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08.25.15
The Last Vanishing Man
1.

I saw The Great Omega perform three or four times, including that final, strange show. I was ten years old then. It was the summer of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, a time when vaudeville and touring acts were quickly fading behind the glittering light of motion pictures and the crackling squawk of radios. What I remember of the performance is vivid, but I am wary of its vividness, as I suspect that vividness derives not from the original moment, but from how much effort I’ve put into remembering it. What is memory, what is reconstruction, what is misdirection?

     What I remember (or what I remember that I remember) is a smoky auditorium, rather dimly lit even for those days of dim lighting, and I remember piano music, and I remember my father eating peanuts, cracking their shells, letting the shells fall to the ground. I am sure he offered me peanuts, too (if there were peanuts there), but my memory is not of myself eating them, but of my father, and of the shells falling to the floor. 

     Then I remember the magicians, the Great Omega and his assistant, the Great Alpha, standing on the stage. The memory is frozen: It could just as well be the memory of the poster displayed at the front of the Opera House. The Great Omega wears a tuxedo and a cape with bright red lining; his thin face sports a goatee and mustache; a top hat perches on his head. The Great Alpha wears a beautiful gown, the color of a white pearl, and a headdress apparently made of peacock feathers.

     I do not remember many of the tricks. Things with cards, things with handkerchiefs, things with coins. The sorts of tricks performed by most other magicians, but even the most familiar tricks were new to me. They fooled me, and I suspect they fooled my father, though when I asked him at the intermission how one of the tricks was done, he said, “Smoke and mirrors, Billy, it’s all smoke and mirrors and getting you to look where they want you to look.” I remember him saying this because it perplexed me. There hadn’t really been much smoke, nor could I see any mirrors.

     The one trick I clearly remember (other than, of course, the finale) was a silent routine accompanied by the piano. The Great Omega held a silver bowl in either hand, and the Great Alpha placed a handful of rice into one of the bowls. The Great Omega then gently and quite elegantly tossed the rice to the other bowl, then back. It went back and forth like this, but it quickly became clear that the rice was growing in quantity, and then, somewhere along the way, the rice turned to water. Just as the audience was getting over the amazement of that transformation, the water then turned back to rice, and it dwindled, moving back and forth between the bowls, until there was only one single grain left, which the Great Alpha plucked from the bowl and held up for us to see, or to imagine we saw—one pure grain. I remember it so well because I thought about it endlessly later. What had been in the bowls? When was it only rice and when was it only water? Could there have been a moment when it was both?

     The performance ended, of course, with the Vanishing Man. I had seen it before, because the Great Omega always concluded his show with this signature illusion, and he had been returning to Littleton with some regularity for at least a year, maybe two or three. I have heard that magicians try not to perform the same feat repeatedly for the same audiences, because with each new performance the chance of the audience seeing through the illusion grows, but the Great Omega seemed to have no qualms about performing the Vanishing Man again and again. Perhaps he was arrogant and thought no one would be able to see through his trick no matter how many times he performed it; perhaps he did not care. I know no one who ever explained the trick, though it is similar enough to other illusions that I am sure professional magicians guessed its mechanics.

     It was one of his few routines that required a participant from the audience. Unlike many other magicians, the Great Omega only occasionally included audience members in his performances. But the key to the success of the Vanishing Man was that a random man from the audience, somebody we knew was not in on the trick, was at the center of the illusion.

     What I remember about that night was that the man who volunteered, Tom Ellison, was obnoxious. Tom Ellison was known for being obnoxious—he drank too much, he was incapable of talking quietly, he seemed to think everyone deserved to listen to his opinion wherever he was, including church—but that night he was especially obnoxious. He had been heckling from the beginning, and though the managers of the Opera House tried to throw him out, the Great Omega prevented them. “No no,” the magician said as ushers tried to drag Tom Ellison from his seat, “the man may be a boor, but he’s paid his money, and he’s entitled to a show.” Ellison had been drinking steadily from a flask all night, and I expect he replenished the flask during intermission, because it seemed bottomless. By the time the Great Omega started the Vanishing Man routine, Tom Ellison was so drunk he was nearly incoherent. If I had not known of him from town, and had not seen other performances by the Great Omega, I would have wondered if Ellison were not a plant, someone hired by the magician for comic fodder, because his behavior that night, as I remember it, was very much that of a buffoon.

