Smoke and Mirrors

(flash creative nonfiction)

I found a fledgling in the yews in the side yard when I was eight or nine. He was covered in bird lice, and shit down my arm as I washed him clean with the hose. I still remember the heat of it. His big, dumb eyes blinking in the light. He didn’t seem to know he was pitiful, and that itself was a kind of magic. My mother made me put him in the tall grass beyond the swing set. She made up stories about his wonderful adventures.

My brother got pooped on by a white dove at a magic show. He was small enough still to sit on our father’s lap in a gymnasium full of metal folding chairs. The magician popped a big red balloon with a straight pin and the bird it contained startled, arced out over the audience and let fly a great white splash of poop before settling in the rafters. The entire audience followed the dropping with their eyes and I remember them gasping in disgust as it hit my brother’s leg. The magician doffed his top hat and insisted it would bring my brother luck.

But a magician’s gift is misdirection. My brother has never known what hit him. Then and now and all his life. Smoke and mirrors, the bared arm and the nothing up the sleeve, rabbits kicking against the air, and doves that disappear against the sky with a flap of desperate wings.

There are those days lost to memories. They pour out endlessly like silk kerchiefs from the head: The bright bouquet of his fortieth birthday, harsh and plastic. The candles winking out. There is the collapsible top hat of his never marrying, the dangling legs of the pretty girl cut in two. The risk of lives not being put back together. There is the sword that pierces the heart like loneliness. There is the flourish of the black cape and the tap of the wand. There are the false bottoms, the trap doors, the hidden compartments. There is the way he laughs at you using nothing but his eyes. There is his smile twitching midair. There are the hours with their circular flight. There is a brother you can’t quite believe in. There is a brother who disappears before your eyes.

Brent FiskBrent Fisk is a writer from Bowling Green, Kentucky. His work has appeared in Rattle, Fugue, Folio, Cincinnati Review, and Prairie Schooner, among other places. He is taking time off from his day job to finish several book-length projects and perfect his mid-range jump shot.