“Magic”: Katherine Anne Porter Summary, Plot Synopsis

“Magic” is a short story by Katherine Anne Porter from her collection Flowering Judas and Other Stories. It can be read in the sample of Collected Stories and Other Writings (70% in). Here’s a summary of “Magic”.

“Magic” Summary

While a maid brushes the hair of her employer, Madame Blanchard, she tells a story about her former employer. She worked as a cleaner at a fancy house, a house of ill-repute.

There was a poor, thin girl there who was popular with the men named Ninette. She didn’t get along with the madam, though, and they argued terribly. The madam would cheat the girl on her earnings, claiming she had fewer clients than she really did.

The girl would curse and cry, saying she would eventually leave. The madam would hit her on the head with a bottle, as she did to any women who got out of line. There would be terrible scenes there when she fought.

The girls were often in debt and couldn’t leave without paying up. The madam had arrangements with the police and other men to bring the girls back when they ran off.

One day, Ninette gave the madam forty dollars and said she was leaving. The madam accused her of robbing the men. She kicked Ninette repeatedly in the stomach until she fell and then hit her in the face with a bottle. The narrator helped her to the bed. There was lots of blood. The madam came back, took all Ninette’s money, and pushed her down into the street.

In the next few days, some of the men asked about Ninette. The madam realized she shouldn’t have sent her away. She told them Ninette would be back soon.

The madam’s cook was a woman like the narrator, a black woman with French blood, and she helped her employer dominate the girls. The madam goes to her for help in finding Ninette, who seems to be out of the area. The cook knows a New Orleans charm that brings people home in seven days and makes them want to stay.

They gather up the traces of Ninette—hair, blood and the like—and mix it with water, milk and the madam’s spit.

In seven nights, Ninette comes back looking sick but happy to be there. The madam orders her to get dressed. Ninette was obedient and lived quietly from then on.

I hope this summary of “Magic” was helpful.