July 27, 2005

Day Two of the Biggie Lyric Short Story Challenge (see day one)

Today's selection is from "Who Shot Ya?"

Your heartbeat sound like sasquatch feet, thunderin’, shakin’ the concrete

Marlena’s huddled in the closet clutching a kitchen knife when I get home from the illusionist’s convention.

Not being able to find her at first, I walk around the house yelling “Honey?” and the fact that she hears me and knows it’s me is the reason she doesn’t plunge the knife in my chest when I open the closet door. Also because I’m standing and she’s on the floor in a fetal position, her head in some coats that are hung up. But if she knows it’s me, why is she still down there?

“You didn’t ring the safety bell,” she says.

Safety bell? I ask. Oh, she said, I thought I told you. I grab a trembling hand and help her up and she leads me to the kitchen and shows me where she’s rigged up a big bell next to the front door, a string hanging down from it. She tells me while she was fixing it up in anticipation of sundown and being alone in the house in the dark she was having a conversation in her head with me where she explained how I was to ring the safety bell whenever I came into the house, and she would know it was me and wouldn’t be scared.

“I guess I just forgot we didn’t actually have that talk.”

“Are you sure somebody else wouldn’t ring the bell, even accidentally? I mean, it’s right there.” I know these words are stupid the second they leave my mouth but I’m too tired to stop them. Doing anything but completely denying the existence of ill-intentioned intruders is a huge breach of the Code For Sane Living With Marlena, and I instantly regret it.

“Oh God. Oh God, you’re right…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--” I say, but it’s too late. I’ve backhandedly convinced her that she has given her boogeymen a tool to deceive her; that she has, in fact, made her own violent death that much more inevitable.

She starts sputtering about how we’ll have to work out a way to keep the purpose of the safety bell a secret, or reverse-psychology anyone who enters the house out of ringing the bell, then she mentions something about Pavlov, that’s psychology and that’s with a bell, right?, then she starts crying.

The one thing I never really question in all this that you might think I should is having an imaginary conversation with someone and then becoming convinced it was real. I can’t judge that, because I had an imaginary conversation with her while I was gone.

In it, I told her I couldn’t do this anymore.

My signature illusion is called Schrodinger’s Wife. I explain to the audience that we will be testing live on stage the famous thought experiment Schrodinger’s Cat, and that the cat in our little experiment will be my lovely assistant. That lovely assistant was Marlena, up until about two years ago, hence the “wife” part of the piece. I still say my lovely assistant is my wife, even though she’s actually Nicole, a girl who answered my ad in the Humboldt Shopper. It helps the drama of the illusion.

My assistant is placed in a long box, which is then closed. Schrodinger’s box, I say, contained a radioactive isotope and some poison gas, but my specially designed suitcase containing those items was lost by the airline, so I’ll have to make do. Then I pull out a chainsaw and cut the box into three pieces.

I say, the experiment was meant to illustrate that until the box is opened and the state of the cat determined for sure, we are theoretically living in two universes simultaneously.

I pull out an automatic pistol and fire a round the first segment of the box, where presumably, my assistant’s feet are.

One in which the cat is alive.

I fire a round into the second segment of the box, where her chest is.

And one in which the cat is dead.

I fire a round into the third segment of the box, where her head is. Then I fire two more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say, how does it feel to be living in two realities at once? A stagehand gives me a flamethrower, and I shoot a jet of flame into the head end of the box. Tiny flames lick out at the foot end, and while the contents of the box are still smoking, I move downstage.

In one of these realities, I say, I am a happily married man who is made all the more happy by the fact that his wife has made it out of a terrible ordeal unharmed, maybe a little frazzled, but at least in one piece. I light a cigarette. It provides a really nice counterpoint with the column of black smoke rising behind me.

In the other, I’m a widower, a bachelor once again. On one hand, I’m shattered by what’s happened to my wife, on the other hand, maybe I’m in need of some comfort. I take out a hotel room key and toss it to an attractive female audience member. Room 1227, I say, and men look to their wives or their dates to see if it’s okay to laugh. Usually, it is. Everyone needs the release.

Well, these two realities are nice, but I wouldn’t want to live here, I say. Let’s see which one it is, shall we?

