After my last story ended up a very dark one, all about the horrible secrets behind something innocuous, I wanted to write something very lighthearted. One of my favourite animated films is Kiki’s Delivery Service, mostly because of how amiably it presents the idea of magic in everyday life and how it talks about ideas of the expectations placed on young people. I was thinking about it recently, along with other nonviolent magical girl anime; series like Creamy Mami about trying to use magic for fun. A lot of the ways in which magic is depicted in such fiction are as wish-fulfillment opportunities. They give a girl the chance to do what she has always wanted to, to not want for things. Even in the more combat-oriented series like Sailor Moon, it is someone on the bottom rung socially given the power.
If you think about it, magic, as the power to become something else, is effectively wealth and privilege. So, I began thinking about turning this around; what if a good-hearted person of comfortable means was given magic? How would they use it well? The answer, I felt, was this…
I watched a film when I was younger about a girl, a witch, who is sent to the big city as soon as she is old enough to leave home and who does what she can to make lives better. It seems quaint now, for I am a witch, and I have no desire to go to the big city because there is enough to keep me busy in a small town which overlooks a lake on one side and a wood on the other.
If you have seen any of the films or television programmes about people like me – the good ones, not the silly ones intended to scare or present magic as something hostile which it is not – you will know exactly what my life entailed. Around the time of my fourteenth birthday, as is a typical sort of time for this to happen, I was quite surprised to hear my pet bird start talking to me. Indeed, I had been quite surprised previously at how long-lived this canary was, but such things are happy accidents to a young girl. All girls, as it is well known, go through a few changes about this time of the lives, so what are a few more changes? Biki, my bird, changes his colour every so often to stop people getting confused about me keeping the same pet for several years. I have had to change my… let us say my presentation of my magic every so often out of a question of what is really appropriate for someone to wear.
I think everybody who knows anything about witches knows that in the past they were the people who could do things for others, and most of the women who died were just, to be blunt, doctors. Thankfully nowadays we have a town doctor, and a hospital an hour’s drive away, and so I don’t have to worry about delivering babies, or preventing them, or any of the other things that used to be called witchcraft. So, I don’t have to do anything non-magical that women called witches used to do, but on the other hand I’ve probably got more magic than any of them ever had and very little to do with it.
You don’t think about that, really, because so many of the stories about people getting magic start with them being dispossessed or living in an age when there aren’t scientific solutions to everything. If you have grown up being used to not having very much, then suddenly being able to summon whatever you like is quite nice. One day I asked Biki about this and he replied that it was something of a bet he had with the other creatures of the Magic Kingdom (a place apparently I probably won’t ever visit, but which does exist) – whether or not someone who didn’t lack for particularly much would use magic more or less selflessly than someone who had started with nothing.
The image of a council of talking canaries and cats and rabbits and whatever all betting on human nature is so absurd I very much doubt the Magic Kingdom exists. Indeed, when he started talking so empirically for a talking animal I was reminded of a television programme that was popular with young people recently, about an evil little animal that gives girls magic in order to subject them to a terrible fate down the line. As a homeowner and full-time worker it rather felt like an allegory about credit cards rather than anything else. Anyway, what do I do with my magic? There’s a question. For a while I abused it, insofar as it could be abused. I didn’t run around robbing banks or pretending to be a pop idol. I just got quite lazy, doing daily jobs in moments so I had more “free time.” I then squandered the free time, got quite unhealthy and realised this was no way to live. For a while I went completely the other way, exhausting myself with misguided selflessness, assuming the persona of Wonderful Primrose with a frilly dress and spats and all manner of other hideously pastel accoutrements and spending my days saving cats from trees, saving children drowning in the lake, carrying shopping and so on. This was quite a bit better, I think, but I approached it wholly the wrong way. I wanted to be recognised, I wanted people to care about the fact I was using magic to help. And when the media got me “wrong” I tried some other moonlighting. Wonderful Primrose became Guardian Primrose and for a while I went around breaking up fights and stopping robberies, because I had seen the young people excited about television programmes about magical battles. It turns out vigilantism is not particularly admissible in court, not particularly rewarding and mostly just causes bother. You can’t stop a fight by handing both people over to the police, and if you pick a side you’re not really “helping” because 50% of the time you get it wrong.
It sounds awfully like magic is a waste of time, doesn’t it? We’ve got police who stop crimes, we’ve got doctors who help people and generally everyone is amiable enough to help the needy without needing a pretty dress to do it. People have been picking up magic from odd sources for years, and nowadays it is so indistinguishable from technology nobody really minds that some people use it. Mostly because, according to Biki, magic comes from the Magic Kingdom, which is a place without conflict (although with apparently mean betting rings of canaries) and so nobody is ever given the power to use magic to do too much harm. We don’t live in danger of some mad wizard appearing and causing mayhem.
I asked Biki about this ennui when I was probably twenty or so, having had six years of kicking out in various directions with magic powers to try and find a place in the world for them. He replied that I was too caught up with the idea that everything had to be about magic, which seemed very odd given he had made such a fuss about giving it to me. He asked me what I thought a “good” rich person should do in life, and I said they should use their wealth to help others out of selflessness, not the desire to look outwardly good. He said magic was basically money without the intermediary bits and that there were times when I would know when it needed using.
That got me thinking, and got me into university as a mature student. There, I did not exactly make a secret of my power, but I did make it clear I was not going to use it frivolously. I joined a number of charitable organisations and used my ability to get things done to help them get on with what needed doing. I was the philanthropist, in a way.
I studied education, and soon after graduating became a teacher. Not a magic teacher. One of the rules Biki keeps impressing upon me is that I can’t share my power. But just an ordinary secondary school teacher, teaching ordinary children geography. Children like that because teacher is a witch, they never have to wipe the blackboard or carry things because she makes the board-eraser fly and so on. They very much like that with my Primrose Mirror (this isn’t some second-grade delusion thing, my surname is Primrose and I am Miss Primrose to them) I can tell if they are lying, but because I am generally a nice sort of person I don’t use this to be strict. So unsurprisingly I have acquired a second job as the teacher that the problem children are sent to, and the bullied children go to, for advice. Magic is not a lot of help in giving advice but it is generally very good at getting things done.
I sound tremendously arrogant saying this but since I joined this town’s secondary school, it has become a very good school. It was never bad, but it is now the best it can be. The local papers have said this. I have steadfastly refused to write any papers, or hold any conferences, about the use of magic in education, because I don’t want to start some great revolution. I just want to use what I have been given to the best of my ability.
I have a third job. Biki said that as I am getting to an age where in years to come my magic might diminish – never go away, but dwindle to a labour-saving affectation rather than what it is now, which even years after my awakening has the potential (should I unleash it) to be a firework display, or a full-body transformation, or whatever I wish – I should start looking to the future. So I have been given a little inside information about the Magic Kingdom. A girl is given her powers if the council decide she is worthy. I am… well, if there will be any witches come out of my class it will be on my recommendation. And so the cycle will probably continue, and I will happily help them become like me should they want to.