Stacked

Fiction

Marley Simmons Abril

            Upstairs in my bedroom after school I practice card tricks with Rusty. The house is pre-dinner quiet, and I like this austere mood for my magic act so I close the shades to dim the room, give it atmosphere. The trick is a new one I’m learning called Acey Deucy. The magic tricks are out of a book I got for my birthday, which I asked for special. The book’s real title is Unmasking Magic, but I call it my Magic Tome because it’s so huge. It’s encyclopedic, an opus, a font of cool stuff like card tricks and coin tricks and scarf tricks and that one with the ball under the cups. Astonish your friends, it promises on the back cover. Your family will be bamboozled.

            First, I show Rusty that it’s a regular deck of cards, and then I tell her I’m going to cut the deck until she says to stop. I split and stack the cards, split and stack. Rusty is one hundred percent pedigreed Walker hound and has a tail like a thumb that she thumps on the carpet. I tell her to pick the two off the very top of the deck. “Memorize them now, but don’t tell me what they are because I will find them later.” These are the secret cards. Rusty can’t pick cards, but I use her to practice my lines, my delivery. It looks like a hard trick but is actually really easy. I practice cutting the deck with only one hand. “That’s called the Hindu Shuffle,” I tell Rusty, and it’s the opposite: it looks easy but is really actually hard. Downstairs, the house phone clangs in the front hall.

            At school today I chanced a trick for Eddie. “Pick one,” I said, and I spun the deck out in front of him. “Then put it back and I’ll guess it.” It was lunch recess and we stood on the soccer field, and seagulls floated around above us peering down at the grass for worms or beetles or pretzel crumbs or whatever. Emmaline and Lacey ran past with their arms over their heads, shrieking. Eddie was wearing mittens, his favorite mittens, which were red with white maple leaves on the palms and he blinked them shut then open in front of my card deck: no leaf, leaf, no leaf, leaf. Emmaline and Lacey hid under the slide in a ruckus, a roil, of giggles.

            “Can’t, mate,” Eddie said.

            That was something he’d picked up from somewhere, mate, and he told me his gloves were too warm so he couldn’t take them off. Not outside. And I hated it, but that made me feel grouchy. I wanted to tell him that they were mittens, not gloves, with the fingers all together like that, and he could take one off, just for a moment, to pick a card and see my trick but he shut his palms and jammed both hands in his coat pockets. No leaf. I wondered if Emmaline or Lacey would pick a card, but then the bell hollered us back to class and the girls bolted like deer from the playground. Eddie ran too. The gulls circled lower. It was not a bad thing to get pooped on, it was a lucky thing, and I walked slow back to the classroom hoping, but the seagulls just went and squatted on the frosty grass, honking into empty air.

            --

            Upstairs in my room I practice a coin trick with a silver dollar. There’s one called the French Drop, and it works by pretending to pass the coin from one hand into your other but really you just let it fall into the same palm and then let the hand hang casual at your side while you distract your audience with the empty hand. The coin is right there the whole time but your audience doesn’t notice because you use diversion. Rusty is easily diverted by most anything that moves. The Magic Tome suggests revealing the coin by pushing it slow from behind your fingers, like it’s materialized out of the air, and I try to reveal it that way from behind Rusty’s ear but she follows my hand around her face and won’t keep still for it.

            I go downstairs to see if Mom or Sister will watch my trick. I find Mom in the kitchen, cutting broccoli into little trees. I grab one, a floret, and crunch it in my teeth. On the stove, water in a big pot boils like a swamp.

            “No more,” she says. Her hair is up in a bun that she fastened with a paintbrush.

            I peek into the salad bowl. She has cut carrots into discs and I take the biggest one I can find. “I can make this disappear,” I tell her, and hold it up in one hand. She scoops all the florets into the salad bowl and pauses to watch me, holding the knife up. I use the French Drop to pretend to pass it and I hold the carrot at my side. “Where’d the carrot go?” I prompt. I wave my right hand and flutter my fingers around to show I’m not hiding anything. But the carrot all along is still in my left hand and it’s waiting on my fingertips to reappear in my pocket or my shoe or behind Mom’s ear, but then Rusty comes into the kitchen and she finds it first, and nips it out of my palm.

            Mom eyes Rusty behind me, then sets the knife down and turns to the stove. She scissors open a sack of noodles and dumps the whole bag in the pot.

            “No, wait. Can I have one more?” I ask her, and reach for the salad bowl.

            “After dinner,” she promises, and moves the bowl aside. “Find your sister. Both of you wash up.”

