The girl sitting on my front porch didn’t say hello . To introduce herself, she said, “I saw you do magic once .”
She was young, Asian, and pretty in that thin, boyish way girls are pretty before they transform into women and come fully into themselves . I thought she must be a fan who had managed to track down my home address—it’s happened before, believe it or not—but she didn’t give off that vibe . For one thing, she wasn’t smiling .
“I do my show all over town, all over the country,” I said . “I bet that dozens, maybe hundreds of people have seen me do magic .”
She continued not to smile at my little joke . “Not that kind of magic,” she said . “Real magic .” That stopped me .
“I don’t know what you mean .”
“Of course you do,” she said, and she waved her hand in front of her face like she was shooing away my inept lie . “I was back stage at a performance you gave and I saw you do some real magic . Maybe you should invite me inside .”
“I think we’ll stay out here for the time being . Who are you and what do you want?”
She nodded to herself, as if the conversation had finally gotten where she wanted it to go .
“It was Sergio the Great’s command performance,” she said . “You were having trouble doing the Mad Hatter’s Revenge and I was standing back stage . You didn’t know I was there, obviously . You did something with your hands .” Here she pantomimed a complicated hand gesture that actually looked pretty close to what I must have done on the stage . “And then poof! It worked .”
I studied her for a long time, trying desperately to figure out who she might be . A memory hovered just out of reach, but nothing concrete .
“Yeah,” I said finally, “that trick never did work for me the way it was supposed to . Maybe I should invite you inside, after all .” And for the first time, she smiled.
At the time this happened, I still lived in my little one-bedroom house in Portland’s Lents neighborhood . The area was just beginning to be gentrified so it was still something of a shithole, but at least I could afford my property tax . And I didn’t mind the rundown condition of the place . I’d grown up nearby, so it was at least familiar .
I had just started to make a name for myself as a close-up magician, even though I’d been playing clubs around the city, and across the country since I was a teenager . But here’s the thing . The girl had my number . I was a real, honest to God magician—a sorcerer or wizard, whatever the hell you want to call it . I hid that fact behind the facade of a not-too-successful stage magician . At least, I thought I’d been hiding that fact . This girl showing up on my doorstep in this way was unwelcome proof to the contrary .
I winced when I turned on the light . My place, while never being filthy, has never really been clean, either. Piles of books were augmented by the occasional dirty dish and bit of worn clothing .
Apparatuses from my stage act sat in various stages of completion on most flat surfaces. And the shelves that should have held books were crammed with occult knickknacks like skulls and fetuses in jars, all of them fake . I keep the real stuff locked up in my basement . And on top of it all, a vague smell of mildew and cooking oil . I motioned for her to come in behind me and I noticed how she surveyed the room, her nose wrinkled in mild disgust .
“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t get many women in here .” Then, realizing how that sounded, I followed up with, “Visitors . Many visitors .” She didn’t seem to hear any of it .
“Want a drink?” I asked . “It might help the décor .”
“I’m not old enough to drink .”
“Anything?” I asked . She looked, I guess the word is petulant? Arms crossed on her chest, one hip cocked, she looked younger just then than she had on the front step . “Water? Soda? I might have some milk in the fridge that hasn’t turned to cheese yet .”
“Nothing .” She lifted some books out of an old wing back chair and shifted them to another pile . She waited a moment to make sure the wobbling structure was sound . Then she sat down and watched while I mixed myself a drink . It was just gin and tonic, but helped take the edge off the heat . Unfortunately, my place had no air conditioning . After I had taken an initial sip and found the drink bearable, I sat across from her on my loveseat . A small stack of books collapsed as I changed the integrity of the cushions . I didn’t bother picking them up .
“Maybe we should start with who you are,” I said .