He appeared in the center of the theatre stage in a space where mere moments before there had been nothing. Illuminated now by a blue spotlight and as the smoke cleared here for all to see was Edward Opulence Magician Extraordinaire.
Cheap trick, really, but the punters demand a grand entrance.
He bowed. The secret trapdoor bowed. The audience roared. Applause echoed around the thousand-seater auditorium, filled to capacity for the first show of his three-night run. Edward Opulence, after twenty years of back alley performances, had finally made the Big Time.
He jiggled, jived, danced to stage right for the setup of the next illusion. He noticed a small tear in his pants near the crotch. He’d caught himself on a pokey nail in the secret trapdoor.
That’s clumsy, Emma. You’re lucky you’re my wife – I’ve fired people for less than this.
Emma danced past him, all glitter and smoke. She and her chorus of dancers provided eye candy and misdirection. Their beauty bore a simple truth: no illusion succeeded without their particular magic. Edward’s act had soared to this dizzying height because of the three years that Emma had been his director.
Two assistants wrapped chains around Edward’s chest and limbs. He was shackled, helpless. The dancers shimmied around his position. Long legs and sparkles. Hard to resist.
A magician has needs.
A cloth sack was placed over his head and his entire body threaded into it and the opening secured with thick padlocks and chains that could anchor the Titanic.
Forty-three girls pirouetted across the sprung deck of the picture frame stage.
Edward snapped his fingers.
A puff of smoke.
Edward exploded from the center of a giant pink-frosted wedding cake all the way across the theater and amid startled spectators who convulsed and clapped. Edward noticed the small cupid balancing on a chocolate swing on top of the cake.
Ridiculous womanly flourish. Emma might have invented this trick, but it’s mine now.
After the show, back in the dressing room, Edward stepped out of his bejeweled tuxedo and dragged his stumpy fat legs into some slacks. Emma entered the room.
“We’re in the big time, now,” he said. “No more messing up, you get it?”
“The girls and I were immaculate tonight. Best we’ve ever been.”
He poked his index finger through the rip in his pants near the crotch. “You’re there to assist, so assist.”
“Don’t point that finger at me.”
Edward swiveled his index finger away from her. “It’s not even loaded. I don’t know what you’re worrying about.”
“Never ever point that finger at me again.”
“Or I walk out and never come back.”
Edward laughed it off, took her hand and kissed it. “Just kidding with you, pumpkin. You were marvelous tonight.”
“I know. And I’ll be better tomorrow night. We have some critics coming to watch.”
Edward returned to the mirror, selected a spatula and scrapped off a thick layer of makeup from his perma-tanned face. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “What if we try the Disappearing Act?”
Emma dry swallowed. “We’re not ready. It’s too dangerous.”
“Pumpkin, we need to give the audience more—”
“I know that,” she said. “I’m the one got us here. These are my tricks you’re performing. And the Disappearing Act is just not ready. Ok?”
Edward conceded with a barely noticeable nod.
Emma took a book called Pepper’s Ghost from the dressing table, placed it in her handbag and walked toward the door. “The taxi’s here.”
“I thought I’d stay behind a little while.”
Emma stopped but did not turn around to face him.
“I need to get in some practice,” Edward said. “I don’t want to mess up my big break.”
When Emma left, Edward scrutinized the chorus of girls gathered in the hallway outside his dressing room. They glimmered magically in the subdued yellow light backstage.
I wonder which one of them is the most suggestible to hypnosis?
A girl with pearls for teeth smiled at him.
Hopefully all of them.
Edward checked his store-bought hair in the mirror, popped a breath mint into his mouth and glided toward the refrain of girls.
On the second night, some national newspaper critics were in the audience, front row seats. A chorus of girls dragged The Iron Boot onto the stage. Edward was about to perform his favorite illusion. His feet would be clamped into the metal prison, but after a puff of smoke he would re-appear among the audience sat next to the critics. This trick was his biggest crowd pleaser.
The actual trick was simple. You see he had a clubfoot – two of them to be precise, and no one except Emma knew about it. An unfortunate incident several years back had caused the deformity to his feet but with the aid of prosthetics he went about his everyday life unnoticed. And it was this misfortune that Emma had crafted into their best illusion.
Edward, now strapped into the double leg manacles of The Iron Boot, snapped his fingers and a cloud of smoke obscured him from the audience. He went to slip his right foot free of the shackle but it wouldn’t budge. The strap had somehow tightened too much. He must have forgotten to flex his calf muscles when the girl had tightened the chains and padlocks. Edward struggled to tear his legs free from the restraints but when the puff of smoke cleared he was stood there, flapping his arms around like a flightless bird, a corn-fed turkey in a thrift shop tuxedo.
My God, I’m dying on my feet.
Forty-three assistants, conducted by Emma’s long silky legs, caused a distraction when they can-canned across the stage. The curtain descended.
Later, in the dressing room, Edward stood admiring his naked physique in the full-length mirror. His bejeweled thong would trick the untrained eye into believing he was not as stodgy as a bread and butter pudding. Emma entered the room.
Did she just wince?
“I thought our sham marriage,” he said, “was the worst thing that ever happened to me … until tonight. No one upstages me. Neither you nor your dancers.”
