So it’s been a little difficult to get in touch for a minute now. Not exactly sure why the communication breakdown came into play. I’m sorry if I did anything that might have caused it. Something doesn’t feel quite right, though. That usually means something's wrong. So at this point, I don’t think I'll be driving to the city next weekend. Which is a bummer, because I was really looking forward to seeing you.
I think I have a few pieces of the puzzle, but I wish I knew how to put them together. You know, to better understand what I'm looking at. So I'm down for a talk whenever you are. If not, I get it. I'll always give you a call when I'm back in town, though. You know, when I'm kickin' around in the neighborhood.
It’s 5:16 in the morning. I have the entire row to myself. I stretch out, taking advantage of the extra space and lay my head against the window. The lights on the tip of the wing flicker on and off, bathing the aisle in shades of red. A sharp ding rings out, breaking the silence of the cabin. The flight attendant begins the in-flight welcome, followed by the obligatory rules and regulations. No one looks up. No one stirs. No one cares.
The intercom goes silent. I look down at my phone, the brightness of the screen catches me off-guard. “Goddamnit,” I mumble as I adjust the brightness and check my notifications. The weather isn’t looking any better. Boston is expecting a storm. A big one. A ‘Nor’easter,’ apparently. The biggest one they’ve had in years, and I’m headed right for it. Two performances for an audience of whoever turns up. That’s if I make it on time. That’s if I even make it at all. Jesus, who the hell does this? Who the hell runs towards a storm? Much less for a handful of shows where they might end up playing to an empty room. I could be in bed. Asleep. Next to her. Yet here I am, chasing after a little bit of magic in the lunacy. They might be the same thing. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.
A Coin Trick
The boy that had come to be known around town as Magic Man had all but disappeared. Borrowed finger rings no longer vanished before re-appearing on keychains, driver licenses no longer inexplicably changed places, and dollar bills no longer morphed inside out. There was talk among the bartenders that the boy had moved to New York, maybe even California, during the summer leaving the small river town behind. Some of his friends even joked that he left for the hill country and joined a band of robbers just like Huckleberry Finn. After a season of rumor and slander, the boy no longer needed to raise eyebrows. He didn’t want any more noise. “Magic Man! Hey, Magic Man!” called out a group of fraternity brothers as the boy walked through the door. “That’s you, right? You’re the guy?!” said a baseball-capped brother as they made their way from the bar towards him. “They’re still calling me that?” asked the boy as he extended his hand. “Dude, yes! We’ve heard so much about you!” said the baseball-capped brother as he shook his hand. “Yeah, people said you like, died or something!" chimed another. “Yeah, no. I’m still around,” replied the boy. “Here this is for you,” said another one as he handed him a shot of whiskey. “Tina said it’s your favorite.” The boy turned to see Tina waving from behind the bar as she served up a line of beers. He had missed her. “We’d love to see a little magic if you’re up for it!” blurted the frat brother excitedly. The boy froze, stunned by the sudden request. He met Tina’s gaze in subtle desperation. She always had a quick getaway for him but not tonight. She shrugged as she gave him one of her signature winks in-between pours. The boy took a short breath. "No pressure, though! I’m sure you get this a lot!" said the frat brother uneasily. “No," replied the boy as he exhaled. "No, it’s totally fine," he continued as he found his rhythm. "Let’s go ahead and throw these back first, yeah?” “Oh, hell yeah!” shouted another of the frat brothers. “I like him already!” The group picked up their drinks, raised them up, brought them down, and threw them back. The boy set his glass down on the bar and gave Tina one last look as she gathered up the empty glasses. The whiskey warmed his chest as he slowly rolled up his sleeves and rubbed his hands together. His left arm, breaking at the elbow, drew all attention to his palm-up empty hand. The frat brothers leaned in as his fingers closed softly around his palm. His fist, frozen in place, remained still as his other hand reached up and took a cigarette from the mouth of the baseball-capped brother. He took a slow drag from the cigarette, thanking its owner with a slight nod. He peered back at his closed hand and slowly blew a steady stream of smoke towards it. After a brief moment and slight twitch of his hand, the smoke dissolved as he slowly opened his fingers revealing a large, glimmering, Morgan silver dollar. The crowd that had huddled around him took a step back in surprise as the coin came into view. Tina laughed as glasses clinked against one another sending drops of whiskey and vodka onto the boy’s boots while the fraternity brothers shoved each other in disbelief. She had seen this happen a thousand times. It never got old. “What in the hell!” exclaimed the smoker as puffs of smoke escaped his mouth and nostrils. “Your