"We could stay here," Phil reminded him, "just one more night."
"No, Phil. Don't start. There is nothing here. Nothing. This place is dead."
They trudged on in silence for the next quarter mile or so. The two of them were a ragtag sight, dragging along the dirt road, backpacks, a guitar and thumbs eager for hitchhiking should a car improbably happen by. The road was a long ribbon traversing the crofts and hillsides of Scotland's rustic Western Highlands. It seemed to stretch forever ahead, teasing them in its apparent eternity. The landscape itself was breathtaking, an Eden of blue sky, puffy white clouds, rangy green and yellow pastures and small dark lochs. It was a course for the untrained eye, a lesson in the seemingly infinite variety of color and hue.
"But Dave, what if she's the one?"
"Yeah, what if there's only one perfect soul mate for each person in this lifetime. What if she's mine?"
"You are so delusional. Keep walking."
Dave tramped ahead of Phil, mindlessly working the practice exercise of flipping a tenpence coin back and forth across the knuckles of his right hand. Dave's specialty was close-up magic; his visit to the U.K. necessitated getting used to the weight, size and feel of the local currency. Dave had told Phil how he was world-ranked in close-up magic. Phil didn't even know they had rankings in such things, but apparently such accolades did not come without hours of practice. Phil was getting used to this daily ritual. He first noticed the coin flipping on the train out of St. Albans. With Dave, it was either coins or a deck of cards— something was always in his hands.
They'd met a month before at a party where Phil was playing guitar. They respected each other's performing abilities, and such was the basis of a new friendship. Together they agreed to take a busman's holiday to Scotland, forming a little road act and taking their talents from town to town while enjoying the sights and sounds of this lovely country.
Their journey had no set agenda, starting out in Glasgow, then veering north in pioneer spirit to the Highlands. An unlimited rail pass afforded them this freedom. The rough plan, as best Phil could figure, was to visit the Isle of Skye, then head back down and wind up eventually in Edinburgh. But spontaneity made Dave a fun traveling companion. After a few days on the train, Dave decided he'd had enough. "If we stay on the train, we'll only see certain kinds of places. I don't want British Rail ruling my life."
And with that, the two began the unplanned portion of their trek.
"This looks pretty. Let's get off here," Dave said and Phil followed.
The new plan was to see how the locals lived, to get a taste of the "real" Highlands. They would hike and climb during the days, investigating the region's incredible natural beauty and sites of local interest, then pull into the nearest village by sunset. The goal in town was to find a reasonably priced place to sleep, whether a bed and breakfast or simply a church basement floor. Once that was secured, it was a trip down to the "local" where the magic and music show began. In exchange for food and drink, Dave and Phil entertained the pub's denizens, making friends along the way.
The Scots they encountered were friendly and effusive, receptive and gracious and wonderful. No one seemed to know— or care— that they were of that most offensive breed of travelers: American students. Phil figured it was due to the magic of the magic.
"Dave, you don't understand," Phil said. "I think I'm in love with her."
"Phil, my man. This is what, maybe the tenth time you've fallen in love since we left Glasgow?"
"This one is different. This one might actually love me too."
Dave shook his head and kept walking. Phil looked out at the vale to his right, where longhaired Highland cattle sat like alien invaders on a grassy hillside, waiting to attack. One giant tan cow shook his head at Phil too. He wasn't getting sympathy from anyone.
"You still don't believe me?" Phil asked.
"Maybe, maybe not. I mean, who can argue with the Jack of Hearts?"
It was the nickname Dave had assigned him for a card routine they'd developed. When they first went into a pub, Dave would start with the cards. He'd do a few simple tricks to get the crowd interested. Phil would go off and mingle at the bar or find a place to sit quietly and tune up the guitar.
Once the audience was captivated, Dave would tell them about Phil.
"My friend there is a psychic. Sure he's a good musician. But if you want to see his real talent, watch this. Just pick a card, any card."
And they would. Or think they would, because Dave was able to manipulate the deck. He could control the card people would pick. Phil could be in another room, or in another country. It didn't matter. Because when they found him, all he had to do was pretend to concentrate, then say it...
"The Jack of Hearts."
Jaws would drop; people would take a step back in awe and wonderment. It was all a ruse. Dave had picked the jack of hearts as Phil's card simply because he happened to fall in love in nearly every pub they visited. But this time had been different. Phil started thinking back, eager to get it straight in his own mind.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar: