The magician paced and plotted in the candlelit room. His mind was sweating and his gut was twisted into a sailor’s knot. The self-doubt that stalked him for years wasn’t comped a ticket to this practice performance.
Fred Crowe wouldn’t mesmerize the audience with overly sophisticated tricks and complex sleight of hand. He wasn’t his dad, who gained some local notoriety with his free performances at Winton Woods. A kind of Shakespeare in the park for a man who called himself Edward the Elegant Enchanter. Kids loved him for making the unreal real. Parents loved him because he distracted their kids. He was a born showman. His sugar-dipped charm and bullhorn voice and salesman’s tongue demanded attention at the park, summer festivals, or when grilling burgers with other members of the trade. But beneath the lavender cape and mutton chops lived a tired, solitary, fragile man who spent most of his adult life trying to pull validation, stardom, and a healthy bank account from a disgruntled black hat. He died a busted drunk, welded to a stool, who droned on and on like an invasion of cicadas about how folks only wanted instant gratification anymore. How they’re addicted to digital entertainment, microwave meals, and sweatpants instead of taking the time to get cleaned up, slide downtown for some mango mojitos and grilled shrimp, then relax in a chilled auditorium for two hours as the greatest illusionist in the history of Fairfield, Ohio duped and entranced every last one of them.
His son could never be him, his social awkwardness and rudimentary skills were impediments, and being a mirror of his dad would mean having everyone around him disappear without the assistance of a trapdoor. But he still plugged away at the family craft with an admirable passion and focus.
The crowd was so silent you could hear a beard grow. Fred imagined eyeballs ripping into him, the tension as thick as a pot of Texas chili. This night belonged to him, it was his time to rise above his genetic code, to separate himself from the legend of his father and all the masters of magic who carried the Crowe name.
He was dressed in his thrift store black suit, the only one he owned. It earned its keep by also appearing at funerals, weddings, and the rare job interview. The suit was a double-breasted Swiss Army knife. Cheap gel molded his hair into a greying helmet. His right hand held a stone wand purchased online. A wine glass, lit cigarette, gas can, aluminum baking dish, and a bowl of ice sat on a mahogany table in front of him.
Growing up, his father said it wasn’t a concern if Fred couldn’t hit a curveball or field dress a deer or solve complicated math equations. He taught him that a boy becomes a successful man when he can fool an entire audience of smart people. When they believe a lie is a truth. And a real man doesn’t chase applause, the applause chases him. The crowd is a wolf, misdirection is the rabbit.
“The tuna casserole ain’t gonna eat itself, Freddy. Get on up here,” his mom yelled down into his lair of spells.
“Come on. You just blew the rehearsal,” he shot back at a door that had already shut. Deflated, he tore off his clip-on tie, blew out the votive candles, flipped on the lights. Coco and Brutus were sleeping like cadavers on the carpet; they didn’t seem to care much about witnessing the mystical smoking pool of arctic fire illusion. “Lazy freeloaders,” he said, stepping around them. The nesting dolls sitting on a bookshelf chose silence. Their wooden eyes wouldn’t risk even a glance in his disappointed direction.
On the way up the steps, he wondered why he never invented a trick to make failure disappear. Or a way to saw it in half. Or maybe he should’ve studied necromancy and reincarnated his elegant father. He had so much more to learn from him. Fred wished he could conjure that kind of dark magic in his basement theater.