“I saved you out there,” Emma said. “I had to pay off the critics with the last of my savings because you’re too dumb to get a simple trick right.”
“Your girl tightened the restraints too much,” he said.
“Did she? Or did you forget to do the only thing you had to do apart from snap your fingers?”
Edward’s perma-tan face reddened. “I’m the star of the show. Don’t ever forget that. There is no show without me. It’s my name in lights above the door.”
He wagged his index finger at Emma.
She dove out of the way, rolled like a cat and came behind Edward. “I told you never to point that thing at me.”
“Well, guess what, pumpkin, I don’t care. You upstaged me tonight for the last time. We’re through.”
Emma popped him in the nut sack and he crumpled into a heap on the ground. “I’m not fired,” she said, “I quit.” She gathered her belongings into a bag and sashayed toward the door.
“Tomorrow night,” Edward whimpered, “I’m doing the Disappearing Act.”
Emma stopped. Turned to face him. “Don’t dare do it,” she said. “It would be a colossal mistake.”
“You’re the one too scared to do it, not me. I’m doing it.”
“The last time, three years ago, when we tried to do the trick, five of my girls were maimed and you ended up with two clubfeet.”
“Which worked out in our favor,” Edward said.
“Don’t do the Disappearing Act,” she said. “Please.”
“You don’t know me at all,” Edward said.
Emma stormed out. Edward stood stiffly and checked his testicles had descended from his stomach. He dressed and went to his favorite bar where women danced, took you to a back room when you bought champagne and were considerate enough to leave immediately upon the completion of his magic wand routine. He searched for the right dancer to be his prize trophy. A woman with lampblack hair came up to him.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“We haven’t had sex in a year,” he said. “I’m not that good a magician – get lost, Cinderella.”
“You’re not that good of a magician.”
He pointed his index finger at her.
She stumbled back a step.
His magic finger often had that effect. “What will I do to you?”
He unleashed the finger – Poof!
The woman’s beautiful black hair became something slightly more dried and un-moisturized than it had been momentarily before. Although it was quite possible that the natural occurrence of a breeze had done all the dirty work for him.
The woman snapped her fingers at him and swanned off.
She used to have such soft hair. Maybe I still have a lock of it left in my cigar case. Maybe I’ll sniff it later.
On the third night, without the yoke of Emma, Edward felt free, unfettered, able to shine. In the audience was a scout from Las Vegas – there to bring him to the really Big Time.
Edward Opulence Magician Extraordinaire snapped his fingers and a giant wheel appeared in a puff of smoke. It was lacerated with knife scars and hatchet fissures.
“I call it my Rouault wheel.”
The silent audience stared at him.
Obviously not French lovers, then.
“It’s my Roulette Wheel of Death.”
The audience clapped like trained seals.
“I will be strapped to the wheel and only the Gods can decide my fate as forty-three women selected at random from the audience toss hatches, knives and bayonets at me.”
Edward’s new assistant clamped him onto the wheel. Her hands trembled. She tugged too hard at the securing straps. The wheel rattled free from its double-hinge and toppled over. Edward found himself deposited unceremoniously on his ass. Something snapped. He prayed it was his underwear elastic, not his coccyx. The impact triggered his spring-loaded devices and knotted handkerchiefs vomited from his sleeves. The white doves Velcroed inside of his jacket escaped, circled above him and dumped their payload. The gooey white critique trickled down his forehead and into his face.
The audience gawked. All their eyes were on him, peering unblinkingly with unbroken stares, as they had always done before – willing him to have failed – and all he could do was wish he was elsewhere, anywhere, never wished anything as much in his life, stuck there on the stage in the cold blue spotlight with nowhere to go.
Emma stood near the back. She shook her head.
“O my! Brave am…” Edward’s mind went blank and the sentence trailed off.
“Get off the stage you clumsy buffoon,” someone yelled. The crowd booed. They jeered. They catcalled.
I’m through. Finito. Caput.
QED, douche bag.
They watched. Stared. He wished he could simply disappear into nothing.
Edward Opulence raised his index finger.
They watched. Stared.
He pointed his index finger at himself.
His hand trembled.
The air glimmered.
He sensed the slippage of reality. The nothingness around him became the thing that he would become. He was nothing and would be nothing forever. He couldn’t limp back to the side streets with the old routine of Three-card Monte, needle-through-the-arm and razorblade swallowing. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.
Index finger pointed at his heart.
Emma stared at him, open-mouthed. She ran toward the stage, calling out, screaming but to Edward the movement had become slow motion and the sound had been muted. Already, he was within the prestige of the Disappearing Act. No turning back now. Others screamed. Pointed at him. Ladies fainted.
And he was gone.
The audience watched the empty space center-stage where he had been a moment before in the translucent spectral haze of disappearance.
They watched in silence.
But he was gone.
The audience roared for more.
But Edward Opulence Magician Extraordinaire was nothing ever more. DSS
Michael McGlade, 30, lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His fiction appears in the book Powers Irish Short Story Collection (2012) and in publications such as Helix, Structo, Grain, OMDB Mystery, and Ambit. He holds a master’s degree in English from Queen’s University in Ireland, and is the recipient of an Arts Council award. He is a journalist with newspaper experience, and is editor-in-chief of a music publication, GigApe.com. Find out more news and views here: McGladeWriting.com.
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