Pocketful of Smoke, Fistful of Glass
The illusionist steps calmly onto the stage, acknowledges the crowd on his right, then his left, winks at someone in the audience, and stretches out his hands.
His assistants, in pasties and g-strings, step forward from the dark, each grabbing a hand and tying it to the ropes hanging from the ceiling.
One finishes first. The illusionist twists his hand, yanking the rope tight. If you look, you can see where the ropes have burned the flesh of his wrists.
The other girl finishes her knots, and he shows that this hand, too, is secure.
The lights die, and the darkness is absolute, impenetrable. A violin breaks the silence with a song that is more race than sonata, pure driving adrenaline, quick and high-pitched and dangerous.
Light returns. The girls are gone. The illusionist, still bound to hanging ropes, leans to one side, draped by his arms, muscles taught. If the knots slip loose, he’d fall into the audience.
And he’s wearing a mask, bright red, eyes painted over so he cannot see.
The lights drop, for but a second, and when they return the illusionist drips in the opposite direction and the mask is green.
Another flash, he’s slumped forward and the mask is blue.
Another flash. His knees are lifted, so he hangs suspended over the stage. Unmoving. The mask is again red.
Flash, green, still straining against the ropes, the violin racing faster and faster, the notes more and more frantic.
Flash, blue, draped to the left.
Flash, red, right.
Flash, forward, and the violin pauses. The mask is black now, with silver stars for eyes and mouth. The light lingers. Indeed, it brightens. Every spot hits the illusionist, every house light comes up, the violinist races between notes more quickly than should be mortally possible.
Then the lights vanish. One final, elongated note fills the air. A heartbeat. Two. Three.
The lights return. The mask is unchanged, still black and silver, but the illusionist is gone. In his place: the girl, silver stars concealing her nipples, bare feet, the tiniest black panties.
The illusionist, seated in the audience, is the first to rise, leading a standing ovation–though of course, it’s his own applause he conducts, and not everyone in the audience has yet realized what has happened, how fast the change was, how tightly those ropes are tied.
He climbs onto the stage, puts a hand up to the girl’s cheek–she seems to melt into him, though the cheek is a black mask and he can’t actually touch her. He unties one knot, then the other, swoops his beautiful assistant into his arms–she kicks her legs playfully and waves–and after three or four bows to various corners of the theatre, carries her offstage.
“Bravo,” says a man in the shadows backstage.
The illusionist lets down the girl. She rushes away to change for her next part.
“What are you doing back here?” the illusionist asks. Then, “Who are you?”
“An admirer,” the man says, bowing his head slightly, but ignoring the first question entirely. “We’ve met before, you and I. Once.”
“No,” the illusionist says. “I’d remember such a face.”Â And certainly, he doesn’t, as he can’t even see the man clearly. And the audience is cheering one of the girls, who by now should be wearing nothing but feathers.
“You shouldn’t be back here,” the illusionist says. He has another bit in five minutes, and though he needs half that time to prepare he feels suddenly rushed, uneasy, unsure of himself. “If you can wait until after the show.”
“I have waited this long,” says the man, still in shadows. “What’s another few minutes?”Â When he smiles, his teeth catch a glimmer of dim lights. He recedes deeper into the dark, though he seems not to move at all, and even his eyes, cat-like, reflect a stray bit of something.
The illusionist hesitates. Does he remember?Â No, he cannot remember, does not remember, there’s nothing there to see.
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