"Story That Needs A Name"
Chapter One: Smoke & Mirrors
The shadows played across the floor in an erratic dance with the golden-hued spots of daylight. The rustling of the tree that created them drifted in through the open window along with a soft early spring breeze.
She watched the play of light and dark as she leaned forward, elbows on knees, arms crossed. A faint sigh and she closed her eyes, thoughts slipping away into the wilds of memory. The faint sound of people from someplace far off down the road gently brushed across her senses, and she tilted her head ever so slightly to receive it as she let her thoughts wander further.
The first time she’d seen magic, she’d been astonished. A little kid who was easily impressed with cards tricks and sleight of hand. The puffs of smoke, the gestures, the strange words and wicked smile of the magician had only added to it all. When you’re barely six years old you can believe in magic and no one laughs at you or judges you. They just smile and ruffle your hair and tell say “It is amazing, isn’t it honey?”
She opened her eyes as the breeze stilled. Carefully she leaned back, pain flickering up her back and into her shoulders. She’d sat too long, brown-green eyes watching the light playing across the floor like careless happy children. She took a deep breath and stretched out her arms before she stood up and did the same with each leg. Then she dug a hair band out of the pocket of her jeans and pulled her hair into a ponytail before she reached for the broom. For once she didn’t curse the way little bits of it curled and went wild while the rest of it hung in loose gentle waves.
A sigh drifted unnoticed from her lips as she started to sweep the floor, dust drifting up to sparkle and spin in the dappled light from the day outside. Wearily she watched it for a moment or two as it twirled, disappeared, sparked back into life and then drifted lazily into the shadows. Like a cat chasing its tail, her memories chased back to where they had been and beyond once again.
Magic. She had breathed and lived it for months after the party. She’d been clumsy then, too, and wasn’t truly any good at anything but the simplest tricks. She usually ended up dropping things while trying to preform sleight of hand, and her card tricks were correct less than half the time. But she could remember her parent’s smiles, their patience as she practiced on them again and again. Well, she could remember they had been smiling, rather – she couldn’t remember what they looked like anymore. She hadn’t been able to for years now, but it didn’t bother her anymore.
She didn’t remember them saying goodbye, or waving goodbye to them as they left. She didn’t remember the days that passed as she run wild at her grandmother’s farm that summer. The worry didn’t escape her, however, and she could remember that. Looking at the calendar, a week meant nothing, but seven days marked with bold childish black X marks became fourteen, and the fear crept slowly up to her. One row of black X’s, they had told her. One, not two.
She’d been performing a whole routine for her grandmother and several of her old lady friends when the two police men had pulled up, but she didn’t catch on to the still silence of the women before her until they were walking up the steps. Her hands still felt the cards in her fingers, the careful way of holding them with her too small hands. She’d finally mastered the three-kings trick, and was almost done with it when their silence finally got through to her.
She’d looked up and given the two men a huge smile, excited to have someone new to show her trick to. Neither of them smiled back, though, and the tension in the air made her smile vanish. She looked at her grandmother, fear trailing cold fingers up her back, settling icy-cold wings on her shoulders.
Her grandmother stood up and greeted the policemen. She lifted her head, and refused to move as the other ladies tried to force her to go back inside. Her chubby little face turned upright, she listened as they spoke. Apologizing for interrupting, asking if her grandmother was a name she’d never heard used. She was Gramma, not the name she nodded to. Then came more apologies and more names. She knew these, though.
Her grandmother’s blue eyes met her own a moment after the officers spoke those names, those horrible words. “We regret to inform you…”
“They’re not coming back?” She could nearly hear her six year old self’s trembling voice, words pressed out into the suddenly oppressive afternoon air.
“No, lovely. They won’t ever be coming back.” Her grandmother’s words seemed as hard to put out into the silence as her own had.
“Do I have to leave you, too?” The words were heavy, and it was so hard to find the air to speak them. Her chest felt like it did when she wanted to cry, but there were no tears. Not right then, anyways.
“No. You’ll stay here with me, Shae.” Her grandmother crouched down then, on level with the six year old who’s world had just broke as much as her own probably had. “You’re not going to lose me, too, little one.”
“Magic, Gramma. Magic can bring them back!” She had smiled at them all, cards still held so carefully in those chubby child’s fingers.
Silence followed the words, and her smile started to feel broken. Magic had all been tricks, carefully followed rules and moments and placements of cards and things. The coin was never truly gone, the cards never actually guessed.
“Shae… “ Her grandmother’s voice broke, and she cleared her throat and had to speak again. “Shae, there is no magic that can bring people back to life.”
The sound of the cards as the tumbled onto the porch broke the silence, at the same time that her belief in magic broke as well. Scattering across the worn but warmly hued wooden planks, the cards fanned and drifted in the dappled shade of the old trees in the yard. She’d stood there for what seemed like forever, everyone staring at her, until her grandmother offered her a hug.
Shae hugged her grandmother tightly, then been picked up as if she were so much younger than she was. She didn’t complain for once, craving the touch, the warmth that her grandmother’s arms offered to help chase away the chill that seemed to have come to live in her bones. It couldn’t resolve the ugly blossom of pain in her heart and her mind, however, and she had stared blankly over her grandmother’s shoulder as her grandmother had continued to speak with the officers. She didn’t see the three other old ladies, she didn’t feel their wide-eyed horror. She merely stuck her thumb in her mouth and stopped seeing or hearing much of anything.
Later on she had cried, a lot. Her grandmother had as well, and now and again one or the other would start and set the other one off. The funeral came and went, all of her things came to stay at her grandmother’s place. Summer drifted lazily into fall, then fall sleepily gave way to winter. School started, Halloween came and went, and Christmas found the two of them awkwardly attempting to be “normal”.
Magic of the smoke and mirrors sort never shifted and swam among the shadows of the front porch again. Coins no longer tumbled out of chubby hands, cards only made noise when being shuffled for a round of rummy, canasta, black jack, or any other number of regular card games. The bits and pieces that had been the aids to the illusions were torn apart and smashed in a childish fit of anger and pain, then left scattered across the colorful living room rug as she sobbed her broken heart out in her grandmother’s arms.
A year later found the porch once again hosting gatherings of old women. Sometimes they brought other family members but most often they were alone. It found laughter decorating the hallways of the old farm house, love littering the rooms and stairways. Christmas found them at ease, each having helped the other to pass through the storm of loss that had ripped through their lives.
Shae continued to sweep as the thoughts of so long ago unfurled across the pages of her mind. She swept the dirt and dust out onto the small second story balcony as she shook her head, skipping ahead in the years.
She could remember the first time she’d heard of magic, as a six year old at a birthday party for a friend she couldn’t remember the name of anymore. Likewise impressed so vividly upon the map of her mind was when that same magic forsaken her.
In the same bold bright colors and too clear photographic manner was recorded the first time she learned that magic was real. It was just as real as the breath sitting heavy in her lungs and the dust spinning out and off the balcony as she swept it off the edge. The same sort of real as the touch of sorrow that rested on her like a cloak she couldn’t take off.
She’d been fourteen when it had happened. Fourteen, with her hair kept just barely shoulder length, and her clothes comfortable but lacking real fashion because she really didn’t care. She’d been more interested in running wild and free in the fields and woods of the small old town she called home. Another one of those summer days on the front porch, with the light peeking through the leaves and dancing along those familiar wooden steps and planks.
Fourteen when life again spun itself out to a stop and the truth held dear would be shattered.