     The piano played dramatically. The Great Omega stepped to the front of the stage. “If there is one man in this room that we would all, I expect, like to see vanish, it is you, sir!” he said, extending his arm and pointing his finger toward Tom Ellison. “Come to the stage!”

     Tom Ellison hooted a cheer for himself and then wobbled his way forward. The Great Alpha stood toward the back of the stage, tending to the apparatus: a large brown box, standing on its end, with a lid-like door in its front, and a few small steps leading up to the door. The Great Omega helped Ellison to approach the box, and held him steady while explaining what he was about to do. “The Vanishing Man is a simple illusion,” he said, “that simply does what it simply says: It vanishes a man. Oh, don’t worry, we’ll bring him back. Or maybe not. You never know.” The audience laughed.

     “Mr. Ellison, sir, we will need you to step inside this box here, and then your contribution to the night’s entertainment will come to an end. No great effort necessary, I assure you, no skill required, nothing except the ability to get up these steps and into this box, which I see is quite a challenge for you at the moment—have you been imbibing, sir? Oh, well, it’s the weekend. We can’t begrudge a man a bit of gin, now, can we? Or is it scotch? Hmm, by your breath it smells like both! You are a man of eclectic tastes, it seems!” All of this was said while the Great Omega pushed and cajoled the inebriated Ellison toward the box and its little steps, steps which Ellison needed significant time to negotiate, or at least he seemed to (I wonder now how much was the magician milking laughs and heightening the man’s humiliation).

     And then he was in. Tom Ellison stood in the box for a moment before tipping to the side and leaning against its wall. “Careful in there,” the Great Omega said. “You never know what might happen!”

     The piano music played faster. The Great Alpha still hung back at the far edge of the stage. At the time, I barely registered that she had pulled away from the performance, but in retrospect it did seem somewhat strange, as at the previous performances I had seen she had been by the Great Omega’s side.

     The Great Omega said a few words to increase excitement, and then there was the familiar explosion of light and smoke; and when the smoke cleared, the box had broken into its component parts, its four walls splayed across the stage, its top dangling from a chord suspended from the rafters. The stage was otherwise empty. The audience applauded, the piano kept playing, we all expected the Great Omega and the Great Alpha to return, and we expected them to then gesture to the vanished man now standing at the back of the theater, as that was how the illusion and the show itself always ended—but no. The moment went on and on. The pianist eventually stopped playing. There was some sort of commotion backstage. Finally, a manager came out and told us the show was over.

     It all seemed odd, of course, but it was a magic show. Nobody thought much of it until later, when the police investigated and the newspaper reports came out. I can’t say I thought about it for long. Life moves on, after all, especially when you’re young and the world seems new every day. I finished high school, and then some mysterious, distant family connections on my mother’s side got me into Dartmouth, and then of course there was the war, though I did not go to it, as I was too busy with graduate school and rather old by that point. Well, old for the war. I got married when I was twenty-seven and we had two children. I published a book about fin de siècle France and England, and I was able to teach at a college in Boston, but teaching wasn’t for me, and I had grown tired of historical research of the sort I was doing. I just was not an academic at heart. I did some work for the government in the 1950s, but it was desultory work for which I was ill suited by temperament, and in a bit of what I’ll admit was desperation, I ended up partnering with a friend to open an Italian restaurant in the city. It did well, much to our surprise, as neither of us knew much of anything about Italian food or restaurants. 

     Sophie and I had been vacationing up here for years, and after she died, I continued to come up every summer, first with the kids, then, once they were at college, just myself. As bed and breakfasts go, this is one of the best I have known, and once they opened up the cabins, it became the perfect getaway—around the summer of 1964, I think, or at least that is when we first stayed in one. Of course, over time, Alice, Mary, and I became very close friends, and I all but moved up here in the fall of 1968, when Alice was sick and then after she passed away. It was a quiet time, off-season, and Mary told me a lot about their past. And that is when I heard about the Great Omega for the first time in about forty years.







2.

