He wound magic in string, cast it in coins; could fold it in paper or bore it
in wood. A button, a ring—any object immersed in the palm could be rolled
along his bone-knob knuckles and banished from the world.
"Nothing to it," he said, and led the boy through the kitchen to the
Here the greater illusions were built. Common screws and paste comprised a
cartilage of miracles. The old man grabbed a hammer and the knuckles went
white. With each knock the boy blinked, even when he tried not to. He cupped
hands to his eyes and pressed them hard. Pressed the spaces where light came
through until no more light came through.
"That's how it looks to get swallowed up," he thought. "Swallowed like in
Reddened forms rippled with lapping thrusts of sound. Same happened with
his eyelids squeezed shut, a liquid depth receding and returning.
The hammering stopped.
"Look here. I'm tryna show you something."
In his undershirt now, fibrous muscle stretched as the bench caught the
discarded tool. The thimble was deformed to no longer resemble its kind until
turned a certain way. His movements went slow; ordinary movements that seemed
unrelated to sought effect. A few repeats and he passed it along. Still, it
The boy fumbled and dropped it, picked it up.
"Look at me when you do it, not your hands."
Again it fell.
"Look at me, I said. Letcher hands do it."
At last it seemed he had not done it, could not do it, that next he would
have to be told what to do next.
"Easy, aint it?"
The old man pulled on his shirt and his hardened fingers went to buttoning.
"Go show Ma," the old man said.
The boy repeated the move, this time pulling from the old man's pocket.
"You got it. Go show Ma." Meaning his daughter, the one never drowned.
The boy stood doing it over, watching fingertips tap tobacco into paper.
One by one, steps took him up. Up to a phone cord hung limp. Up to the
stench of uncanned meat and pots gone tepid, emptied of skinned tomatoes.
Crackers lay amid ossified cheeses. An oven mitt at the floor, fingers bent,
pointed. Pointing past the counter. Past the pantry. Beyond swinging doors.
Beyond chairs to where his mother sat.
He stood before her.
Her eyes fixed elsewhere, a hand stroked his back. She sat among the
aunties. To one side, Auntie Dorothy. Behind, Ant Dorthy. To the other
side—not auntie once but auntie now—Kathleen.
"Look, Ma. Watch."
Auntie Kathleen gave a tender smile. Ma said, "Hush."
To the ground he dropped, sat, rolled under the table.
"Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it
matters not; for all do not die at once, and this matters not. All is as one
day with God, and time only is measured unto men— Therefore there is a time
appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead, and there is a space
between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this
space of time, what becomes of the souls of men is the thing which I have
inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do
know— And when the time comes when all shall rise, then shall they know that
God knows all the times which are appointed unto man—"
Underneath he stared.
Up at the underneath he stared, then rolled around, squirming to the vent.
He peered into the floor, into where it went below, bending down into dark
earth. Bending though he might get there. He might squeeze through. He
closed one eye, angling the other with floor. Metal and then black. Other
side, other eye, the same. If he pulled the vent off—could finger through
the slits and pull it off—he might go down. Squeeze down beyond where it
bent, beyond where sight could see to.
He yanked at the vent.
"Willy, come out from there!"
He yanked again, then slid all his fingers down one slit, his hand too
thick to go through. Knees folded beneath him, he took hold with both hands
"Come here, Willy—now!"
He let go of the vent and crawled out to his mother's reach. She pulled
him to her scent. In his hair her touch spread tingle down to his neck.
"—Yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be
restored to their proper and perfect frame."
The man stopped speaking, then stood aside. They closed the lid. His
father and three uncles lifted the box. Without hardship they hauled it off.
Now light befell the vent in plain view. Others arose, talking. He tugged
her sleeve until she looked. Aunties too; Kathleen with primed interest. All
of them looking. Eyes on him.
With steady absorption he made the thimble gone. They waited. He stalled,
scanning—among them no pockets from which to redeem it. Kathleen's lap
shrouded in blue cloth offered nearest hollow, a dark cavity between knees
where he reached, producing the object anew in godly triumph.
Ant Dorthy clapped.
His mother looked away.
"Did you see, Ma? Did you see?"
Auntie Kathleen spoke through a ruddy grin. "Your grandpa teach you that?"
He nodded, head wandering. "He can do it to anything. Even the house."
The box removed, aunties followed to the door; none yet widowed, husbands
ahead. His mother took his hand and led him out. Outside they were lifting,
hoisting up to the car. His gaze stopped on the old man, somehow gone to the
road beyond the fence. He glanced back to the door, searched the porch and
yard for a way of passage.
That trick he had never seen.
He gaped at the figure, high and immobile. Break of clouded sky released a
blazing spread across land. The old man abided still distance. From his
fingers fell a smoking fag, then crushed underfoot.
"He held on a long time," one said.
Tears immersed cheeks and chins of aunties. He watched them wipe with pale
spiders. He thought of the uncle, of his name, of things done and said,
unmoved. He screwed his eyes to make them flood. It was not hard to do.