hand was empty!” “No! No, fucking way!” shouted another next to him. “That coin is huge! There’s just no way!” “I’d like to see that again,” said a voice cutting through the noise from behind. The boy turned around straining his eyes in search of the voice against the buzz of the neon green sign. It wasn’t Tina’s and it definitely hadn’t come from the mustached cowboy watching from the bar. He scanned a few more faces before one took a step forward. He gauged her at about five feet tall. The blue of her eyes stood out even within the darkly lit room. Her shoulders, exposed due to the cut of her blouse, framed her chin against the blonde hair that ran down the side of her cheeks and in turn accentuated her smile. “What’s your name?” he asked softly as he took a step towards her extending his hand. “Sunnie,” she replied as she took his hand. It was soft and small. His hand almost engulfed it. She smiled. He smiled back. “Alright, Sunnie,” he responded. “Let’s be honest, this coin didn’t just appear in my hand.” “No, of course not. It’s a trick.” “Exactly.” “No! That’s bullshit! That’s real magic, man! I saw it,” shouted the smoker. “I wish it was,” responded the boy with a chuckle. “It would make my life a whole a lot easier.” “Oh, I’m sure it would,” responded Sunnie playfully. “Dude, the hell it would!” shouted one of the frat brothers. “Free drinks for life!” “Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad!” added Sunnie. “Is that one of your secrets?” she asked the boy. “Turning tricks for drinks?” “Guilty,” he responded half-coyly. "Well, at least it's original," she said with a smile. The boy dropped the coin onto Sunnie's palm. The weight of it took her by surprise. She turned it over in her hands and held it up to the light, her fingers moving softly across lady liberties face as it reflected the soft neon. “You know,” he began “the only reason you know the coin is in your hand is because you can see it and you can feel it. The weight isn’t a lot but it’s more than an average coin.” “Yeah, that’s pretty spot-on,” she replied. “I’ve never actually held one of these before.” “Well,” he said as he took the coin dropping it into his other hand. “That’s even better. As far as you’re concerned, this could just be a figment of your imagination.” He took her hand and placed it around his wrist. She tightened her grip. Nothing was getting by her this time. She made sure of that. “You’ve got to admit, though. Even if it is, it’s pretty damn convincing,” he said as he slowly extended his fingers one by one opening his hand. Sunnie took a step back, her mouth spreading wide as she gasped. The coin was gone. “Oh, shit! There he goes again, man!” exclaimed the smoker. “No, okay! That’s it, dude. I’m out of here!” shouted the brother next to him as he made his way to the door beer in hand. Sunnie, caught between a laugh and a smile, grabbed both of the boy’s wrists and turned his hands over. Nothing. She raised his arms. Nothing. She checked under the clasp of his watch, but still she found nothing. The coin had simply and completely disappeared. “May I?” asked the boy as he gestured towards the hair by her cheek. She nodded. His right hand moved past her right cheek and softly grazed the tip of her ear. She gasped as he pulled his hand back revealing the large silver coin as it flickered into view at his fingertips. She let loose a loud laugh, throwing her hands up to the side of her head as she surrendered all logic to the moment. The boy, smiling, turned towards the bar to see the mustached cowboy tip his hat in appreciation while Tina lined up a pair of shots amidst another signature wink. The group of fraternity brothers disbanded shaking their heads in amusement. “Man,” said the baseball-capped frat brother as he walked away. “Maybe I should start carrying one of those dollar coins too!” "Who you kiddin'? You'd lose it the minute you'd set foot on the Square!" “So,” said Sunnie in between a smile as the noise of the group faded away, “You’re the Magic Man?” “Yeah,” began the boy hesitantly. “I guess I am.” “You guess?” “Well, I wasn’t exactly sure there for a moment.” “Why is that?” “It’s kind of a long story.” “Those are my favorite,” she replied as the boy’s gaze made his way towards the drinks on the bar. All he had to do was ask. Sunnie would probably say yes, but it had been a long couple of months spent in repair. He wasn’t ready to be so willing. “You know,” began Sunnie as she picked up both drinks from the bar with a soft smile. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about you,” she continued as she handed him his drink. The boy, taken by surprise looked down at his glass and then back at her as a slow-burning spark of excitement gradually filled his chest. “They’re all true,” he responded with a soft grin as he raised his glass towards her. “You seem pretty sure of that. What if they’re all horrible?” “I’m willing to say those are the best ones,” he replied playfully. Sunnie, taken by the boy’s new-found disposition, aligned her eyes with his before smiling. He smiled back. Her glass joined his completing the toast as they threw their drinks back together. “So, what’s your real name Magic Man?” she asked as the whiskey warmed both of their chests. “Peter,” replied the boy. “My name is Peter.”
Six HUndred Square Feet
Originally published in Persona Magazine 2019.
The girl’s arm, having slipped tightly around his, felt right at home. The streetlight reflected off of their black leather boots as the couple made their way down LBJ Drive. A trombone player in full swing greeted them with a series of jazzy notes as they reached the safety of the sidewalk. The boy’s pace livened as he took the girl by the waist and led her towards the music. He shimmied, she swam. He mashed potatoed, she hand-jived. He smiled, she laughed. A few weekend wreckers joined in on the fun of the impromptu dance floor while others chased the high of the weekend. The couple didn't know the difference. They didn't care. They just loved the music. One song later found the boy leaving a few bills in the music man's case as the couple stole away to the quiet of the lesser known bars of their college town. The bartenders, greeting the boy with a hug, poured the couple's drinks for free while the girl picked apart just how they knew her companion. Some of the bartenders laughed and a few shared a story or two. The smart ones were quick with another round before the couple made their exit. It wasn't too often that the boy paraded his company, but she deserved to be seen. Every few steps he would stop and give her a quick twirl just to see her move. Her tattoos, flickering in and out of sight, came alive under the light of the store-front windows. They passed the late-night sandwich shop and dragged themselves away from the fresh baked scent of the cookie shop next to it. Stopping in front of the old radio station on Guadalupe, they stared through the window at the humming machinery, wondering what music was being poured into the radios of the late-night truckers. In a moment stolen from their admiration of the vinyl stacked shelves, the girl drew the boy away from the window and into the crevice between the pillar and the wall. Her hands, pulling the collar of his shirt, guided him to her neck. His nose traced the outline of her jaw while his hands moved firmly from her neck to the small of her back. Her bottom lip, caught amongst his teeth, shivered as she felt his knees give way. His nose, making its way down from her jaw, lingered at her chest before it drew a path from her stomach to her waist and nestled itself between her thighs. The chatter and drunken laughter they thought they left behind steadily approached. There was no point in trying to hide it. The group, sighting the couple from across the street, gave them a cheer while the girl let loose a laugh. The boy, still on his knees between her thighs, simply gave them a childish smile and waved as the group staggered down the street. "What are you doing?" she asked, stretched out against the brick wall with a knowing half-smile. He looked up at her, eyebrow half-cocked and chuckled. He rose slowly, her lips meeting his half-way before they made their way around the corner and down the block to his apartment. The descent down the stairs to his door could be unforgiving, but she steered herself as effortlessly as she took her liquor. With the bedroom being just a few steps too far, they settled for the couch. As she sat on the edge to remove her boots, the girl struggled with the zipper. He took her leg, one hand at the crook of her knee and the other at the ankle, and softly undid the stubborn tab of metal. First the right foot, then the left before he placed her boots by the doorway next to his. They stretched out over the couch as she undid the buttons of his shirt. "Give me a minute," she said, smiling as she got up and made her way to the restroom. The boy, composing himself amidst the tequila, watched as she made her way down the hall. A soft click and the bathroom light illuminated her face. Her nose, slender and sleek, led the way while the rest of her followed before disappearing into the warm glow as the door closed behind her. As he settled into the moment, he wondered whether the weekend wreckers had scored and whether they would survive the rush. He wondered whether the truckers had found a tune and how much the music man cleared in tips. Hearing the door open behind him, the boy turned to see the girl leaning against the door frame. Her eyes, peering softly at him, reflected a hue of green within their shade of brown. He had not noticed that before. Her hair brushed the side of her cheek as she slowly made her way towards him and softly took his hand pulling him up and away from the couch. The couple stumbled down the hallway before arriving at the foot of his bed where they began to find their way about one another in the dark. Their laughter, set against the backdrop of a distant trombone, drowned out the noise of the weekend wreckers and the footsteps from the neighbors above. The boy opened his eyes to the sobering quiet of his room. Beside him, under the sunlight peering through his bedroom window, was the girl. Her soft snores, keeping rhythm with the rise and fall of her chest, were a welcomed change to the boy’s six hundred square feet of space. He made his way towards the kitchen and grabbed the bottle of aspirin from the cupboard. He washed his down with a gulp of Gatorade while he grabbed an unopened bottle for her. His phone, charging on the kitchen counter, read a quarter to eleven. The Chinese place down the street would start delivering soon. He placed an order for some of their favorite entrees, something he had grown used to during their late-night library sessions throughout the years, as he softly set the aspirin and Gatorade by the nightstand next to her. A few minutes later found the girl yawning and stretching back to life as she re-adjusted herself, laying her head on his lap. “Honestly,” he began as he looked at her. “Why did it take us so long to make this happen?” “We hadn’t had the right mix of alcohol yet,” she said sleepily as they laughed. She sat up, stretching her neck from side to side as her fingers worked her hair into a bun. She smiled at him as she reached for the aspirin and Gatorade. He smiled back. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said lightheartedly. “I’m glad we did this.” “So am I,” she replied. “Was I worth the effort, though?” she asked playfully. “You’re always worth the effort.” “Good answer,” she said as she stole a kiss. There was a knock at the door. “Chinese,” he stated. “Oh, man. I could use some Chinese,” she said eagerly. The boy got up from the bed and made his way to the door. The delivery boy thanked him for the tip and went on his way. The boy closed the door and placed the stack of boxes on the coffee table. The couch, with its throw pillows strewn about from the night before, unfolded into a lounge-bed where the boy spread out the boxes of food. “So, New York, huh?” she asked in between a bite of chicken. “Yeah.” “You excited?” “Ask me tomorrow morning when I’m on the plane.” “Oh, please. You live for this stuff. Even I’m excited for you.” “Well then come with me,” he said looking up from his box of rice. “Very funny,” she replied. “I have classes to teach, you know.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right. You’re a little tall to fit in my carry-on anyway,” he retorted as she softly kicked him with her foot. “I’d be the best travel companion, though” she said teasingly. “Well, let’s do it then,” he said with a smile as he put down his food. "Let's go to New York." The girl couldn’t help but smile. She struggled to suppress it. It took a moment but her smile soon faded as she settled into her disposition. She cleared her throat. “Look,” she began steadily. “All of this, all of last night, it was fun. You’re so much fun, and I love being around you,” she said as she slowly found her cadence. “It’s just that I have a lot going on right now.” “Hey, come on now,” he started. “I’m good with a lot of things but I’m especially good with you,” he said earnestly. “I don’t want you to think that I’m backing you into a corner or chasing you up a tree here. I’m just doing what we’re supposed to be doing. You know, talking. Level with me here.” There was a long pause between them. The girl looked down at her box of rice, slowly picking at it with her chopsticks while his fingers toyed with a soy sauce packet. “He’s coming back next semester.” The boy stopped twiddling with the packet. His mouth ran dry. He stared at her as he struggled to construct a mask of nonchalance. “Good. That’s good,” he said, attempting indifference. “I figured you’d be happy for me,” she said hesitantly. “Difficult when you’re waking up in my apartment.” "I thought you would understand.” “That’s the thing. I understand perfectly.” “Do you?” “Yeah," he started "but what’s fucking with me is that you knew.” “I knew what?” “That I was about you.” The girl looked back down at her plate. Her brow furrowed in thought while the boy ran through the events of the night before. He hadn’t expected to find himself in this situation. To be wasting time with her. Maybe someone else, but not with her. Not with her. “Look, I know how this goes,” he said as he edged his box of rice away from him. “Let’s not make this anymore awkward than it has to be. I’ll just chalk it up as another Friday night.” “You don’t have to be an asshole about it.” “I’m just being straightforward.” “I thought I was.” “Only after the fact,” he answered sharply. “You should have just told me the truth.” “What would that be?” “That you don’t like sleeping alone.” “Oh, fuck you!” “The minute you found out he was coming back you got bored of me,” he said coldly. "So, what? Were you just killing time?” “That’s not fair.” “How long have you known?” “A few weeks,” she answered. "A few weeks," he repeated softly. “We’ve been in touch pretty consistently for a while now,” she continued as her voice slowly trailed off re-exploring that summer in Europe. The boy had heard it all before. He found himself starting to mentally review the next day’s travel itinerary. It would be Sunday, so traffic wouldn’t be too bad. He would have to be up by three just to be at the airport by five. The mornings had been cool lately, a light jacket and hat would be best. He wasn’t checking any luggage and being TSA approved just made things easier. Early morning flights weren’t his favorite, but they were almost always quiet. He would have time to think about everything then. The empty seat next to him he had reserved a few weeks prior assured him of that. He could use the extra elbow room. "You're not even going to try to be mature about it? " she asked condescendingly. "I don't really have the effort for it anymore."