WOW! I stood dumbstruck, surrounded by thousands of books and boxes of all shapes and sizes. For some strange reason, I’d wandered off track, found myself in darkness back-of-house at the State Library of Victoria, standing smack bang in the middle of the WG Alma Conjuring Collection. I twitched as if someone walked over my grave, and magically the lights switched on. Quickly my eyes adjusted to the white light. To my left, somewhat inconspicuously placed, a framed photo of a gentleman I thought I recognised from TV, a man of mystery, Will Alma. Above the picture of Mr Alma (holding a razor blade to his lips) a pair of white nylon gloves. How quaint I thought, slipping the gloves on, one finger at a time, wriggling them about under the fluorescent light. My gloved hands miraculously took on a life of their own, ferreting through the collection, lingering lovingly over 2000 shelved books on magicians, tricks and the art of conjuring. My fingers stopped dead in front of a bound book titled, ‘Battling Demons’. I lifted the book off the shelf, pushing aside any evil thoughts I had. I turned to the first page and was immediately interrupted by a man’s booming theatrical voice.
“Don’t touch that! I think you’ll find ‘Deceptive Conceptions in Magic’ more to your personal taste.” Oh, I thought, closing the book out of respect for the gentleman’s authoritarian tone. “Let me introduce myself, dear friend. I am the Great Raymond…man of magic, illusion and disguise. You’ll find a book about my adventures somewhere on those shelves. Have you heard of me?” l shook my head, startled by the man standing before me in a bow tie, black top hat and tails. “Oh, well, some haven’t. My last gig was 1993 in fact! What brings you here, may I ask?”
“Looking for inspiration I suppose. You look familiar? Have you been on the ABC?” I enquired. The Great Raymond raised an eyebrow, dismissing my question. “Well, you’ve stumbled into the right place,” he assured me. “We’ve every trick in the book here. There’s one on conjuring up ‘inspiration’ somewhere, I’m sure. I’ll perform it, a private show. That’s why I’m the Great Raymond! I can conjure up anything, even a little ‘inspiration’. Now, ask me something else, while I hunt about for that book”.
I thought for a moment. “Okay. Have you ever guillotined a Librarian?”
“Anyone I’m in par-tic-ular?” the Great Raymond prompted, smiling wickedly.
“I’d rather not say. But, have you performed the trick inside the State Library?”
“Of course. Hundreds of times. But, those librarians get my goat. I get on their goat. They hate my guillotine trick. But, occasionally,” he confided, “when I shout ‘off with their heads’ randomly at the top of my lungs in the Cowan Gallery, one brave little family historian has a damn good chuckle. Anything else? Ask me anything. I’m the Great Raymond!”
I pondered, then asked, “Raymond? Can you make problem patrons disappear?” The Great Raymond screamed with glee, unable to control his excitement. “That’s my specialty actually” he gloated, tipping his top hat. “Once, I made a group of grumpy old aged pensioners, retirees, vanish while on the Changing Face of Victoria tour. They were from Geelong. Poor things. Oh, it’s a marvellous trick. The security guard Bob, is still looking for that Probus club I believe. Oh, I found the book I was looking for…Inspirational Tricks for a Restless Soul”.
“But, I’m not a restless soul?” I said defensively. The Great Raymond snapped his fingers and opened the book up on page thirteen.
“Dear friend,” he winked, “Don’t lie. I know everything. That’s why I’m the Great Raymond.” He did a twirl, the room went black, Raymond was gone. I stood in darkness, then suddenly twitched, the lights flickered on-off-on. The room was empty, except for the WG Alma Conjuring Collection, and me. Beside the picture of Will Alma, the book ‘Inspirational Tricks for a Restless Soul’. I took off the white gloves and opened the book at page thirteen. At the top, written in bright red ink, the words, ‘magic for dummies’ – WG Alma. It was then, at that very moment, I felt a presence, someone’s breath, close to my ear. He whispered, “For your in-for-mation, old friend, I have been on ABC TV.” Then, before I could say, abracadabra, he was gone.
Will Alma, (Born Oswald George William Bishop; 4 November, 1904 – 6 May, 1993) was an Australian stage magician, illusionist, maker of conjuring apparatus and magic historian. He is best known for his donation of the ‘WG Alma Conjuring Collection’ to State Library Victoria.
Dumbstruck by Noel Anderson was first published on 14th December 2018 in The Goat Zine by the State Library of Victoria.