Madison, Wisconsin, USA
It's winter dusk—a faded, in-between sort of time—and my mother and I are standing in a wallpapered hallway—a faded, in-between sort of place—accompanied by a large man who is wearing a dark suit and fluttering with apparent anxiety. We can't stay long, he tells us, showing us a trolley on which something human-shaped is lying, covered with a sheet. His implication seems to be that this indeterminate form is my father, but I'm not fooled by this story; it's the usual magician's patter, a way to distract us from the sleight of hand being performed. I'm curious, though, about what will be under there, exactly. A raft of rabbits, a drift of doves? A float of pink carnations? A thousand bright silk handkerchiefs?
in and out of winter ready or not
Abracadabra!—pulling back the sheet from my supposed father, we find him transformed into a doll, a puppet, a cold and eerily motionless replica of himself. The likeness is astounding. The things they can do with mirrors! I put a hand to his cheek. It feels as if it's made of some very soft, pliable sort of clay. Magician's clay, perhaps they call it. I picture the page of the compendium of magic tricks in which this one is described. The Victorian illustrations, the magician wearing a handlebar moustache and a cravat. The diagram of the secret panel behind which the living man is concealed. The rotation of the chamber to present the mock man to the audience. A flourish of the wand.
reading a thin pamphlet
about the future
Through the hall window the sky has deepened to navy and the moon has begun to shine dully. The features of the father-doll recede and blur. The magician flutters at our backs. It's time to go, he says, the show is over. This, too, doesn't deceive me. The grand finale has yet to come—the restoration of the living man to the stage. We allow the large man to draw up the sheet, to push the trolley into another room. Soon he'll bring it back and let us pull away the sheet again. My father will climb smilingly down; we'll all applaud while the dark-suited man bows, no longer anxious but proud of his skill at concealment and misdirection.
last bus out of town ice moon
We'll all walk together out of the hall and out of this stiff, formal building, discussing magic and its mysteries. Perhaps my father will tell us how the trick is performed, or perhaps he has been sworn to secrecy. He'll smile at us mysteriously, tell us we should volunteer ourselves someday, agree to be replaced and then restored. There's nothing frightening about it, after all, he'll say. A little boring, maybe. You just lie there for a while, listening to voices and sensing the growing darkness. I might have dozed off for a while there, he'll say. But I enjoyed the rest, I admit. In fact I don't see why you had to wake me at all, he'll joke, looking up, as we leave the house, at the first bright star in the blue-black sky.
a blaze consumes
what's left of him