PC010: Magic in a Certain Slant of Light

By Deborah Coates
Read by Cat Rambo
Introduction by Ann Leckie
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text at link.)

“If you could wish for something magical, what would you wish for?” Jeff asks Nora as he enters the kitchen.

Jeff has been gone all day, helping a friend fix the plumbing in his basement. There’s no “Hello,” or “How was your day?” Just Jeff, in the doorway, asking about magic. “It can’t be about yourself,” he continues. “I mean, like making yourself immortal. Or about world peace. It has to be—”

“Talking dogs,” Nora says.

Jeff smiles in that way he has that seems to change his face. He’s wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt that’s been washed so many times its cuffs are all unraveled; it’s a change from pin-striped suits and crisp white shirts. “You know, Dexter made a dog talk once and it didn’t work out like he figured it would. That dog was annoying.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this”—Nora chops onions under running water, then transfers them to the frying pan on the stove—”but I don’t rely on Dexter’s Laboratory for my scientific knowledge.”

“Talking dogs are not scientific.”

“Yeah, magical.” Nora turns the heat up on the pan and looks through the cupboards for the spices that she needs. She swears that they’re never where she put them, no matter how often she returns them to their proper place. “That’s what we were talking about, right? Magic? You tell me, what would you wish for?”

“Zeppelins,” he says without hesitation.

“Uhm, zeppelins actually exist.”

He stands in the kitchen doorway, slouched against the frame, and she knows that he will leave her. There is something in the way he looks, a shadow in his eye, that wasn’t there yesterday or even this morning. And it almost kills her, like being stabbed right through the heart, because he’s the only one she ever really loved.

“Zeppelins,” he says, crossing to her and putting his arms around her waist from behind as she turns back to the stove, “are a collective figment of the imagination.”

“Zeppelins are totally possible. Plus, you can ride in one.”

He kisses the back of her neck and it feels like the soft brush of sun-warmed honey. “Bring me a zeppelin,” he says. His words murmur against her skin as he talks and she can feel his smile through the small hairs along the nape of her neck. “Then I’ll believe you.”

Rated PG. Contains zeppelins. Of a sort.

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22 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Magic in a Certain Slant of Light, by Deborah Coates « Stuff to read said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 7:10 am

    […] June 3, 2008 Listen to it at PodCastle. […]

  2. 2

    me said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

    wow…. just…. wow!

  3. 3

    Alan Schmitt said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

    Beautiful like a slowly rising zeppelin.

  4. 4

    Jake said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 10:14 pm

    Maybe I wasn’t paying attention enough, but where’s the fantasy in this story? Can we have some pure good old fashioned fantasy stories instead of these quasi fanciful stories? Well read, though. Thanks.

  5. 5

    Alan Schmitt said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 9:26 am

    Strangely appropriate: http://xkcd.com/73/

  6. 6

    Kasey said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

    This story haunts me. Days later I’m still thinking about it and her sadness, her desperation, and the long moonlit walk.

  7. 7

    Wilson Fowlie said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

    Enjoyed the story and Cat read it well, but the sound quality really bothered me. It sounded like it was read 5 metres away from the microphone, in a bathroom – tinny and echo-y.


    I think the magic Jake was looking for (is that what you mean by fantasy, Jake) was Nora’s prescience; outside of that, no, there wasn’t much. But that didn’t bother me. I was a little surprised that the dog didn’t, somehow, talk, though.

  8. 8

    Jake said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 9:19 pm


    LOL! Yes, if the dog had talked, that would have made it a more “legitimate” fantasy for me. I have, like many here, waited a long time for Podcastle to start podcasting, and was really looking forward to some good ol’ fantasy stories. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed the stories. I was just hoping for something more traditional.

  9. 9

    Peter said,

    June 6, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

    Lovely story, but I would like to suggest leaving a few more seconds between the end of the story and “After the story, the comments.” If there were even 5 or 6 more seconds, maybe with outro music, the transition from the story back to the podcast would feel less abrupt, less violent. Especially with a story like this where I would be tempted to let the final lines sink in a bit, a few extra seconds would either allow the story to settle, or give me the chance to turn off the playback and let the story settle even further.

    Just a thought – thanks for all your hard work bringing these stories to our ears.

