Someone called me late in the evening to let me know. My last obligation here was finally dying. I walked out into the night, down the shoulder of the highway toward the nursing facility, and on the ground, the partially evaporated crust of brittle snow. When I crunched through it, the neighbor’s dog started barking like he’d been set free.
Old Lynn had been a stage magician. He’d performed at casinos and on cruise ships. He knew how to redirect a person’s attention. Your boyfriend could die, for example, your only friend in the world, he could die and leave his sick father stranded in a nursing facility, and, if Lynn wished it, you would miss the entire transaction. You would visit your dead boyfriend’s father for months, thinking only of your dead boyfriend.
Lynn had presence. He dominated the tiny room, even now, even dying—propped up on the hospital bed, strained look on his face. The nurse said he’d been seeing things.
“I have this for you,” he said. I touched him on the shoulder. He looked up at me, but I don’t know what he saw.
“We would like to induct you into the Fraternal Order of Magicians,” he said. He opened his hands. “Will you accept our offer?”
I didn’t say anything. I sat down in the chair on the other side of the room. Lynn didn’t say anything else. Soon he appeared to have fallen asleep. It had been six months since I lost Wayne. Six months alone in the trailer we’d bought together. I wanted to leave the reservation. I wanted a fresh start, and Lynn was the last thing keeping me here. Once he was dead, I thought—once he was dead.
I waited for two hours, but he didn’t die. I figured maybe it wouldn’t happen tonight. He seemed peaceful, so I got up to leave. I said goodbye.
“I want to show you a trick,” Lynn said, his eyes still closed. I was already halfway out the door.
“Here,” he whispered. So I came back, I pulled up the chair close to the bed. I sat down again. I could smell him then, that sharp fecal smell of the dying.
“I am going to show you how to perform the greatest magic trick ever invented,” Lynn said. “Pay close attention now.”
Lynn took a rattled, labored breath.
“Now,” he repeated. “Watch me disappear.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes, and nothing happened, and he didn’t say anything else. I turned because the moon suddenly seemed to flare huge and bright in the window behind me, and when I looked back, Lynn wasn’t breathing. I got the nurse; she called the doctor.
Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, New South and Midwestern Gothic. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.
Image: Lots-a-Sun 24×36, playing cards from Slots-a-Fun Casino Las Vegas, NV, acrylic on sheet metal
Alyse Chinnock is an artist and writer from Las Vegas, currently living in Northern Indiana. She studied poetry at Arizona State, and serves on the board for the Elkhart Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes public art in Elkhart County. Follow her on Twitter @IttyBittyPoems.