We moved up here in the summer of 1927. Alice knew the owner. It was just a big old farm then, and the owner was becoming elderly, and she didn’t have too many people to help her with the place. A son, maybe, some daughters, or perhaps they were people from town. I don’t know. I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I had other things on my mind. There was even then some sense of this being a place of refuge, a place people in trouble could come to. I assumed it had something to do with bootlegging, and maybe it did, but the people we met once we’d bought the place were always women. Sometimes women in trouble, yes, but as often as not women seeking some escape, even just for a week or two. That’s how we came up with the idea of making it a B and B. Naïvely. We’d planned on becoming farmers. (We were young and crazy and didn’t know how hard farming is—and up here, where everything is so rocky and salty, it is especially hard.) That first year, everything died. All the crops died, and the chickens all died one night when we left them out too late and a cold set in. You might not know this, but chickens are terribly stupid creatures, I’m sorry to say; and those chickens all ran to each other to get warm, they piled on top of each other, and all the chickens at the bottom of the pile suffocated or were crushed to death. It was a mess. We had a couple cows and had to sell them because we could barely do anything with them ourselves and had so little money by then. We’d brought a good amount of cash with us when we moved up here—Alice’s life savings, and what I’d been able to hide away and take when we fled—but by the end of that first year we were not in good financial shape, and we knew we had to do something. We’d had visitors, and we enjoyed having them, and decided that renting out rooms would be a better way to use the property. The house was built for families, and not just a family like we think of now, with a couple of kids, but a family where everyone would be born and die here—the grandparents would live here, and the parents, and all the children, and there’d be plenty of children. That’s the only way anybody could have survived up here before the highways were built and the population grew. It’s remote now, yes, but it was the far edge of nowhere fifty years ago.

      It was hard in the beginning. We certainly worried we weren’t going to be able to make it through those first years, but soon enough we had lots of help, and because the place was so remote then, people who came here weren’t really on vacation, they were after something else, some deeper escape. We were sort of a commune for a while, and it was good. For a while. Eventually, we shifted toward what we are now, and even as it’s become easier to travel up here, we’ve tried to keep some of the communal spirit. And it’s still a place people escape to.

      Of course, Alice and I were escapees. Escape artists. Literally, actually. 

     I suppose it’s all right to talk about now, though we never did, not once, to anyone, including ourselves. It was a long time ago, another lifetime. I hardly remember the details. 

     We had met in New Hampshire, where she was performing as a man. She was a magician, an illusionist. That was not something women did. Women were the sidekicks, the assistants, the people they sawed in half. She did that for a while when she was quite young. I think she ran away from home. That’s what she always said, anyway, and I never knew quite how seriously to take it. Ran away from home to join the circus. Or, well, not the circus but the vaudeville circuit. Something happened during a tour out west, one of those frontier towns that stayed a frontier town even after the frontier was long gone. She got away by disguising herself as a man. She knew how all the tricks worked, and so she started performing them in out-of-the-way places. Just sleight-of-hand at first, cards and coins, that sort of thing, until she could save up enough money to buy some props and equipment. She slowly made her way back east. Doing everything as a man. It’s not so hard to pull off if you’re a magician. People expect you to have secrets, they expect you to be mysterious. And she was, of course, even then, I’m sure, quite manly. Big shoulders, big feet, little breasts, always walked like she had something swinging between her legs. Some spirit gum and a good moustache and goatee were all she needed. Nobody looks carefully if they don’t have reason to. We don’t really see each other, do we? And in those days, clothes were important. It’s not like now, where women’s clothes and men’s clothes can be so similar. Back then, if you put a big, husky, hairy guy into a beautiful dress, plenty of people, probably most of them, wouldn’t think twice about it, they’d just think it was a homely girl. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s the truth. People saw the clothes, not the person. The clothes make the man. Put Alice in a top hat and tails, call her Henry, and there you have it. But with her, it wasn’t even a performance. It was just what she was. Even later. She didn’t dare do it too often or too publicly up here, because of all that happened, but she was far happier dressing in men’s clothes. There was a kind of safety in it, you know? But then there wasn’t. And that’s one of the things I regret, one of my big regrets—I took that safety away from her. I didn’t intend to. But that’s what I did.

      And what’s sad is that I got my own safety even as she lost hers. Tommy, that was my husband’s name, he was a terrible man. Every way that a man could be terrible, that was Tommy. When we were kids in school, I was very attracted to that. He was like an outlaw. But he wasn’t. We were in northern New Hampshire. There aren’t outlaws there, there are just assholes. But I was young and naïve and romantic. I didn’t know. He liked me because I was pretty when I was young and I didn’t really know there were better people out there, better men even, than Tommy. It was a different time, too, and a different place. Men hit their women, that’s what they did, that’s what they all did. My father hit my mother, and his father hit his mother, and so on. Their women, yes. Their women to hit. That’s how you know they’re your women, isn’t it? Same as a man could hit his dog or his horse or whatever, he could hit his woman, because she was his. And I didn’t know any better. It was Alice who taught me, showed me, what my life had become. And what it might be.

