Disappearing Act

by Jacqueline Doyle

The Magician’s Assistant has a few tricks up her sleeve. She’s been practicing sleight of hand with coins and a deck of cards, reading back copies of Vanish Magazine and a biography of Houdini. Not exactly a household name, her magician bills himself as Mondo the Magnificent. She isn’t billed at all, not even as the Magician’s Assistant, though she’s featured in the posters, wearing a fitted tuxedo jacket and pleated white shirt with very short shorts and very high heels, looking cute and leggy and impressed with the magician, standing to the side as he whirls his cape at the center of the stage. In reality, he isn’t all that impressive, trotting out the same old tricks every night in the same old- fashioned black tie costume he’s been wearing for twenty years. He hasn’t paid her for three weeks now, and it’s hard to blame him when she knows he’s living on a pittance himself.

The Magician’s Assistant can feel the audience’s inattention as Mondo lowers the lid on the raised coffin-shaped box and prepares to saw her in half. Yawn. Half of them are looking at their cell phones instead of the act. And their boredom when he pulls a rabbit out of a hat and then hands it to her to take off stage. Why not blackbirds, or a boa constrictor, something different? Or how about sawing a man in half for a change? Maybe she could master a new version of Houdini’s underwater handcuff escape. A mermaid in ropes? The Magician’s Assistant holds her breath in the bathtub every night. She’s sure she can do better than Mondo. At least when she looks in the steamed-up bathroom mirror she’s sure. She still gets nervous on stage when she has to say something. But she’s improving.

Mondo rescued her, really. “You’re a loser,” her father sneered when she dropped out of community college. “Don’t think you’re getting a penny out of me. Get a job at McDonald’s.” She doesn’t want any money from her dad, who falls asleep in his La-Z-Boy every night, TV blaring, surrounded by crumpled Budweiser cans. She doesn’t want to work in fast food, or retail, or for some dumb boss in an office either. She wants to travel. Be somebody. At least Mondo bucks her up, sees her potential. He’s taught her everything he knows. Sure, it’s all make-believe, but when they pull off a trick, and someone in the crowd goes “aaaaah,” it’s magic.

Mondo says she can take over some day, but he doesn’t seem in any hurry to step down. She’s been trying out cheesy names: Sarah the Spectacular, Maya the Marvelous, Frida the Fabulous. She needs to find a good agent, someone with international bookings. Walk out on Mondo, a nice guy who’s hopelessly out of date and needs to retire. Once she gets a little money in the bank, a little more confidence, some new tricks, a new name, she’ll disappear for real. Presto! The Magic Wanda!