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December 11, 2019 | Rome, Italy

The Travolta

By | 2018-03-21T18:36:52+01:00 April 21st, 2009|"Short Fiction"|
John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever," 1977.

The following is Chapter 10 of Timothy Aubrey’s first novel titled “The Travolta.” Edward and Brandon have recently met at the inaugural meeting of the Southridge High School Disco Revival Club. A devoted reader of fantasy novels and an aspiring actor, Edward is getting used to the idea of having a social life. Brandon, by contrast, has just moved to Southridge, Pennsylvania from the west coast, where he was involved in an alternative Indie-rock scene, and he has reluctantly decided that the only people he can even tolerate in his new town of residence are clueless nerds. The year is 1992, and the novel depicts the elaborate efforts of eleven teenagers to steal a life-sized cardboard cut-out of John Travolta.

CONTEMPLATING THE paradoxes of time travel just after wedging his clarinet into the school’s narrow storage closet, Edward turned around to find Brandon waiting for him in the hallway. It was a surprising development. Edward wasn’t used to being waited for by anyone, and despite their brief moment of connection the other day, Brandon, of all people, seemed too aloof to pay such attention to his existence.

Giving up for the moment on trying to decide which of two possible outcomes he might produce by going back to 1974 and murdering his own father, Edward greeted his new friend. “Hello, Brandon. How are you?”

Brandon looked right and then left as if he were afraid they were being spied upon. Then he muttered, “No better than before.”

Edward had no knowledge of Brandon’s previous condition. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he offered.

“What do you think our musical instruments do in the closet when nobody’s around?” Brandon asked with mock-urgency

Edward felt pressure to be amusing, but nothing particularly clever came to mind. “I don’t know. Sit there?”

“Maybe that’s what they want you to think,” Brandon replied, still muttering, looking over his shoulder at the closet suspiciously as they walked together toward the school’s exit.

Edward wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond. Did Brandon want an audience or an accomplice? Edward realized that he wanted very much for their conversation to be witty. How could he make it obvious that he got the joke without ruining it? Running out of time, he decided to turn the question back to Brandon, see what he had to offer. “What do you think your violin would like to do when nobody was looking?”

Brandon seemed to ponder this question for a while. Edward waited for him to say something. Brandon’s expression, directed toward a pair of Reebok Pump Sneakers shuffling ten feet ahead of them, relaxed slowly into vacancy. He blinked a couple times, crossed his eyes, and said, “Yeah…. Um.” Then he smiled. The entire sequence represented such a peculiar combination of deliberate affect and spacey inattentiveness that Edward couldn’t help but laugh. Brandon joined him in his laughter a moment later. It was a pleasant moment, but Edward didn’t know whether they were laughing at the same thing.

“Where are we going?” Brandon asked all of a sudden.

Yet again taken aback, and unsure of just how much of the future the question was intended to encompass, Edward gradually raised his head so as to examine the immediate possibilities that awaited them: a hallway, a lobby, glass doors, a set of steps, a parking lot, school buses. He decided to focus on the most distant object within his line of vision. “Well, it would seem we are nearing the school buses.”

Brandon’s eyes turned upward to look at the thus mentioned destination. “It would seem…” he started, and then he interrupted himself. “Hey maybe we should get lunch somewhere. Do you want to get lunch? Let’s get lunch.”

This three-step evolution from suggestion to imperative did not appear to require Edward’s assent. He gave it anyway. “Ok. Where?”

“We’ll take the bus that goes into town and then figure it out.”

Edward had been planning to go to the public library and spend the afternoon reading a fantasy novel, but he found this alternative far more thrilling — and rightfully so. A new friendship was there for him to seize. But was Brandon really a friend? Was he destined to join the circle? The signs so far were confusing.

On the bus, Brandon chose a seat directly in front of Edward’s and then swiveled around so he was kneeling and peering over his seat-back down at Edward. He had a swollen white- head just beneath his chin, which Edward couldn’t resist staring at until Brandon covered it with his hand.

“Can I ask you a question?” Brandon began.

“Please.”

“Why do you wear a fedora and a trench coat?”

Although he sensed mostly curiosity in Brandon’s voice, it was the kind of question, when asked by a certain type of person, which meant you were about to be ridiculed. Thus Edward couldn’t help but respond warily, “Why shouldn’t I?” Worried his rejoinder might have sounded too defensive, he smiled.

Brandon’s eyes turned upward as if in contemplation of Edward’s question. “Why shouldn’t you?” he repeated. “Well, it’s different from what everyone else wears, so, in a way, you’re calling attention to yourself. It’s like you’re trying to make a statement.”

“No. I simply don’t believe I should feel compelled to dress like everyone else. Why can’t I dress the way I want?”

“Is that the statement you’re trying to make?”

