The Card Trick

Johnny shuffled the deck of cards once, twice … thrice. He had a nervous habit, nervous habits I should say and if he didn’t shuffle cards, flip coins in his fingers or whittle some bit of wood, maybe a chunk of old pallet or something, any little bit of a busy thing, he would start scratching. The last time he took to scratching, he had ended up in the hospital, most of the skin on his right arm a bloody pulp. His mother screamed at him to get a job and clean up his life. He had to have her ejected from his room. She had great lungs, even whilst in the grip of big Boris the orderly, who grabbed her around the middle, lifted her up in the air and physically hauled her away. No mean feat as Momma carried a few extra. Even then she wouldn’t shut up. He had to hand it to her, when she had her mind on something, she just couldn’t be stopped. His father sat watching and didn’t make a move. He simply sat in the little uncomfortable chair that they give you for visitors and held his hat in his hands. Too old school to wear a hat inside, he always doffed his cap, in this case his very best black velvet fedora, which he only brought out on special occasions. After the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of his mother’s exit, Johnny’s pops smiled and said.

Show me one of your card tricks Johnny. Johnny smiled back at his dad,

Aw pops you’ve already seen them all.

No, show me a trick, and then explain how you do it. Johnny’s dad took a fresh deck of cards out of his pocket and handed them over to his son. Johnny proceeded to rip off the cellophane and crack the deck, shuffle the cards and then did a trick for his dad. His dad smiled the biggest smile Johnny had ever seen; he was getting the biggest kick out of this.

Ok now show me how. So he did. Johnny went through the trick step by step, shuffling the deck, giving it to his dad to cut, getting his dad to pick the card and then walking his dad through the trick, showing the path of the card as it went through a shuffle and a cut and ended up on top to be turned over and revealed as the originally chosen card. Johnny was expecting his dad to be disappointed, just as Dorothy and her companions were when, after that crazy journey and all the expectation, little Toto sniffs behind the curtain and the great and powerful Oz is revealed to be just a regular guy. But that didn’t happen. His smile only got bigger. They both turned their heads at the sound of kerfuffle down the hall and then looked back at each other. Johnny’s father shrugged his shoulders and got up and straightened his clothes and put on his hat. He pinched his son’s toe through the blanket and gave him a wink.

Well son I had better tend to your mother. That was the last time Johnny saw him. He got hit by a truck at a crosswalk and died instantly the next day.

Johnny coughed a deep rattling cough and peered inside the dumpster looking for food, his hands going a mile a minute, shuffling the deck of cards. He got up onto a stack of pallets and was just about ready to jump over the edge when a high-pitched voice softly called out to him.

Hey mister do you know any tricks; I see that you have a deck of cards in your hands. Johnny stopped in mid-step; he had his leg halfway over the edge of the dumpster and getting it down meant hopping on one foot until he could get his leg back over. As he was in the middle of the necessary gyrations, he was confronted by what he at first took to be an apparition. Tight bright red curls of hair on a little girl with a face so white it appeared translucent. Immaculately dressed in a gorgeous green dress complete with appliqué dancers in pink tutus and white ballet shoes topped by a purple faux fur collar. She was holding a leash connected to a dog twice her size. Diminutive as she seemed this still meant that the dog was enormous, a giant beast of a thing with thick long pure black hair. This creature looked more like a black lion than a dog, Johnny was certain that this was the largest dog that he had ever seen. They were backlit by the afternoon sun and so had this quality of gossamer, of shimmer, the girl’s hair shining like a head full of fire. She spoke.

My name is Glenda and this is my dog Beppo, I named him after one of the unknown Marx brothers don’t you know. I was still twirling and hopping unsteadily on my platform of pallets. Finally I landed and blinked my eyes twice then I rubbed them for good measure, but Glenda and Beppo did not disappear, as was sometimes the case these days during what I will someday hopefully, laughingly call my ‘Alley Period’. Certainly somewhat cubist, based on my impressions fragmented through the kaleidoscopic filter of my current mixture of self-medications. Nope, Glenda didn’t budge and neither did Beppo and the two certainly looked like they meant business. I looked at them and they looked at me and there we stood for a while like three statues, One, seemingly on fire. I started a card trick. I shuffled the deck then offered the deck to Glenda who took a card and showed it to Beppo. I would swear he nodded but … well! I took their card back into the deck and did my shenanigans with the requisite patter. I shuffled, cut, fanned and even slapped the deck for good measure. I told stories of a glorious past complete with navigators in goggles and equatorial crossings. I was really putting on a show this time. I was on fire. I glanced at Glenda who had a delighted smile on her face and Beppo who appeared completely unmoved. At the end I removed their card from the deck and then keeping the card in my hand and handing the deck over to Glenda, I turned my back to them in order to present the card with a flourish. I made some trumpet noises and turned around with the card facing out and they were gone. I looked all around me you know in that way where you almost get tripped up spinning around. I hadn’t heard a sound. Quiet as a couple of cats they were. The deck of cards was in a splatter on the ground.

