By Frank A. Possemato
I put a rose in April's mouth and she hands me the gun. This isn't the end of our show but it's the climax, and even on a sleepy just-a little-too-hot-to-be-nice Northeast Ohio afternoon this part will get the marks in the audience to snap to attention. The trick is I take 20 paces and shoot the rose out of April’s mouth- and I'm blindfolded. There's a real chance I'll miss the rose and shoot my wife dead and I think they sense the danger even if they tell themselves it's just a trick.
The blindfold is fake but I still can't see with it on. I won't tell you how the trick works. I'll tell you this: like just about everything else in life, magic is neither as real or as fake as it seems. April and I live in that space between real and fake, and that forever gives us the edge over the marks in the real world.
I tell the audience it's April's birthday. They clap. It's not. Her birthday is the same as my momma's.
Below the stage, the small crowd grows a little bit and they're all looking up at us. They notice April, the rose in her mouth against her blonde curls. I look at her; I look behind the trees in front of us past the audience. I notice a condor swooping, circling in the sky by the dumpster. I notice April waiting for me to take my cue; I notice a small rip in her fishnets peeking out above her high boots. I'm not the only one who notices her legs-- being a magic act is not as glamorous as it looks on stage. There's plenty of brushing your teeth in the car and wearing the same thing you slept in the day before. April's outfit is a slight of hand that keeps you from looking behind the curtain.
She nods; the flower falls out of her mouth. People laugh. She laughs. That's not part of the act. I put the rose back in her mouth- she steadies herself comically. Her breathing is fast and not kidding. She pulls in a breath and keeps it there. Only I see where her clothes meet her ribs and the fabric lies waiting for her heart to beat.
I hand April the blindfold, then turn my back to her. She fastens the blindfold with the rose still in her mouth. Speaking automatically I give the audience the spiel about what I'm gonna do: the 20 paces, the blindfold, need silence, need total concentration, don't forget to dig deep in purses and pockets if you enjoyed the show. I turn around and give April a kiss with eyes closed and the gun tight in my hand.
The blindfold is fake but the gun is real. The kiss is real too. You never know when it might be the last. Every time we do this part I worry about what could happen. It's easier to get it over with than to think about what could go wrong.
I count the twenty paces, feeling the audience's eyes on me. I remember my first date with April. I took her to the bank with me to cash my check. When the teller handed me back 100 dollars, five twenties, I did a slight of hand and palmed one of them, and counted back 80 dollars right in front of her. The money went right from the teller's hands to mine; I counted it out right in front of her: 80 dollars. The lady at the bank couldn't believe it. She made me hand it back and counted it three times before she mumbled and handed me another twenty. "Black collar crime," April whispered to me on our way out the door and I knew I was in love.
We turned that extra 20 into fried chicken. That's what passed for entertainment in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in the summer.
During this part of the show, waiting for the bang, for the bullet to cross by her cheek, to miss her by a stem, April always thinks of the same thing. Her mind goes to the window by the kitchen, hearing her grandmother behind her, and how she would always look out that window. How she would run to that window whenever it rained and watch the dots collect, first one at a time, then all of it. A message that erased itself.
I always hate taking the shot but today I can’t stop myself from thinking about it- today the things I ignore and somehow work out don't feel lined up. 19, 20 paces: it's time and I can feel the crowd waiting for me to lift the pistol from my side.
I've known April since we were kids, the sun doesn't set on those kinds of feelings. There are shadows and it get's stormy but even then there's sun on the outer banks.
April wonders what they think of her back home. What their lives are now. She remembers the feeling in the raindrops on the window: sure life is about work, bills, where to eat, housework, and upset stomachs, but it could also be kisses upon arrival, cuddling under warm covers, secret jokes, magic hour, and holding hands under the table.
I yank my arm up, hold the pistol out straight ready to fire. But I don't. Something feels off today. A shot like this is all instinct, it turns on a hair, a hair's breath between the head of the rose and what I don't even want to imagine.
I feel it. She feels it too. This trick lives and dies on instinct. If she rocks her weight on the mark, shifts just a little, she'll step into the shot. I always hate this part, but it feels worse today; something in the air, the humidity, the condor flying overhead before, it all makes me feel like I'm on a diving board and I look down to see the pool's empty.
I squeeze the trigger and the gun's report fills the air. The bang, the smell, the silence. The awful silence of hearing news too bad to be true.
No one's saying anything. I can feel my heart in my fingers and I can't get the blindfold off fast enough.
My eyes adjust, blurring, and there's April, a headless rose in her mouth.
She finally breathes out.
And I hear the sound of eleven people clapping.
We did it.
The next part of the act is her turn. I hold an egg in my hand and April smashes my hand with a mallet. If it goes right, I open my hand and the egg's broken. At least once before she's actually broken one of my fingers, but the egg always survives.
But now we're coasting. We made it through the hard part. Another day in Northeast Ohio, in wherever, tied with every other day that we're alive and healthy for the best day of our lives.
Traveling around, killing each other on stage. Alive for another day. Get me a hammer.