      I fell in love with Alice when she was a man. I hadn’t been able to have any children, and once he took a look the doctor said I wouldn’t ever, and I suspect now that it was because of what happened during one of Tommy’s really bad times; but I don’t want to go into all that, so I’ll just say I was hoping for something to get me out of the house, and at that point Tommy didn’t care if I worked or what, I think he just wanted me to die and leave him alone. He wouldn’t let me go, though. That was the terrible thing. I would have happily left. But no. I was his woman, and it would be an insult to him if I left him. He’d get so mad when I brought it up. Just awful. But he didn’t mind me looking for some work. So I read the paper. And there was a notice for an assistant to a magician. That’s what it said: “Magician’s assistant.” It sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world to me. It involved some travel, some mystery, everything I wanted. I asked Tommy if I could apply, and he said he didn’t care, so I did. Alice was Henry then, the Great Omega. Stupid name, I know, but it didn’t sound so bad back then. 

     She interviewed me at the Opera House. There were ten or fifteen other women there, all single, all younger than me. I think most men didn’t want their women to travel, or to be involved with such a disreputable sort of thing, so I was the only married one. I almost left when I saw how beautiful and young everybody else was. But Henry—Alice—liked something in me. “Are you sure you really want me?” I said.

     “Oh dear, yes,” he said. I’ll never forget that. He sounded so strange.

     I asked Alice later, after it all, why she hired me. Why me? She never quite explained it. She said I seemed to be the one who needed the job the most. And I suppose that was true. Or maybe it was love at first sight, even though I can’t say I really believe in that. But he was very handsome, I thought.

     “There will be many secrets,” he told me. “I need to know that you can own secrets.” I remember those exact words. I need to know that you can own secrets. And of course, I could. An owner undesiring, unjudging, profoundly indifferent.

     It took time to learn the tricks, to learn what I needed to do. I had always been a good dancer, and I had done some acrobatics, so I learned it all quickly enough at a basic level. And then experience teaches you, one show after another. I was terrible at first. Scared of the audience, scared of the equipment, scared of messing everything up. But I improved.

     It was, I suppose, eight or nine months into our tour—it wasn’t much of a tour, just northern New England, but farther than I’d ever been—anyway, it was into that tour maybe a year—no, sooner, maybe seven months—that I figured out Henry was Alice. I’m sure there were lots of signs before, and I just missed them. We were all but living together on the tour. Tiny, dingy theaters with rotten dressing rooms. You get to know a person in spaces like that. Certainly, we became very close. I knew I was in love with him. I hated it, hated myself for it, that blind and terrible love. He was so charismatic, so confident. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t do anything. My fear of Tommy was stronger than any love I could feel. But still. It was love. And so one day I happened to open the dressing room door as he was changing out of one set of clothes, and he wasn’t being as careful as usual, and … I saw. Everything. He didn’t seem to mind. Alice smiled and I remember that she gestured for me to come closer. I closed the door. She took off the rest of her clothes. And she embraced me, and kissed me. It was lovely. I was so scared of Tommy. I tried to go back home once a week, and I usually did, once a week for a day or sometimes two. But even so, he was beginning to get angry. He said people were talking. He said they said he couldn’t look after his woman. People thought I must be having an affair with Henry. Tommy said that to me. I was terribly scared. 

      Tommy got drunk a lot. He was better when he wasn’t drinking. But he was drinking all the time by then. I returned to Henry one day with bruises and cuts. 

     She said we would solve this. She said Tommy could be stopped. She said we would never be apart again.

     She spoke the truth. Tommy never hurt me again, never hurt another person. And Alice and I, we were never apart for the rest of our lives. She stuck to me and refused to fall away. Until now.

      I could go on and on, spinning a tale, using what tricks I know, but it would always be the same. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I can’t talk about it any more.







3.

“And to be honest,” William said, “that is all I really know about the Great Omega and Mary. Or Alice and Mary. She never said more than that, and she died a fortnight less than a year after Alice had. I developed the place into what it is now. I thought about renaming it The Great Omega or Alice & Mary’s or something, but it already had a reputation, and I thought the best way to honor them was to keep the name they had given it.”

      “Lolly Willowes,” I said. “It’s fun to say.”

      “Yes, indeed. For the longest time, I thought it was some exotic plant. But it is a book both Mary and Alice liked, a British novel, I think.”

      Neither Cath nor I had ever heard of it, and William said he hadn’t gotten around to reading it, though he had a copy somewhere. We were sitting out on the porch, watching the sun set. It was an unseasonably warm October night, and we were the only guests, though a week earlier the place had been almost filled to capacity.

      “What a fun coincidence,” Cath said, “that you were at their last performance. That you saw it all yourself, but you never knew the actual story.”

      “Yes,” William said. “I have had a lot of coincidences in my life, actually. That one was not even the biggest. I was in London once, at least ten years ago now, back when I was teaching—I remember because it was spring break, and I went to London for vacation. Anyway, I had gone shopping with a friend in Soho, and we wandered around some side streets and then decided we were hungry, so we stopped in a pub and got a sandwich and a pint. I am sitting there, and I see a man walk past, going over to the bathroom, a man who looks just like a good friend of mine from the school, another history teacher. A lovely man, someone I was very fond of—if I had to run into someone from the college randomly, I would have certainly wanted it to be him. But of course it could not be him, could it? The likelihood was simply impossible. Or was it? What were his plans for the break? I had no idea. So maybe … I said to my friend, the one I was having lunch with, ‘I think I know that man—I think I know him from the States,’ and he looked at me as if he thought I were developing dementia praecox. ‘Say his name when he comes by,’ my friend said. So I did. ‘Dr. Carmine,’ I said as he walked past. He stopped. Froze. Turned slowly. We stared at each other. It was him. James Carmine. Scruffy brown hair, green eyes, sharp cheekbones. It was him. We stared at each other for a whole minute, I think. Worlds seemed to collide. In talking with him, once we recovered our senses, it turned out he was in London visiting some friends he had never told me about. As was I. Secret lives overlapping. Some sort of fate. For one moment. After, we went our ways. I left the college. Life continued. I have no idea what became of him. It was not so many years ago, but a different world.” William lowered his head and looked long at a fading strip of sunlight stretched across the floorboards.

      “Did you love him?” Cath said quietly.

      William didn’t look up. “In my own way,” he whispered. “Distantly.” He turned toward us and smiled shyly, then offered another glass of wine, and we said sure, and I don’t remember what else we talked about. Maybe London, since it was where Cath and I had met, her hometown and a place I visited with a radical theater troupe I was managing back in the days when theater seemed like it might save the world, and it did save me from the husband my parents had so desperately wanted me to find. Or maybe we mentioned that we’d just sold my mother’s house in Massachusetts, sold it for more money than we’d ever dreamed possible—a house that had been, when my parents bought it, an undistinguished two-bedroom in a working-class suburb; and that had become quite valuable after the technology companies settled in along Route 128 and property values exploded. Cath had been working with a women’s group in Boston, but there was a lot of in-fighting and she was tired of it. I’d been managing a restaurant that had just gone bankrupt, a job I’d settled into after a life of traipsing around as an ever-more-destitute revolutionary who’d got to feeling like a caricature of whatever I’d dreamed of for myself. We were taking our extended vacation up to Lolly Willowes because we hadn’t quite decided what to do next, and we didn’t much want to decide.

      That night, we lay in bed for a long time, chatting about nothing in particular, nothing memorable, until I mentioned William. “He seems so forlorn,” I said, thinking about some of the men like William that I had known over the years, especially Eddie, one of the actors in our theater troupe, whom I’d dubbed, to myself at least, The Boy Who Pines. Drunk one night, he told me he’d loved one of the guys who had just left the troupe, but Eddie had always been afraid to say anything, and he hadn’t even wanted sex, he said, just someone to touch him, some hand to hold. Last I knew, Eddie had married a nondescript woman and settled down in Idaho or Iowa or one of those places, where he found a job as an accountant or clerk of some sort, something with very regular hours and a modest salary with the potential for incremental promotion; and he’s probably got children by now and a mortgage and a couple cars, and maybe he’s happy, though if I were to be honest I would suppose he’s probably more numb than anything, not happy or miserable, just existing, but how could I ever know, really? I haven’t heard from him in years.

      “Forlorn?” Cath said. “Alone, maybe. Lonely, perhaps. I’m not sure about forlorn.”

      “He talked about his wife a lot, and his kids. Or kid. One? I don’t remember.”

      “Yes. And what about that story of Soho? Why tell us that? I mean, Soho …”

      “Right. And the whole magician thing? Do you believe that?”