I open the box for only me to see and make a face like I’ve done the unspeakable. I choke back tears and look away in disgust. Oh God! I moan, what have done, what have I—

With a triumphant meow, my wife pops up from the box, thoroughly unkilled.

I turn to the audience and ask for my room key back.

Marlena’s mom fucked her up.

Her parents don’t like me because they define what I do as “magic” and, in their fundamentalist Christian lunacy, that falls into the same dark-arts category as heavy metal or independent thought. I can’t imagine the fear propagated in that household. Drunken father, guilt-monger mother, angry God. My parents listened to Joni Mitchell and referred only to “filmmakers,” not directors.

One morning before we were married we were eating breakfast when her mom called. “Mom,” I heard her say, “He’s not a magician, he’s an illusionist!” I gave her a that’s-my-girl smile over my Corn Pops.

Even then I was calling her my wife in the act. A week later at a VFW hall in Topeka, after Schrodinger’s Wife, I admitted as much. But I said I’d like to change all that tonight, and I called her up to the front of the stage and the audience of two hundred and thirty Kansas Girl Scouts and their parents went nuts. I fumbled for the ring in my pocket (the gun was still in there) and placed it on her shaking hand.

“Okay, maybe they started the problem but you’ve exacerbated it beyond--“

This is Marlena’s best friend Rachael and I on the phone. Rachael doesn’t like me either.

“I don’t like your tone, Rachael, frankly-“

“I don’t like you, Mitch!”

My stage name is Harrison Darq. My real name is Mitch.

“If she’s afraid of sex, maybe that’s her parents. But if she’s afraid of getting cut up or shot, maybe that’s because she spent three years getting cut up and shot! And by the person that’s supposed to be closest to her!”

“We’ve been over this. Even if I didn’t think there was a problem, I went out and I found somebody else to do the—“

“Oh, yea, and like it’s helping her paranoia to have her husband out on the road nine months out of the year with some college girl.”

“Well, by your logic, seeing me cut up and shoot this college girl should be therapeutic for her, right?”

“HOW, exactly? Do you know the first thing about therapeutic? Are YOU the one with the degree in psychiatry?”

“No, but I think I—“

“Then would that make me the one with the diploma from Magician School?”

“Whoa, hey, okay, watch it!”

I’m pacing back and forth in the bedroom with the door closed. I’m holding a message Marlena took while I was at the convention telling me to CALL RACHAEL. I’m also holding, among other various scraps, the convention’s official program, the cover of which reads:



Inside, I circled the lecture on ILLUSION IN THERAPY, and attended it on Saturday at 9 AM. I tell Rachael this. I also tell her that in his section of the LEGENDS OF SMOKE AND MIRRORS interview series (Sunday afternoon, 3:30, Rainbow Conference Hall), Conrad Drama, one of the industry’s first rock-n’-roll illusionists back when the old guard of illusory laughed at such a notion, said that it actually saved his marriage to put his wife in an act in which she was impaled four times each evening. It helped them work through a lot of anger issues, and—

“I don’t know who that is, Mitch, all I know is if you want to still be married, you should stop doing tricks where you kill-“

“Whoa, tricks? They’re not tricks, okay, kids are for kid’s parties. I do illusions.”

“Delusions, Mitch. You do delusions.”

Then she hangs up.

The safety bell is really well-mounted on the wall. I wish Marlena would find more outlets like that for her engineering talents. She was a stagehand when I was in my developing years as illusionist-in-residence at the Second Best Bed Theater. She designed and built all the apparatuses I still use on the road. I wish she would find more things to build that weren’t directly hardwired to her paranoia. I try to think of new, staging-intensive illusions later that night while I’m shaving, but nothing comes. This weekend, in a roundtable panel, Billy Tragyk said it’s best to stick with your signature ‘till it’s reached absolute saturation, and he would know, he’s been doing his signature, The Sleepy Gravedigger, to packed houses for twenty years.

In bed, I ask Marlena if maybe she’d like me to show her how to do my part of Schrodinger’s Wife, and perform it on Nicole. She doesn’t say anything, she just looks at me like I’m insane. And it’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever thought but when she does that I think: Don’t look at me like I’m crazy, crazy woman.

Maybe later I’ll forget I didn’t actually say it out loud and I’ll wonder why we’re not divorced.

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