  10. 10

    Lane said,

    June 6, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

    Decent story I guess, but unfortunately the type I have no desire to read. I’m all for the fantastic in the mundane life, but practically negligible fantastic elements mixed in with a “why is he dumping me?” romance plot just don’t do it for me. We may have a winner for least favorite Podcastle story so far. Not necessarily a knock on the story’s quality, just the statement that I am definitely NOT its target reader.

    Though personally, when I heard the phrase “and she knows that he will leave her” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, only to be further dismayed by “And it almost kills her, like being stabbed right through the heart, because he’s the only one she ever really loved.” Am I the only one who thinks such turns of phrase are maybe a little cliched?

  11. 11

    yicheng said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    I’m with Lane. It sounded very cliche, and the main character’s martyr complex got very annoying. I’m afraid it got in the way of the story for me.

  12. 12

    Spork said,

    June 10, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

    I’m not even through with the story, she’s stopped in traffic looking at the sky where I just left off, but I gotta tell ya… Recording from the bottom of a room-sized tin can was a very bad idea. This sounds terrible.

    Moving-the-mic-while-reading terrible? Well, yeah…kinda.

  13. 13

    Audita Sum said,

    June 12, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

    Thought it was a little cheesy, but overall it was alright. Interesting concept, anyway.

  14. 14

    Drawquarter said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 10:44 am

    The production value was very poor on this track. The background reverb and excess sibilance rendered the audio unlistenable. This was the only the first time, in years of listening to Escape Artists productions, that I couldn’t listen to a recording. I’m still a big fan.

    It is a shame about this one. After reading the comments, I think I’m missing a great story.

  15. 15

    Jaxon said,

    June 17, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

    It was an ok sort of poignant story. Not usually my cup of tea.
    It seemed more like poetry than a short story. There was no
    begining and no discernable end. The most interesting and
    fantastical part of the story, her ability to perceive the future,
    was glossed over and not exploited at all.

  16. 16

    Janice in GA said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

    I adored this story. Her quiet sense of knowing what was coming, and worrying about it, was just wonderful. Lovely stuff. Yeah, the sound quality was iffy, but I could live with it.

  17. 17

    Terrible Twos said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 7:25 am

    Finally got around to listening to this story. This, I believe, is the true future of fantasy. Ms. Coates’ literary-quality writing skills, mixed with the fantastical yet understated attributes of the main character, combined to create a story that was capable of exceeding the limited scope of itself.

    Well done, Ms. Coates. Your ability to create a believeable yet flawed character, and make me care about her in such a deep and intimate way, puts you on level with the likes of Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Bear, and Peter S. Beagle.

    Well Done!!

  18. 18

    Nora said,

    July 12, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

    Loved the story! I, for one, am rather disenchanted with the traditional, sword-and-sorcery fantasy and love this kind (whatever it qualifies as). I’d love to see more like it.

  19. 19

    The Fix | From the Podosphere: June 2008 said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 7:32 am

    […] stories for June begin with “Magic in a Certain Slant of Light” by Deborah Coates, read by Cat Rambo. Norah is a science professor with a sure sense of […]

  20. 20

    Hyperion said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 4:10 am

    The production values have already been adressed, so we’ll leave that alone, and I’m new here, so I won’t make too big a deal of the “complaints” about the alleged lack of magic in tale.

    That said, whatever prestidigtational quota you were hoping would be met, discovering a story this wonderful is always a treat. The pain of Nora made my heart ache, and the storytelling’s asymetrical path made the Reveal all the more fantastic. I love how Nora’s ability is never really parsed out, and how a woman so wrapped in the illusion of sicence refuses to deal with such a giant plot-hole in her life’s story.

    The hint of things left unsaid allow this story to be interpreted in so many different ways. I suppose it depends on that slant of light shining in the reader’s eyes.

  21. 21

    Tamara said,

    December 8, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

    @Drawquarter, you can read the text of the story at Strange Horizons at the link above. That’s what I did, when I couldn’t listen anymore about a third of the way through. I think that what happens in these cases is that the original recording has some static or noise that makes it sound fuzzy, but the “clean up” procedure that filters out the noise also makes it sound tinny. Speaking for myself, I’d rather the quality were not so clean rather than clean but tinny.

  22. 22

    Favorite Fiction Recommendation: “Magic in a Certain Slant of Light” | Rachel Swirsky said,

    March 25, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    […] can read the story at Strange Horizons, or listen at PodCastle. Even if you don’t, I hope you consider checking out the rest of Deb’s […]

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