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Mise en Abyme: Part II


It was the first time the traveling magician had planned ahead for a show. He would go from town to town alone, doing tricks in the parks and empty, rural lots for children passing by.

The swatches of green and brown country roads were his home and he never stayed in the same place for more than a few nights. The families would always try to hire him to do birthdays but he never accepted any jobs or money, not even a tip off the street. But this town loved him more than all the others and he wanted to show them something truly amazing. He had some of the children put up posters all over town about a magic show in the park that night. It was the most exciting thing to happen since a circus with real elephants had come through last summer.

The magician wore a black suit with a single red flower on the lapel. He was very quiet and polite, raising his hat to the ladies walking with their daughters to the corner store. Anyone who might have been suspicious about the tall stranger in a small town would be immediately won over by his quiet, constructed, closed lip smile.

As the sun set, nearly the entire town came to a small park by the community center. Only a few families stayed behind with children who were sick from the flu that had been going around town. The sick children wallowed in their disappointment but there was one little girl, a bright and curious child, who was not to be deterred by a fever.

She had seen the man once the last time he came. The man had walked down the road and stopped to talk to her. She remembered him complimenting the ribbon in her hair, then making a quarter appear from thin air, which he’d given to her for candy at the store. She liked the man and wanted to see him again. So, with her runny nose and red cheeks, she slipped out the back door after her mother had tucked her in.

The show was lit by torches that had been stuck in the dirt of a field used for soccer practices. The air was cool and the sound of crickets permeated the silence of a crowd waiting to be amazed. People were sitting on blankets and lawn chairs the way they did for the 4th of July. Some even brought sparklers. The magician stood before them all. In the darkness, only the red flower of his jacket stood out, gleaming in the fire’s light.

He began by making one of the torches fly. It soared through the crowd, minding the women’s hair and the children’s grabbing hands, and landed at the man’s feet. He did card tricks, illusions, and cut the librarian, Renee, in half like she was butter. When she got out of the box she took a bow and the magician pulled another flower from his sleeve for her. It was as red as her blush when she took it.

The girl arrived at the show about halfway through. She was entranced by the sparkling lights and the rabbit the man pulled out his hat. He barely said a word, only bellowed with joy when the town applauded him.

Finally, it was time for the last trick. He asked for a volunteer and the girl shot her hand up, waving it wildly, but she was too far back for him to see. A chubby little boy made his way to the front instead to take the magician’s outstretched glove.

The magician produced a mirror from his back pocket. It started out as a small square in the palm of his hand with a delicate silver frame. Then he shook it. It became clearer, bigger, and by the time he was done it was a full-length mirror, which the magician held up and turned to face the boy. He asked in a low voice for the boy to stick his hand into the mirror. The boy did. The magician turned the mirror so the crowd could see that the boy’s hand was not coming out the other side. It was somewhere else. The magician asked the boy the stick his other hand into the mirror. The boy did. Then the magician asked the boy to stick his entire head into the mirror. The boy did and as he stood there, halfway inside the mirror, most of the audience regained their belief in real magic.

After the show, the families packed up and left. Children swung on their parents’ arms, excitedly recapping all of the tricks they had just seen. But the girl stayed behind, walking against the flow until the field was empty and she stood before the magician. He looked down at her with a soft gleam in his eye and pulled another red flower out from his sleeve.

The girl took the flower but continued to stand there, looking over the tall man in the dark suit. The magician put up a single gloved finger to his lips and the girl repeated the gesture, giggling as she copied him. The magician smiled his constant soft smile. From his pocket, he pulled the same mirror as before, shaking it out to full size and turning it around to face the girl. In the mirror, she saw herself and the darkness of the barren field around her. She looked up at the man and he nodded. The girl tapped the surface of the mirror and it rippled like water. She rubbed it and it felt like glass.

The girl slowly put one arm into mirror and it felt warm and airy like the front porch of her house where she would sit in a rocking chair with her mother. The girl put her other arm into the mirror and felt the soft leaves of a blackberry bush so much like the one that grew in her front yard. The girl took a breath and put her head into the mirror.

According to the town, she just got lost. The official story is she wanted to see a friend, but with her fever she had forgotten the way. She probably wandered away into the woods and fell into the river or fell asleep under some bushes. The gossipy old ladies would say she was eaten by a mountain lion. No one thought anything more than that. Surely there was no one here she would have gone off with, no one who would not have returned her had they found her. No one could ask the magician because he never came back. He left town that same night, walking the familiar tree-lined roads to some other, sleepy town. Even if someone had asked it wouldn’t have led to anything. The man would’ve leaned down with his soft smile and gloved hands to give them a glimmer of something wonderful, something good and genuine. He would’ve melted off the questions like butter had they even been asked. And then he would have brushed the dust off his suit jacket and carried on his way, somewhere.

First appeared in Camas Magazine, Winter 2019