      “No,” Cath said. “But he seems to. And you remember Alice and Mary. They loved a good story.”

      “They told me they were from Calgary,” I said.

      “Swingin’ Calgary!”

      “Or maybe Ottawa. Or one was from Calgary and the other was from Ottawa. I can’t remember. But maybe that was just a story.”

      “A cover story.”

      “Maybe.”

      “You know, I swear,” Cath said, “the last time we were here, William was living with a man. Or at least, fooling around with one.”

      “Right! You said you saw him go up to William’s rooms. Ronald? Ronnie? One of those. He was nice.”

      “I saw him—Robbie?—I saw him go up one night when I’d come in to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and then another time, a couple days later, I saw him coming down very early in the morning when I was up for the sunrise. I pretended not to see him and he sort of shuffled by behind my back, then down to his cabin.”

      “Yes, I remember you told me. I thought William’s behavior, so carefully ignoring him, was very strange. I mean, here of all places. When was the last time a straight person even set foot here?”

      “Eons.”

      “So why hide?”

      “Habit, I suppose. Easiest just to keep going along as you’ve always been going along.”

      “Sad.”

      “True.”

      Our conversation drifted off, and soon enough I heard Cath’s familiar little snore, a sound that always made me imagine a sparrow whose song had somehow attained a BBC accent. 

     We held each other close that night, all night.

     We woke together to a beautiful morning: the sky clear, the air crisp, the light creamy through the thick old glass of the cabin’s window. Cath made tea in an electric kettle we’d brought, and we dawdled about through the morning, then headed up to the house just in time, we hoped, for the end of breakfast. A feast sat in silver serving dishes on the dining room table: hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon, ham, croissants, doughnuts, cornflakes, strawberries, blueberries, apples, peanuts, carafes of orange juice, milk, coffee, water. No one was around. We ate slowly, then wandered through the house, looking for William to thank him for a particularly sumptuous meal. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. We returned to the dining room and found a large envelope addressed to us on a side table in the back corner. Cath gave me a perplexed look, then opened it.

      She pulled out a sheaf of papers: a cover letter and various official documents. The letter was simple: “I leave this all to you. Do with it what you will. I think that is best. Thank you. William.” The official documents were a deed and all the necessary materials to sign the property and business over to us, if we wished. It would only need our signatures.

      I knocked on the door to the upstairs rooms where William lived. I knocked and knocked. Eventually, I turned the doorknob. The small, sparsely furnished rooms of the apartment looked like a museum, with chairs and a couch and a bed that dated back well into the nineteenth century. A few pictures on the walls must have been there when Alice and Mary moved in: sepia photographs of people long dead, paintings of farm scenes by someone more earnest than skilled. A tall oak bookcase filled with a few dusty volumes—a family Bible, a dictionary, a collection of Longfellow’s poems, a collection of poems called Offerings—as well as a collection of moth-eaten cloth dolls, a couple of blue china teacups, three tattered peacock feathers, a large silver bowl filled with rice. The bed had been tightly made and covered with a threadbare quilt. William was nowhere in the apartment.

      We waited. Soon enough, guests came and, not knowing what else to do, we helped them settle in. The pantry and refrigerator were stocked full, and so we cooked breakfast and dinner. Eventually, we had to go shopping, and so we did. Eventually, we brought the deed to the town offices, where the clerk had, it turned out, been expecting us, and all the paperwork was quickly filed. Eventually, we moved into the apartment.

      Sometime after moving in, while trying to spruce the apartment up a bit and bring it into the current age, we came upon a newspaper clipping that had fallen behind the bed. It was so old it began to crumble in our fingers. “MAGICIAN VANISHES MAN—AND HIMSELF” the headline read. So there was some truth to the stories, after all. What sort of truth it might be, we’ll likely never know.

      It is January as I write this. Cath is making tea for me and our six guests. A storm came in last night, and snow blankets everything. Now, though, it is morning and the storm is gone and the vaulting sky burns blue. I hear muffled voices in the rooms below. I hear Cath laugh. I will stop writing now, I will close this book, I will stand and walk across the ancient floorboards of our room, and I will press my nose against the cold window and stare out at the untroubling, untroubled world. 

Matthew Cheney’s work has appeared in One Story, Weird Tales, Failbetter, Los Angeles Review of Books, Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Rain Taxi, and elsewhere. He is coeditor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator and blogs now and then at The Mumpsimus. His collection Blood: Stories won the Hudson Prize and will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016.