.  She read poetry, but could never learn anything by heart.  She was sentimental and gregarious.

Their kisses had resonance, like a good drum.  That surprised her. Mostly, he surprised her.  Because he could take her all in. Not just a part.  All of it. She didn’t have to leave anything out, she didn’t have to pretend to be more conventional, or moderate, so she could be understood. He could meet her everywhere.  When had that happened in the history of the world?

A matched pair. Not dogs. More  like the parrots people let loose in the cities of America, who found each other in parks and backyards.

Yes, like birds.  Like in the Magic Flute.  Not the romantic stars of the piece, Prince Tamino and his ladylove Pamina.  But rather, the comic foils–the lonely bird man, Papageno, who finds his bird girl, Papagena, at the end of the final act.  Allie knew that for Mozart, this had just been a mopping-up of a loose plot thread. She’d never even liked Mozart operas, or comic operas at all for that part, having always preferred operas where at the end everybody was dead and the stage was awash in blood. But there was no question that this was the Magic Flute, and there was magic even for someone so ridiculous, so full of enthusiasms, as her. There was another one out there, perfectly suited for her.

She had always thought her life was a tragedy.  It never occurred to her it would turn out to be a comedy.  That she was a comic character, Papagena in her feathers, made in heaven for some Papageno in a t-shirt from a gas station.

He was looking at her.  Sometimes he looked at her like this.  She reached out and he took her hand. “What,” he said.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: SLIP


6 Responses to “The Magic Flute”

  1. May I have permission to reblog this on

    A wonderful piece, Robin

  2. wow, this really resonated with me. so beautiful

  3. Love this. My friend Rachel Resnick speaks of you and the perserverence you had when writing White Oleander. You are inspirational to me as I rewrite my first novel. I’m going to write a short short with SLIP- you okay if I repost on my blog and tweet?

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