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The Apprentice

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“Listen now, Paul. The trick is to have them think that you’re being perfectly honest and straight-up with them.”
 
Dunny was reading it clean from the book when he said things like that, and I would later learn that anybody who knew him knew he would say nothing of the sort out loud of his own volition, but to me it sounded like genius and I attributed it all to Dunny. He was all I had, he had to be brilliant. He was, too, at my age of three, a brilliant man and all his awkwardness and all his fumbles were invisible to me. His word was truth and law to me. He was unable to deceive me.
 
“Now Paul, if you flourish this hand like so and quietly tuck the card away like so with that one, nobody will ever be the wiser.”
 
He was always frank with me, so I never believed there could ever be fault in Dunny’s words. When he promised me that the world wished nothing more than to be deceived, and that they would laugh in amazement and applaud each trick, I knew it had to be true. How could it not be? Dunny told me. 
 
“No, no, Paul, you palm and secure six half-crowns like this.”
 
A child’s eye so often chooses not to see your mistakes, and I never saw Dunny’s, even when I was right and he was not, his advice was divine edict and I drank it up like a tramp dying of thirst.
 
“Come now, Paul, even Percy Boyd has his dirty secrets. Did you know his mother still calls him Pidgy Boy-Boy?”
 
I often cared little for the lessons as Dunny spoke with me, teaching me far more than simply conjuring. He read to me and promised me that the world was not really so cruel as what I had seen of it. It felt good to hear that truth from him as the boys outside cried names on the street and threw stones through my window. The hateful things were wrong, they had to be. Dunny said so.
 
“It's all right, Paul, there is no problem that you will be unable to solve on your own, in your own idiom. You are smarter than anybody gives you credit for.”
 
Dunny often had laws so different from my father that I often wondered how he could have it so wrong. My father meant well, I knew it and I knew that in his way, he loved me so I never openly defied him, but he was misguided. I would listen to my father and obey at home but in my heart, Dunny was right. After all, cards couldn’t be evil. Not when you could make them turn such magnificent flips and hops and dance is such fabulous ways.
 
“Try this, Paul, and your audience will be so amazed they’ll love you for good.”
 
Never had I imagined that Dunny might possibly have lied. I did not know what exaggeration was and never imagined a world in which things might have been different than what he told me. The night I brought home all I learned those afternoons in the library, I came to the dinner table with my stomach already full of nerves and lurching with excitement as I so delicately gathered my father’s coins right off the table under his nose. My insides twisted in knots as I waited for him to finally praise me and I could feel nothing but a lost confusion as he instead howled and demanded I return his money. My mother secretly smiled at me as I did; she understood what my father did not as he demanded to know how, and who taught me, and that I never see Dunny again.
 
“Don’t worry, Paul, we can meet in secret, and we still have the stories.”
 
Even then I believed Dunny’s words. They shook inside of me but still rang clear and strong in my heart as he came to see me and my mother. He cared deeply for me and for my mother and though he was persecuted in my name by my father, I knew who loved me and who did not.
 
“It’s alright Paul; I will never let anything happen to you. I will keep you safe.”
 
Dunny never said that he would keep me safe, but nonetheless I came to believe it. Dunny was there, even though he had been banished from our Eden in the Deptford library while sometimes I wondered where my father was. He would never protect me. Dunny, however, I came to believe that even though he never said so, might. In time I also came to believe that he had said he would. 
 
“I’m sorry, Paul.”
 
It was never in Dunny’s way to say that he was sorry unless he felt that he was in the wrong. Since all he did was find my mother, not cause her shame, he never did apologise to me. Though he was always there, steadfast in his commitment to us, he never did say sorry for lying to me of for letting my father tie Mother to a rope in our house. He never said ‘I’m sorry’ when his friend cried ‘hoor’ through our window and he never allowed me to fight back against Percy Boyd and I knew he’d never stand up to his friend himself.
 
“Where did you go, Paul? How did you come to be here?”
 
Dunny called me Paul even though he knew I was now somebody else; somebody who cared little for false gods or teachers who had lied to him. He, too, was somebody new but I never saw it as I told that I had run away with the circus and had found a new teacher whose word had become divine edict. Dunny listened with all the care that he had shown in my past life as I told him of my new teacher and how I learned of all the ugly things lurking in the Canadian countryside.
 
“Your mother went mad looking for you, Paul.”
 
I couldn’t even remember my mother when Dunny spoke of her and I chose not to try even though he persisted. Still, he spoke of her in such a manner that though we were both different people than we had been then, and a world away from Deptford, his voice stirred in me again, the Dunny whose word was truth and law and was incapable of deception or betrayal flickered into place before my eyes. It only lasted a moment but it moved me to where I had to have him stay. Still, I no longer believed his words.
 
“This, Magnus, is where I leave you.”
 
I don’t know when Dunstan started calling me by my true name but I remember feeling the loss inside of me. Paul slipped away from me, chased by the northern wolf I had become and Dunny went with him. Dunstan stood before me, all the awe, bewilderment and admiration I once held gone along with his former self though he had held it inside of me for so long. The teacher now still remained, but none of the magic. For the magic, the awe, the bewilderment, he looked breathlessly upon me.
 

“Come away, Dunstan. Leave all of this and retire with me.”