Noticing for the first time Brandon’s red Adidas workout jacket with white stripes down the arms, Edward wondered what statement it was supposed to make. He replied, “No, I’m not trying to make any statement at all. I don’t care what other people think of me or what I wear.”

Brandon removed his hand from his chin and pressed it up against his forehead, as if the view Edward had just expressed were almost too deep to contemplate. “Why not?” he finally asked.

The honest answer to this question, Edward knew, might reveal too much. But then maybe he needed to take the risk. “I guess being a social pariah all through middle school taught me to stop seeking the approval of my peers.”

Brandon didn’t seem surprised by this comment. “Hmm. What’s a pariah?”

“It’s like an outcaste.”

“Good word.”

“Well, except when you are one.” They both laughed, and Edward experienced the enormous relief that frequently attends the confession of things that aren’t really a secret — things, like, say, adolescent masturbatory habits, whose very obviousness makes one strive to conceal them all the more obsessively. Who, after all, would have been surprised to discover that Edward was a nerd? And yet it was a subject he almost never broached.

Enjoying the firmer ground on which he now stood in relation to Brandon, Edward decided to test it a little. “Weren’t you a nerd in your last school?”

“Ha! Good question.” The bus had come to stop just at the beginning of the major commercial stretch on Route 38, and Brandon turned abruptly to face Edward. “Do you want to get off here? We could go to Subway.”

The line at Subway, which stretched from the counter between the booths, and almost to the door, consisted mainly of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds who had walked to town from the nearby middle school, but the spastic, jostling, shrieking throng of adolescents between Edward and Brandon and the register did not qualify as anything quite so linear as a line. Within moments of their entrance, one wiry tan-skinned girl, demonstrating to her two friends how to perform a dance move, spun backwards into Brandon. He made a cross with his arms to shield himself. It wasn’t clear that she had grasped the nature of the obstacle that had interfered with her maneuver until, spinning around again, she found herself facing the two of them and issued an apology in the hysterical, smug, sing-songy tone of voice that early adolescents use when they want to sound adult. Then she turned to stare at Edward with a curious but disdainful frown, and, punctuating her words by jumping from one foot to the other, asked him, “Why are you wearing that hat?”

“Because I’m a pariah,” he replied.

“Gross!” She wrinkled her nose and whirled around to share this information with her friend.

“She must have thought that ‘pariah’ is a…”

“Yeah.” Brandon smiled. And then, very quietly he whispered, “Pariah.”

Edward knew this game; the term used in his first introduction to it three years ago had been “penis.” He replied just slightly louder, “Pariah.”

At an ordinary speaking volume, Brandon responded: “Pariah.”

Even louder: “Pariah.”

There was a pause here, as both contemplated whether or not to let the contest escalate. The two were staring at each other, just barely smiling, motionless, reluctant to discover what kind of reaction they were receiving among their audience, each looking to the other for direction, for a hint of caution, annoyance, embarrassment, defiance, anything that would indicate how to proceed, while both kept their faces as blank as possible, unwilling to betray either trepidation or enthusiasm, until Brandon took a breath and spat out even louder, “Pariah!” Now the stakes had become significantly higher. His outburst had prompted everyone within a five-foot radius to pause and stare at them with irritation. This display of courage demanded a response, even if it brought the entire room to silence. Edward took a breath and shouted, “Pariah!” Although some people were obviously committed now to pretending that the two of them did not exist, at least half the people in the room turned to stare. Edward felt certain that the game was over and he had won, simply because he believed that they must have reached the summit of humiliation, a plateau so narrow that anything but absolute stillness would cause them to loose their foothold and plummet to their death. He was wrong. Edward looked down at Brandon’s blue Van sneakers. Hearing a rapid intake of breath, he raised his eyes just in time to catch Brandon staring back at him, his ear tips bright red, his mouth wide open, as he screamed, “Pariah!!” Now it was quiet enough in the room so Edward could hear the sound of an employee pulling apart two slices of cheese twenty feet away from him. He was, however, no longer embarrassed, and, knowing his lung capacity simply wouldn’t allow him to utter “pariah” any louder, he stepped away from the line so that he was facing everyone in it, smiled with mock humility, as if he were about to be lavished with some accolade he was pretending he didn’t deserve, and took a bow, before returning to the line. Within seconds people resumed their conversations, and Edward and Brandon had ceased to command anyone’s notice.

“Wow,” said Brandon. Still blushing, still teary eyed, they both remained speechless for a minute. Brandon shook his head. Placing his hand on the back of his neck, he remarked, “That was crazy. The funny thing is, I never have been one. A pariah. Until now.”

It was their turn to order. While Brandon methodically selected and rejected particular toppings for his sandwich, Edward waved absent-mindedly across the entire salad bar and said, “Everything.” They sat down in the corner next to the front window, which looked out on a half-filled shopping center parking lot.

