A Short Story by Enid Harlow
“Goodbye,” she said. “I have to go now.”
He didn’t answer but watched with steady eyes.
Meeting his eyes, she had a sense of herself reduced in size and given wings and flown out of herself toward him like a moth. She took a step closer as if to shake his hand, but he hadn’t extended his hand so she fluttered there, her purpose lost, around his head as if it were a flame.
Come back here, she called under her breath, and obediently the moth flew back inside her skin.
He took a step closer and made an expansive gesture with his arm, sweeping it out and quickly back. Instantly, she saw the flap of his greatcoat pulled open, revealing dozens of pockets neatly sewn inside. Each pocket held a tiny, flaming candle. As she stood entranced by the blazing spectacle, dozens of moths escaped her person. Each was drawn out of her toward a pocket inside the man’s greatcoat. They fluttered there above the flames.
“You’re full of tricks,” she said.
He smiled a magician’s smile.
Once more she recalled the fluttering creatures. Once more they returned obediently and folded themselves back inside their accustomed places where they lay still.
“Well, goodbye,” she said and walked away.
The moment she left him she felt better. Her breathing came easier, then tension in her shoulders relaxed. By the time she had reached the end of the block she had nearly forgotten him.
It was March before Joyce heard from him again. A tricky month. She didn’t quite know how to dress. Misled by a bright sky and dazzling sun, she’d underestimated the chill in the air and had worn only a light jacket over her sweater and skirt. Shivering and jamming her hands into her pockets, she waited at the entrance to the park where they had arranged to meet.
A park as familiar to her as her own childhood. She knew the turns of each of its paths, the exquisite danger of its large, climbing rocks, the limits of every swing in its playground. From where she stood she could see over the wall to where a few young children were being pushed on the swings. A heavy rubber mat had been laid on the ground beneath them for protection, but other than that nothing in the playground had changed since she had played there as a child.
Enid Harlow is the author of three novels: GOOD TO HER, CRASHING, and A BETTER MAN. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Boulevard, Nimrod, TriQuarterly, The Ontario Review, Northeast Review, Southern Review, and Southwest Review, among others. “Magic Man” originally appeared in Southwest Review.
Image courtesy of New Old Stock