One night you get set up on a blind date with a struggling magician. You’re attracted to him—he’s tall, a great listener, and serious. As you arrive, he’s idling at the bar in a three-piece-suit, which makes you feel guilty for wearing a shaggy, threadbare sweater. Over a cucumber gimlet, he says he’s planning to quit his job in construction to focus on performing magic year round. That when his father died from cancer, magic was the only thing that got him through.
The check comes to the table, but before you can even fish through your clutch for some cash, he holds up his very tiny hand to stop you. He flattens a one-dollar bill on the table, folding it into a tiny square.
“Watch this,” he says, with a gleam in his eye. But after several flicks of his wrist, he only shakes his head in disappointment.
“I swear it works,” he says. “It usually turns into a Franklin.” You don’t know what to say, so you lean forward and rub his back to cheer him up, but somehow this makes it worse.
“Here,” you say, putting a $20 on the table. “I don’t mind.”
And you don’t, because you’re tipsy and think it’s cute that he tried so hard to dazzle you.
“We could go back to my place for a nightcap?” you ask. He nods, not very eagerly. He’s playing it cool.
Back at your apartment, one thing leads to another. The two of you fool around on the sofa and he takes out a pair of fuzzy handcuffs. You’re unsure how to feel about this, but he insists and you play along.
“Is that too tight?” you ask, pinning his wrist to the bedpost.
He tosses the key into your hamper. “Piece of cake,” he smiles. And as you’re having sex, panting and enjoying his hot breath on your neck, the sound of metal rattles against the headboard. He’s struggling to pry his hand loose. “Take your time,” you tell him. “You got this.” Finally, he displays his unshackled hands, dangling them high in the air as though in front of a live TV audience.
“Ta-Da,” he says. And you nearly laugh, but you don’t. The last thing you want is for him to think you’re having a laugh at his expense. You roll out of bed to freshen up in the bathroom, and you’re surprised at how much you like him. You weren’t looking for anything serious. You come back to the bedroom with a towel wrapped around your chest.
“I’m not,” you begin. “I’m not looking for anything serious.”
“Right,” he says. He seems distracted. He has a far off look in his eyes. He’s wearing nothing but the vest of his three-piece-suit. “Was it the handcuffs? It’s always the handcuffs.”
“No, it’s not the handcuffs,” you say, suddenly embarrassed. “I promise.” He looks distraught. His shoulders slouch forward as though he’s hiding something.
“Well,” you say. “We could watch something. How about a show? A movie?”
He stares at you as though you’ve just appeared. Then he brushes the hair behind your ear, revealing a shiny quarter. He points to the deck of cards on your coffee table. “Do you mind,” he says, “If I practice a new trick? I have a big birthday event coming up.”
“Why not,” you shrug, sinking onto the sofa under a large weighted blanket. While he tosses cards against the brick wall, aiming for the grout, you turn on Penn & Teller. Season 6. It’s a stunt with colorful recycling bins. You don’t remember if they were fooled or not. You feel light-headed. Cards ricochet off brick. “Not going to cut it,” you hear him whisper under his breath softly, like a curse. Then you doze off to the gentle scraping sound of cards shuffling.
In the morning, you call his name and look around the apartment, but he’s gone. On the kitchen countertop you find a blueberry scone left behind and a sketch of a rabbit munching on a carrot, but no phone number.
Weeks go by. You’re stuck in a holding pattern. When you finally do a load of laundry his handcuff key falls on the floor. You slip it into your jeans pocket, keeping it on your person at all costs, like a talisman. Several times, in the middle of the night, you dream of that sound again—that soft scraping sound of cards shuffling, so you get out of bed and pace your apartment, the stars huge and milky through the window. You wonder where he is during these moments; if that big birthday event went well; if he’s being handcuffed to a bedpost right now; if he’s attempting the dollar bill trick with someone else.
You try to masturbate, but it becomes difficult. The only way you can finish is to say “Ta-Da” or by staring at that picture of him on his Wix website holding a fluffy rabbit in a fedora. When you imagine him, it’s as the featured guest on Ellen or Jimmy Kimmel in a three-piece suit and a starched dress shirt in front of an enamored audience and a red-velvet show curtain.
You start staying in more, refusing to leave your apartment. You work from home anyway, at one of those jobs writing witty captions for social media content. You stalk his Twitter account and start to type a message to him, then delete it. Your friends ask if you’re sick, depressed, broken hearted and offer to bring over a container of matzo ball soup or to watch a movie.
“We could watch The Prestige?” one friend suggests.
“Are you kidding me?” you yell into the phone, before hanging up.
More time passes. Fuck him, you say aloud, while doing the dishes. Why do I feel like this? He wasn’t even a good magician! You wish you never met him in the first place. You agree to let your friends set you up on more blind dates, but the men are paralegals, salesmen, mortgage loan officers. They are not struggling magicians.
Then, on one of the dates at a hipster speakeasy joint in which you’re already bored of him before the drinks have even arrived, already staring at the ticking bird clock on the chalky wall, he asks if you like magic. “Weird question, I know,” he says, as you perk up. “But there’s a magic show.”
“What?” you ask, as the canary clock begins to chirp. “You mean, here? Tonight?”
“Yeah it’s corny, but pretty entertaining if you’re drunk.”
“Excuse me for a minute.”
You leave the table to collect yourself in the bathroom. When you return, you see him on stage at the podium. He’s wearing that three-piece-suit again, a rusty saw next to a long plywood box.
“Is everything all right?” your date asks.
“Dandy,” you mutter, taking another gulp of Moscow mule. “Just dandy.”
“For this next trick I’ll need a very brave volunteer,” he shouts, surveying the audience. “Any takers?”
Tracing a jittery circle around the rim of the copper mug, you decide to raise your hand. He squints in your direction.
“You. The woman in blue,” he points. “Come on up!”
You pad over to the stage as recognition begins to map across his face. He gives you a minimum nod, that far off look in his eyes again. He’s lost in the act. You lie down inside the plywood box, arms dropped to your sides.
“Make me disappear,” you say.
He shuts the lid.