SEATED ON METAL BLEACHERS with two dozen other parents under a sweltering August sun, I fanned my face with a paper plate and watched Mr. Magic prepare to perform his final trick. He folded his arms and scanned the ten-year-olds clustered on the grass in front of his platform. “Who wants to be my last victim…er, volunteer?”
From beneath his thick black eyebrows, the man glared at the screaming children. Finally, he crooked a finger at Joey, who sprang to his feet, clambered onto the stage and spun around, hands on his waist. He stuck out his chest, as if proud of the green frosting smeared down the front of his new Iron Man t-shirt. Bright freckles flamed against his sunburned cheeks.
My husband, Roger, leaned close to me. “This should be interesting.” Perspiration trailing down his temples glistened in the sunshine.
Our son punched his chubby hand high and frantically waved it above his head. Even though Joey had been passed over every other time the birthday party magician asked for a volunteer, he hadn’t lost his enthusiasm. “Me, me. Pick me!” Like a metronome set on high, his waggling arm blurred in my vision.
I pulled my sweat-soaked blouse away from my torso. “I hope he doesn’t ruin the trick. Your son isn’t exactly one to follow direction.”
“If we’re lucky, it’ll go fast, and we can beat the crowd to Burt’s Burgers.” Roger dug a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his brow.
I lifted damp hair from my neck. “First thing I’ll order is a large Pepsi with lots of ice.”
The magician held his microphone in front of Joey. “What’s your name?”
“Joey Hunter!” Our son’s shout vibrated the metal stands we sat on. Onlookers covered their ears. They obviously had children who spoke in normal decibel levels. Joey hopped from one foot to the other. “What trick are we doing, Mr. Magic?”
Mr. Magic looked toward the bleachers. “Does Joey Hunter have a parent or a guardian in the crowd?”
Roger and I looked at each other and then raised our hands.
“This,” proclaimed the magician, “is a very dangerous trick, the king of illusions. Do I have your permission to incorporate your son into the act?”
Joey grabbed at the microphone, missed and knocked it out of the man’s hand. When it crashed to the stage, the loud crackle made everyone flinch. Before the magician could retrieve the microphone, Joey snatched it up and shrieked, “Say ‘yes’!”
Everyone turned to stare at us.
Roger shrugged. “What could be the harm?”
I whispered, “Mr. Magic didn’t ask permission for the other tricks.”
Roger leaned close. “It’s part of the act, Susan, the build-up for the finale.”
“Mom, Dad, come on,” Joey whined, his nasal voice loud and distorted. Knowing Joey, his mouth was on the microphone.
Against my better judgment, I finally said, “Okay.”
Roger gave the magician a thumbs-up. “Go for it.”
Joey thrust his fist into the air. “Yes!” Arms flapping, he jumped up and down like a deranged turkey. On one of the upswings, the magician snatched the microphone from his hand.
His assistant rolled out a table from behind the curtain and helped Joey stretch across it. Then she turned up the volume on the boom box.
“Mr. Joey Hunter,” called the magician, reaching into his Trunk of Tricks, “are you ready?”
“I’m ready, Mr. Magic!” His smile stretched from ear to ear, and his whole body quivered with anticipation.
A drum roll. A flash of reflected sunshine. A saw blade on our son’s belly.
What? I gasped and grabbed Roger’s arm.
In sync with the song’s pulsating rhythm, the magician, with his assistant’s help, pulled the saw back, pushed it forward, pulled back, pushed forward.
I wanted to scream, to tell the magician to stop mutilating my child. But I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak.
Joey didn’t flinch.
The music rose to a crescendo, and Mr. Magic swung the blade triumphantly upward. “Ta-da!”
Before I could process what the ta-da was all about, the assistant grabbed Joey’s hips and legs and stood them upright.
“Oh, no…” The words squeaked from my throat, but Roger just grinned and patted my hand.
Mr. Magic slid behind Joey’s head, grasped him under his arms and set him on his ribs. “Do a push-up.”
Joey lifted himself with his arms—up, down, up, down—obviously pleased with the ease of the effort. He’d always preferred video games to exercise.
“Move your legs.” One foot kicked out, then the other. Cries of disbelief bounced through the bleachers.
Joey’s top half flipped off the table, shimmied down Mr. Magic’s legs and hopped through the grass to climb a tree. His legs and feet did a little dance before skipping merrily after his upper body.
I jumped up. “We can’t just sit here, Roger.”
As the other horrified parents grabbed their children and ran for their cars, we headed for Joey’s tree, but the legs ran away. I’d never seen our son move so fast. Roger pursued the fleeing half, and I parked under the tree branch. “Joey, sweetie, the party is over. Time to go.”
He snickered. “Can’t make me, Mom.”
I clenched my fists. This was no time to get into my usual power game with our stubborn son. “Remember where we’re going for lunch?”
The smirk faded. Food had always been Joey’s weakness.
“You can get the Super-Duper shake and double fries.”
He swung off the branch and into my arms, nearly knocking me over. “Really?” His breath smelled like frosting.
“Really. Now let’s go find your legs.”
“But I like being two people.”
“They won’t let you into Burt’s Burgers without the rest of your body.”
Joey frowned. “Why not?”
“Remember the sign on the door? The one that says ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’?”
“This part of you doesn’t have shoes, and your bottom doesn’t have a shirt.”
His lower lip pooched. “Bummer.”
We returned to the platform just as Roger offered the legs to Mr. Magic. “Time to put him back together.”
The magician jutted his chin. “That’ll cost you.”
Joey wriggled in my arms, and his legs kicked at Roger. “I don’t wanna go back together!”
I tightened my hold on his chest. “But you just said…”
“I don’t care what I said.” He began beating my forearms.
Roger stuffed Joey’s lower half into a nearby metal trash can. I started to object, but Roger shook his head. “Just for a minute, to keep him contained.” I could barely hear him over the sound of Joey’s legs banging against the metal, like a cymbal player gone mad.
Someone needed to stop the craziness. I looked around for the assistant, but she was nowhere in sight.
Roger grabbed our son’s upper half from me and thrust it at the magician. “Fix him—now!”
Mr. Magic yelled above the racket, “What’s it worth to you?”
Joey clawed at Roger’s hands.
Roger swore, seized one of Joey’s flailing arms and then the other and pinned them both to his torso. “That’s enough, son. We have to go now—”
“No, no, no!” Joey looked like he was about to explode.
I reached for him, but Roger set Joey on the ground in front of the magician. When he straightened, a strange light illuminated his eyes. “What’s it worth to you, Mr. Magic?”
The magician’s eyebrows soared almost to his hairline. He stepped back.
Joey looked from his father to the magician and then back again. A slow grin spread across his smeared face. He lunged at the magician and clutched his leg. “I’ll be the most fantabulous, super-awesomest, bestest assistant you ever had!”
Mr. Magic raised his palms. “Oh, no, I can’t—”
Roger took my hand. “Let’s go get that Pepsi, sweetheart. With lots of ice.”
I kissed his cheek. “You must have read my mind.”
About this story: “The Magician” was originally published in Passageways: A Short Story Collection ©2014. Later posts to FICTION FRIDAY will feature ICW members’ unpublished stories of 1500 words or less.
Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.