            Rusty follows me into the living room, still crunching the carrot. Sister isn’t on the couch and the TV is off. I swipe my slobbered hand on my pants while I listen, but I don’t hear her anywhere so I go to the front hall and near the coat closet the wall phone is off its cradle and the cord stretches over the key table and down the hall and dips under the front door clear outside.

            When I pull open the door Sister’s leaning on it and she tips backwards with a little yell. The sun is low and pink and the shadows of the trees and the fence and the lightpole all stab straight at the porch, at us. She is holding the phone on her shoulder, and takes one hand out of its pocket to remove the phone from her ear.

            “Yes?”

            “What are you doing?” I ask her.

            “What does it look like I’m doing?” She says it in her I’m-older-than-you voice. “I’m stargazing.”

            She’s wearing sunglasses. I look up, and behind the house where the sky is bluer I can see one point of light but it’s probably Venus, not a star, and I’m about to tell her that but she’s back on the phone saying she has to go and she’ll call tomorrow.

            “Dinner,” she reports into the phone, like it’s a punishment.

            --

             After dinner I bring the Magic Tome downstairs to try a new trick, a cup trick, because Mom promised. She is at her desk in the corner and Sister is on the couch watching TV. Sister aims the remote at the TV set like it’s a gun. Bang! Indiana Jones, which I think is a great movie but Sister isn’t partial to such exploits, such escapades, and so Bang! she punches at the remote and then a lady walks into a kitchen to loud cheering.

            “Come see a trick,” I say to Mom, and I drop the book down on the coffee table. It’s so huge that it rattles the coasters out of their little stack and that gets Rusty excited so she goes to run in circles around the kitchen table. Sister blows air out through her nose. Mom is busy and doesn’t say anything. I clear a space on the coffee table and push at Sister’s feet, which aren’t supposed to be up, but she kicks back and pinches her eyebrows at me and turns the TV up louder.

            “Watch this!” I say to her. I want to show her the cup and ball trick, which the Magic Tome says is a party classic that has confounded audiences for a hundred years. I have a marble, not a ping-pong ball like the book suggests, and that’s not ideal because it makes noises rolling around, but Sister won’t hear it over the TV. I go to the hutch, the credenza, where we keep the eggcups which we never use for eggs but are perfect for the trick because they aren’t see-through and they don’t have handles so they stack. I take three.

            Mom, without even looking, says, “Don’t use those.”

            I don’t like it, but I put them back. “Okay, watch me make this marble disappear,” I say to Sister.

            Rusty comes to the couch and sits and thumps her tail. She’s quiet for a second but on the TV a bell chimes and that sends her to the front door where she howls out the mail slot. I hold the marble in my fist.

            “Can you make your dog disappear?” Sister asks, and just sits there on the couch squinting at the TV.

            I hate it, but that makes me feel whiney. “Come on, it’s quick. It’s slight-of-hand.”

            Sister puts on the voice and says, “I can’t. I’m perusing the television offerings.” Bang!, people dressed in blue in a courtroom, all looking confused.

            I ask, “Do you mean you’re studying them thoroughly, because that’s what perusing means even though most people misuse it to mean—”

            “Mom!!”

            I’m not even finished before she shouts like I punched her. Rusty barks three times and then howls again.

            “Mom!!”

            I say, “Mo-om,” and Sister shouts at the same time to mom that I’m bothering her. I say I’m not bothering her I’m trying to entertain her but she says both me and the stupid dog are bothering her and turns the TV up to maximum volume, which only makes Rusty bark more, and I’m frustrated so I put my knuckles between my teeth and Sister says she’s never going to watch my stupid trick now and leans forward on the couch so she can ignore me by looking extra interested in the courtroom show, but I know as a fact that she doesn’t care for television dramas.

            Mom, who is for real perusing her student essays, puts down her grading pen and says, “Do we need to conference this?”

            That cools us fast because, whatever else, we both hate conferencing.

            I swing my coat off its hanger and Rusty and I slip outside. It’s full dark. The night is so cold it feels airless, and the stars are bright as flashlights, bouncing around up there. Rusty howls at the treetops. I wish that I had gloves, or mittens, and pull my hands up into my coatsleeves. I think of the Magic Tome on the coffee table, and it occurs to me that they misused the word bamboozled. They meant to say amazed or astounded or flabbergasted, because they are fun tricks not mean tricks, but no one cares about the tricks either way. Nobody is anything but bothered by them. I hate it, but that makes me feel sad, and we just stand out there on the porch together, me and Rusty, astonished at the sky.



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