Victor tossed the broken cue onto the pool table; it clacked among the numbered balls. In the branches by the ceiling the boisterous choir once more sang out.
“Oh, make your mind up!” yelled Victor, grabbing the pool cue.
He held the weapon ready but no birds swooped. The whistling soon subsided.
He dropped the cue on the table again; again the magpies sang out. He let the table lie undisturbed; the magpies quit singing. Victor smiled. On the opposite side of the table was the other pool cue—the one he had not broken. He retrieved it and took position near the centre pocket, lining himself up behind the cue ball. After a lengthy inner deliberation, his eyes scanning the felt, he made his decision.
“Five ball, corner pocket.”
Leaning forward over the table, left hand planted, right elbow cocked, the cue gliding back and forward, eyes resolute in focus—few things make a person look so cool as lining up a pool shot. Not so with Victor. His unusually upright stance gave the impression he was about to sing “I’m a Little Teapot”.
With a smooth flick of the wrist he thrust the cue; the white ball shot across the table, missed the five ball by two inches, ricocheted off one cushion and then another, and then rolled harmlessly back down the table. One of the magpies began whistling.
“Bugger,” said Victor, as he examined the tip of the cue. “That was a warm-up anyway. I get another shot.” He followed the cue ball to the end of the table. “All right. This time… three ball in the side pocket.”
He lined up the shot—teapot style—and tapped the ball with expert precision: three ball in the side pocket.
Another magpie joined in with a shrill, threatening whistle, and Victor looked up.
“So that’s it, huh? You don’t want me to play.” He moved around to where the cue ball now lay, and assessed the table. “I reckon I sink these balls and that’s it. Curse broken in another room.”
After missing his next seven shots, Victor might have been forgiven for just pushing the balls into the pockets with his hand, but, muttering to himself, “A Furbank never quits,” he persisted with proper play, and potted the five remaining balls (including the cue ball) in just under ten minutes. One by one as each ball sank into a net, another magpie would begin singing. As the final ball dropped from the felt, Victor crouched beside the table, watching the nests above.
The birds hushed, and settled in their nests. They did not grow, did not shrink; they did not grow fangs or breath fire or shoot lasers from their nostrils or explode. No sphere of light entered the room, bringing happy sounds and marvellous visions. The room did not transform into an aged, decaying version of itself. No lollipop appeared on the floor.
“Huh,” said Victor, standing up. Hands on his hips, he studied the branches overhead. “All right then, that didn’t work. No big deal—learn from it, try again. But what’s the answer?”
With the pool cue in one hand, he wandered around the table; at each pocket he pushed the net up from beneath, popping the balls back onto the felt. Each gentle clunk of a ball on the table was accompanied by a magpie call. In one corner pocket the net was frayed in places, creating a larger hole in which the final ball had stuck. Unable to push the ball free from below, Victor reached down into the net and grabbed it; one of the magpies leapt onto its branch, spread its wings, and gave a piercing whistle.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” muttered Victor, focused on removing the snagged ball. “Keep your feathers on.”
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