Marilee Davenport's life in Vancouver, Wash., was going down the toilet when she saw the ad for a traveling magic show. Hitting the road in a 42-foot semitrailer with a group of magicians seemed like a great way to change her life, so she applied.
The men in the show told head magician Stan Kramien if he ever hired another woman they would quit.
"So I had to prove that I could pull my weight, because women from the past hadn't," Davenport said. "On the first day, they were unloading this 300-pound illusion and I jumped up in the truck with them and carried it down the ramp."
She got the job.
Her first day at work, she started to notice a dark-haired truck driver, magician and stagehand named Royston Davenport -- and he noticed her.
Three days later, they were dating. Two months later, they were married.
She told her friends that she was engaged and that they would probably get married in San Francisco.
"They would have none of it," she said, they wanted her to get married then and there. "We had a bunch of musician friends, and they put together our wedding in three days. I borrowed a dress."
The newlyweds traveled with Kramien's big magic show for a few more years, until Kramien stopped traveling, "and we had to find something else to do with our lives," she said.
For a while, they lived in Denver, and Royston Davenport put on his own magic shows in Wyoming, Denver, Fort Collins and anywhere else in the area that would have him. Marilee was his "lovely assistant."
"I've been pushed through a buzzsaw. I've been levitated," she said. "Back then, we played at places like Magic Castle in Hollywood, back when we were young and pretty.
"I used to lay in the sword box illusion, but as I got older, it got a little harder and eventually the dog chewed up the sword box."
Marilee Davenport recalled their life together Tuesday, even as she was putting that life away. She just got rid of Royston's hospital bed. As she talks, she dusts off the coffee table, something that didn't seem so important weeks ago when her husband was still alive. They had so much to say to each other, even after 23 years of marriage, and so little time.
"What was he like? He was eccentric. Look around," she said.
Their house is creatively cluttered. An old, dark wood coffin serves as the coffee table. The walls are filled with antique posters of early 20th-century magic shows.
A glass case near the couch holds a skull, some dusty wooden ventriloquist dummies, magic cards and a tiny metal lock box containing Royston's ashes.
"He didn't care what people thought," she said. "He was a great entertainer, but at home he was very private. He didn't have a lot of visitors, except for our really close friends."
In his spare time, he enjoyed reading.
"He read books on every subject," she said. "He always surprised me. We would be watching Jeopardy and there would be a question about Sanskrit and he would know the answer. He knew all the answers. He had a garbage-can mind."
But he was also very kind and compassionate, she said. "We would cry over a Hallmark commercial, and he was not embarrassed about that."
The Davenports came to Steamboat after spotting an ad in Denver's Westword weekly newspaper for a new club opening in the Clock Tower Building of Ski Time Square. They needed musicians and performers. They needed a magician.
The couple got to Steamboat and was immediately embraced by the town's theater community.
They met Doug Lockwood and his wife, Nancy Preston, who became their closest friends.
"There were two aspects to Royston," Lockwood said. "There was his public persona, his stage persona. He took a lot of pride in that part of who he was. But he was also a family guy.
"He was an incredibly smart man and he was an authority on magic and the craft of illusion. I would pull out a trick and he could tell me who invented it. I think he was more knowledgeable about it than anyone knew."
Ironically, Royston Davenport was best known for the balloon animals he made at children's parties.
"He was trying to make a living as a magician, which is tough to do in a small mountain town."
The Davenports left Steamboat for a short time in the early 1990s for a magic club in Vail, but their ties to Steamboat were too strong to stay away for long. They returned a year and a half later, settling in Hayden, and have been here ever since.
The tables turned in January, when Royston Davenport was diagnosed with cancer. The disease spread to his liver and after six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer remained in his body.
"He was miserable," Marilee Davenport said. "It was like a train speeding downhill."
On April 25, the oncologist told the Davenports that he had two months to live.
Royston Davenport died Monday, May 19.
"He was mentally with us until three days before the end," she said. "He spent the last days in and out of a morphine dream.
"Since January, we had our times when we talked and cried, but we thought we had time. He didn't want to die. He was panicking toward the end, so they had him on sedation.
"He didn't have the time to make peace with death. He wasn't happy about it."
It was not easy to leave his son, R.J., or his wife behind.
"It would have been nice if there had been a miracle, but there wasn't. We really were soul mates. I think most people go through their whole life and never find that."
Marilee Davenport was by her husband's side when he died and stayed as the nurses changed the bed and wrapped the body.
"They were tying the plastic sheet around his body and I said, 'you better tie that tight. He can get out of a straitjacket in less than 30 seconds."