The shot: We start with a close up of Johnny holding out the two of hearts. We catch the look of surprise on his face and then the camera slowly rises and takes in the area around the dumpster and the alley and then the neighbourhood and nothing, no trace of the red haired girl and her large lion-like black dog. Back to Johnny whose eyes catch a little glint. He puts out his hand and captures two shiny red curls floating in the sunlight. Cut.

Julien’s Special Day

Julien’s Special Day

Juice was pouring out of the juicing machine and flowing across the counter. Quite a bit of juice actually. The curious mix of Avocado, Raspberry and Kale splashing onto the face of Julien who lay on the floor. The door to the kitchen was ajar. He’d been meaning to do renovations and remove the doorway, open things up a bit. Now he was lying on his back on the floor and he wouldn’t be worrying about the renovations any more.

He lived alone in this little house at 27 Court St. in the cities west end. The end that embraced the sun as it found its weary way to sleep. Pretty working-class this end, in a bit of a lull waiting for the wrecking balls of the Gentrifiers. At the moment they were all busy to the south and east. Julien was an early adopter. He worked as a middle manager keeping track of the efforts of a small and dedicated crew who sorted and distributed the mail, such as it was these days what with all the e-mailing, texting and tweeting.

The juice continued to spill out of a bullet hole in the juicer. Some of it was mixing with the blood leaking from Julien’s head creating interesting textures on the grey slate floor in the kitchen. A book of philosophy was open on the kitchen table beside the plate carefully laid out with egg, toast and bacon. The silverware placed ever so precisely like sentinels on guard. En Garde the famous cry before attacking in Rapiers. But the silver couldn’t help Julien on this day. This special day, the day when he was due to get a pay rise and a commendation for many consecutive days without a sick day at the company where he so carefully tracked and counted the dwindling influx of mail.

He usually phoned his mother most mornings. She was getting on in years but still kept her own apartment, not far away, a little further west. She wouldn’t get a call today, but having received one yesterday this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, it would take at least one more full day before Julien’s mother would start to wonder and would phone Julien’s sister who also lived nearby. There were others whom she would phone and they would phone still many more. The discovery of Julien’s death would wait.

The traffic was going by his house in a rumble and a blur and looking across the street from the park, his house stood quiet and sedate, just as peaceful as all the other houses along the street. A street filled with beautiful leafy trees dark green from all the June rain. Julien had gotten a bit bored with fiction and had begun to dig out his old philosophy books and this particular one by Nietzsche had really caught his eye. He was enthralled by the idea of the Über Mensch. Julien felt that he shared some kind of affinity with Nietzsche. Julien had been very ill growing up and as a consequence had been tended by his mother and sister. Julien’s father had spurned him during this time in favour of his two older and healthier brothers.

Nietzsche had been sickly though much of his adult life and was tended by his sister. There are some who believe that Nietzsche and his sister had some kind of untoward intimacy for each other. Julien’s illness riddled childhood had stunted his growth and he ended up quite diminutive. His intelligence was not affected however and he did quite well in school. Excelling in the most esoteric disciplines such as philosophy. When he got out of university he had been recruited by CSIS and had spent time overseas as a spy. Julien would always shrug off such talk of the cloak and dagger, spies and the like, he would demur and turn the topic to something else. However his resume did have several gaps in it, filled with vague references to import and export of goods unknown.

Julien had participated in a particularly dirty bit of business in the nineties. His subject had died while in custody and had to be buried late at night down an old lane, but not before he had given over the detailed directions to a cache of gold hidden in the hills of a unnamed southern country. Julien personally took care of the burial but not before extracting the subjects gold teeth. Well the dead gentleman wasn’t going to need them where he was going was he? Julien’s mission had concluded successfully, having located and collected the gold. Julien couldn’t help it that some of the cache had gone astray. Who was keeping accounts? The agency had gotten more than enough, he reckoned.

He had temporarily ‘borrowed’ a truck during the escapade. What he didn’t realize was he had been seen at one point and someone made a vow of revenge. Finally after some other jobs, some very close calls in Northern Africa, guns drawn and muzzle flashes in the night, in alleys intermittently obscured by moody steam, he decided to pack it in.

Not however before one last job, unsanctioned by the agency. He had begun his planning well in advance, as this was going to be a solo effort. He felt too vulnerable involving anyone else. Even his regular partners would be left in the dark on this one. But ones adversaries can have the longest memories and revenge can take its own sweet time catching up to one such as he. It often comes out of the blue when you least expect it. Some bright sunny day while getting ready for work, a gold-toothed Berber might roll up on you soft and silent like.

Howard Beye 2014