This is a true story.
Abra-Melin the Mage.
Bizarre though that gambit is, there is purpose in it, not least because it came to represent a relationship I never truly understood; one that grew in stature long after my Grandfather passed, leaving me just some old books. Curious books, leather-bound by his long-dead hands, they still sit upon my bookshelf to this day, beautiful, substantial things that had meaning to him, that dark-eyed man who would look at me across the wood shavings and pipe-smoke in the old shop. Dark eyed and pensive, not given to speech and wearing sorrow like a shroud which fitted better than his white work-jacket with the blunted pencils in the breast pocket and the frayed, greying cuffs. Eventually, he would sigh and take the stem of his pipe from his mouth and mutter something under his breath in a resigned way, then he would lead me down the winding, uncarpeted stairs and through the shop with its array of Georgian oils and backdrop of studies of fruit bowls and Ullswater and a murder of crows, then through the small kitchen at the back and out the door and across the garden to the house. Finally, we would reach the tall doorway; framed by dark vines older than Gethsemane and the smell of juniper and dry, dusty earth met us there and I would wait as he wiped his feet on the grille then wait again for his small smile of approval as I mimimicked him. Going through the door at last and into the kitchen with its ceilings up in the night sky and the distant impression of moths always gave me a shiver, so I would look down at his heels and follow, eager for the light and the warmth and all the sumptuous carpets from Araby until it all burst upon me in a flurry of deepest, impossible reds and browns and the smell of cedar and beeswax. How could it be, this place? It was a magick; a mocking rebuke to mediocrity and the destitute promise of Habitatism. Just to be here hinted at the endless Saharan twilight and the impossible intricacy of Islamic numerology; the warm leathers of seat and spine making a cave of impossible wonders such that Ali Babar himself might be conjured up before my wond’ring eyes. Kings might have sat in such places as these. Lords of Old Night may have mapped the demise of Hades himself between these very walls. My grandfather, you see, was a mage, an alchemist – I knew not what – but here, in this place, steeped in spells that brought the silence to settle upon me like a cloak, I could not doubt his unworldly power. Now he placed his hand upon my slight shoulder and I looked up to him, his dark countenance holding me fast more than ever his gentle grasp could.
“One day,” he said, and with a sweep of his hand he drew my eyes to the shelves, “all these books will be yours,” and I stared in rapture, horrified at this concession to death, overjoyed at the warm, dusty promise of arcane secrets and page upon page upon page.
“Please Grandfather?” Questions always pleased him better than statements: “may I have the shelves too, I should need something to keep them on?”
“Really Jeremy, you say the funniest things.” Such was his way, a hint of something deeper, a yearning, perhaps a promise. That was the way of it between us, I grasped his hand spontaneously, not wanting to lose this moment, wanting to stay here in this impossible, rich instant of time for all eternity. Until the future ran out, until the stars guttered and flickered out, leaving us there with just the light from the fire and the ticking of the mantle clock and the faint whisper of the hedges in the wind outside as the shadows went blacker and the coals sank gratefully in the hearth.
“Very few people have seen these books you know,” he broke the spell at last, “they are rare,” a breath, “precious.” With that, the stillness fled a little and it was just my Grandfather and I again, in the room, but I held his hand just as tight even so, wondering at where we had been; I know it now of course. Xanadu, with its caverns measureless to man, or Samarkand, or some other fabled place, it matters not. Yearning will not return me there, nor him to life, and his mystery abides with me still. Zoroaster, Mathers, Fortune and Abra-Melin are all that are left now, those rare dusty books, and those rarer, dusty memories of him.