Embarrassingly Old Work: Short Fiction: Tricked Magic – From 2001

By all accounts, Kevin was a loser. His brother called him a loser. His parents called him a loser. And everyone in high school was constantly calling him a loser.

It is hard, however, to determine exactly what he lost at. Kevin rarely tried at anything. Maybe it was his fear of losing that prevented him from risking it. So he’d do his schoolwork, eat his dinner, and watch TV – the only three things he seemed good at. And then came the commercial.

Kevin had already heard a lot of promises on late night TV. His teeth would get whiter. He could clean his gutters without being perched precariously on top of tippy ladders. There was even that guy dressed like the Riddler who promised him all sorts of government grants. But this stuff was useless. With white teeth, clean gutters, and a question mark suit, he’d still be a loser. Especially with a question mark suit.

But this was different. “Amaze your friends,” it said. “Be a hit at parties,” it promised. “You’ll wow everyone you know,” it swore. And though Kevin had no friends, never went to parties, and didn’t really know anyone, he figured he’d take a chance. And he ordered the magic kit.

For the next three months (not including the first 6-8 weeks for delivery), Kevin practiced his magic. And he got good. He got really good. The day came when he could make a quarter appear out of anywhere he could fit his hand, and he could turn an entire deck of cards into the ace of clubs. It was time.

Kevin went to school that day and performed until he was exhausted. And as a crowd gathered around him, he overheard two girls talking.

“Can you believe that magic kid?,” the first one said.

“I know,” her friend replied. “What a loser.”

***

“I saw something incredible today,” I said. “I was at the bus station, waiting to meet you when I noticed this kid. He couldn’t have been more than 15 years old. And he was sitting there, with no bags, nothing, holding a bus ticket. And I didn’t notice him because he had no bags. I noticed him because of the way he looked.”

“How did he look?,” Marilyn asked.

“Upset, I guess,” I replied. But it was more than upset. He looked like he couldn’t remember the last time he was happy.”

“You could see it in the way he slumped down,” I continued. “He was kind of tall, maybe 6 feet, but he looked like he weight about 100 pounds. He was wearing sweatpants and a ripped black Slayer t-shirt that looked older than he did. And he just sat there, staring at his ticket like it was going to give him magical powers or something. Like it was this treasure map to some secret he had been hunting.”

“You got all that from him sitting there?,” she asked.

“Your bus was late. I had nothing else to do but stare at this kid,” I replied.

“So what was so amazing about a kid in a Metallica t-shirt?,” Marilyn asked.

“Slayer.”

“Whatever,” she said. I could tell she was tired, but we had twenty minutes before we hit Fresno and she’d rather listen to me than the radio. “What happened?”

“Well,” I said. “There was this old woman struggling with a payphone. She was screaming at the operator that it ate her quarter, and she needed it to call her daughter or she’d be stranded there. And the whole station watched this woman getting nowhere. But the kid walks up to her, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a quarter. And he doesn’t just give it to the woman. He offers to help her retrieve it from the phone. He hangs up the receiver, smacks the side of the phone, and reaches into the coin return, and wouldn’t you know it – pulls out a quarter and hands it to her.”

“So this kid helped an old lady. So what?,” Marilyn asked.

“Well, he walked back to his seat after that. He looked at his bus ticket for a few more minutes, tore it up and left. And he was finally smiling. I guess he got to wherever he was going without ever getting on a bus.”

“You’re so melodramatic sometimes,” she said, turning her head to lean it against the window.

“I know,” I said. We were getting close to Fresno. I smiled, too. Though I think I was happier for him than I was for me.

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