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The Big Reveal
By Ryan Dilbert
Josephine Vasquez scoffed at horror-movie special effects, so-called religious miracles or tales of anything haunted, but held a special, venomous hatred for magicians.
Her favorite pastime was to frequent live magic shows and point out how the magician was able to produce a coin from a child’s ear or have an orange appear under a glass. No illusionist was safe from her snort-filled comments regardless of fame; two-bit beginners, Penn and Teller, and John Carney have all been thrown off by Josephine's often inaccurate, but very loud proclamations.
“It’s on a string,” she’d sneer.
The Great Benzi was to be her next victim. She stretched her “Dinos Are Awesome!” T-shirt over her love handles and into her black jeans, overdid the turquoise eyeshadow and sat in the front row ready to scratch at the veneer of fantasy. The Great Benzi tore through the red curtains to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. He bowed before the packed house and produced doves from his seemingly empty hands. Save for Josephine, the audience clapped feverishly.
“Had them in his sleeves obviously,” she sighed.
For his next trick, Benzi flipped his top hat with one hand and reached into it with his other. Yanked by the ears and then held up for the crowd to see, a quivering white rabbit dangled in his grip. Benzi stood still for effect. The stage lights shimmered on his handlebar mustache.
“That’s birthday party stuff,” Josephine said..
Benzi raised his eyebrows looking in her direction, but saw nothing but black, faceless shapes. After setting down the rabbit, he pulled another out and placed the two frightened animals side by side. Their fur lie flat around their necks.
“What else is in there?” Benzi asked playfully as he peered into the hat.
He plucked out carrots and fed them to the rabbits. The audience laughed. Josephine shook her head. So unoriginal, she thought. The patrons around her shushed her. She mouthed the words, “This is America.” The Great Benzi lifted his arm dramatically, shouted some magic words and reached into the hat once more.
“This rabbit stuff is so tired,” Josephine mumbled.
“We’re trying to enjoy this lady,” someone called out behind her.
Benzi dug around, his face expressing histrionic curiosity. He grabbed onto something unseen and tugged, straining. The audience saw a poof of white fur and assumed it was another rabbit. Three rabbits out of one hat would have impressed all but one. Instead The Great Benzi held a goat by the nape of his neck and held it up for a brief moment before dropping it awkwardly on the wooden stage. After the thud of its landing, the goat stood erect, eyeing the stunned audience. The goat’s hooves scraped against the floor; its braying chased away the munching rabbits.
The crowd’s hands still stinging from applause, Benzi tightened both of his fists and hopped down amidst them, throwing open his hands in a violent jerking motion. A rabble of butterflies sprang out into a delighted audience. One flew onto Josephine’s glasses. Its wings, right between her eyes, fluttered in such a graceful way that she knew this was no hologram or mechanical doppelganger. Hundreds of butterflies glided through the theater, too many to be hidden in a secret compartment or a glass jar tucked under a coat. The reds and blues of their wings flickered between their flapping wings like Christmas lights.
Benzi ended his show as he always did, blowing kisses before taking a grand bow. No one complained that the show had lasted under twenty minutes. Rather, the patrons talked about what they’d seen that night for weeks, the bubbliness in their voices never fading.
Josephine, though she wouldn’t admit it, found herself stumped. The alien feeling irritated her like soggy shoes. She desperately wanted to discover Benzi’s secret.
She waited at the theater’s exit, stalking her prey from behind a dumpster. When chilly winds whipped behind the building she regretted not wearing more than her dinosaur shirt. Josephine’s legs started to burn. She briefly thought of leaving, but the explosive delight that would come with exposing the “Great” Benzi kept her there. It didn't take long for the magician to leave, but in the cold, the stink of beer curling up her nose, every minute limped along.
When Benzi pushed through the doors, his coat tucked under his arm, Josephine followed. The magician walked slowly, as if taking in the glory of each step.
Josephine stayed several feet behind, nervous every time someone stepped between them. A left, a right, four blocks down, she fought through the burning in her chest, the taste of battery acid sliding up her throat.
Benzi stopped at the Regency and as he entered the lobby, flashed the receptionist a cheek-lifting smile and tipped his hat. Neither she nor Benzi noticed Josephine lumbering behind him. A balding man held the elevator for them. Once on, Josephine stared at the buttons, hoping her silence and military posture would disguise her intentions.
Here she was an agent infiltrating an operation of lies. She hadn't felt pride like this since winning a ribbon in first-grade science.
Benzi stepped out onto the fifth floor; Josephine hesitated. His secrets lie tucked away in his coat, in his trunks. She had to find them. She suddenly felt snakelike prowling over bird eggs. She hurried after him. When Benzi walked into his room and closed the door, Josephine stood there, unsure of what to do. She hadn’t planned this out. Dropping to the carpet, she tried to peek under the door. When that failed, she tried looking through the peephole and between the hinges.
No secrets could be seen through either one.
Waddling back outside, Josephine found the fire escape she thought nearest to Benzi’s room. Balancing on two trash cans, she flung herself upwards, smacking her jaw on the bottom rung, but still managing to hang on. Surprising herself, she pulled herself up, clanging on the first horizontal section of the fire escape. Josephine was no longer chilly. Her face was flush; her heart beat like a hummingbird’s. By the time she got within spying range of the Great Benzi, she had momentarily forgotten why she had made this exhausting trip.
She pressed her face against the frosty glass. The Great Benzi sat on his hotel bed without his fake mustache, without his hat and coattails and only Benjamin Correli remaining. His palms up, he concentrated into the lines of his hands. A white-throated swift emerged out of the shadows between his fingers. Benzi marveled at his creation, swooning over the beauty of the bird as it hovered near the ceiling fan. He did it over and over again to an audience of only himself.
Josephine found that she hadn’t blinked in several minutes. Her eyes dry, she glared through the glass. Even as she saw birds born from air, conjured by a power she didn’t understand, she never stopped looking for the strings.
Never numb to his own wonders, Benzi giggled as the gray birds flitted in circles around him. The magician moved toward the window and Josephine ducked as fast as she could. She thought she’d been discovered and wondered what the hell she'd say to explain this. The room now full of swifts, Benzi slid the pane up and let them free. A moving cloud of feathers whooshed past Josephine enveloping her like a rising tide.
Ryan Dilbert is the author of Time Crumbling like a Wet Cracker (No Record Press 2011). His work has appeared in Word Riot, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf and Lit 'N' Image. He covers pro wrestling for Bleacher Report, makes a mean peanut sauce and lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, daughter and dog.
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