“So, you never were a pariah?” asked Edward. “Not even in middle school?”

“My school in Eugene was different from this one. I was never popular, but I was never a nerd either. There were more options.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was like, you could be different or, you know, alternative, whatever that means, and it was respectable.”

“How strange. You’re telling me you were never the object of constant daily ridicule? What are you doing hanging out with all of us?”

Brandon seemed to find eating his sandwich a struggle. Little pieces of lettuce kept falling down onto the table, each of which he stared down at, bemused and a bit sad. In an unsurprised tone, he replied, “Are you saying that all of you—Danny, Sanjiv, Jared—were like victimized?”

“In middle school, yeah.”

“Even Jake?”

Especially Jake. He was like a model student, and so he used to get tortured. A couple kids almost dunked his head in a toilet once.”

“Uggh. What a nightmare.”

“Yeah. Actually, the only one they couldn’t really faze was Danny. He was immune. He would do these completely ridiculous things and get really excited and start talking really loudly…”

“He still does that,” Brandon inserted.

“Yeah, but trust me, it was different then. He was really hyper, and he never seemed to notice when people were laughing at him. He has a gift for public humiliation. He would have been proud of us today.”

“So did all of you hang out with each other in middle school?”

“Danny and Jake were friends, I think, but most of us didn’t hang out. We were all embarrassed by each other. We didn’t want to associate with other nerds.”

“That’s ridiculous. You guys are the only halfway interesting people I’ve met at this school,” said Brandon.

“Halfway.”

Brandon ignored his comment. “I always wondered, why are the boring popular kids so desperate to hang out together? ‘Hey, let’s meet up and bore the shit out of each other tonight. Make sure we don’t invite anyone who might actually be funny or smart.”

“So you did have boring popular kids at your school.”

“Sure,” said Brandon. “But me and my friends, it’s like we formed our own thing. We were like, fuck these preppies, fuck their stupid white baseball caps, fuck the crap music they listen to, fuck this whole system, and then we all got into the same indie rock scene, started acting like we were badasses, smoking pot, and by the end, you know, it wasn’t clear who the cool kids were anymore: them or us.”

Brandon’s sandwich reacted to this speech by disintegrating in his hands. Edward tried to imagine the peer group that Brandon was describing. It sounded like it resembled certain MTV videos he had seen, but that was his only point of comparison, and he found it unnerving that Brandon had inhabited a world so alien and so delinquent. His life suddenly seemed dull and limited by comparison. “Did you guys date a lot?” he asked.

Brandon smiled. “Is that the test for whether we were cool?”

“Well, not dating is proof that you’re a nerd.”

“True enough.”

The conversation continued to drift in this way for a while. The displays, the half-revelations, the unhurried pace of the talk suited them enough so that they were both equally surprised to discover, when Edward looked at his watch, that it was already 3 p.m., as if they had thought that the Subway, in its bright yellow, ugly permanence had frozen the progress of the afternoon. But they were in high school, and it was the first day of Thanksgiving vacation, which meant they were in no hurry to be anywhere, and, so after they decided it was time to go for no good reason except that Brandon had finished sucking the last bit of flavor from the final ice cube in his soda, and the grease stain on Edward’s sandwich wrapper had finally stopped expanding and no longer resembled a walrus, Edward was not surprised at all when Brandon said, as they stood uncertainly with hands in pockets in the parking lot, “What do we do now?”

He replied, “We can walk back to my house if you want. It’s not far.”

Brandon shrugged. “Ok.”

On the way home, Brandon abruptly launched into a story about his most recent ex-girlfriend, with the phrase, “The thing is…” Though it was painfully generic, Edward was thrilled to be deemed worthy of listening to it, and Brandon obviously thought it was important, because he kept stopping their forward motion to repeat certain lines, look Edward in the eyes, and gesture with both hands almost violently. They had started dating shortly before he left home, after spending several years in the same friend group both secretly hoping something would happen, until one night she just kissed him out of nowhere when they were hanging out watching TV. But then his dad’s company had moved the family out to Pennsylvania, and he and the girl had promised to stay together and write and talk as much as possible, but then she had recently been far less consistent in writing letters, and he didn’t know why, until he heard from another friend that she had met a new boyfriend. Brandon didn’t know what to do. Edward didn’t know either, but he tried to make it appear as if he were seriously contemplating the matter by nodding and wrinkling his forehead several times.

They arrived at Edward’s steep twisting driveway, and he was glad they were shortly going to have a new topic of conversation, because he was afraid he was failing to prove worthy of Brandon’s secrets. Now all such worries were erased by the challenge of introducing Brandon to his home. Edward hadn’t had a friend over in several years. In his memory of his last guest when he was thirteen, he discovered a funny measure of how he had matured in the meantime — back then, he hadn’t grasped that there was any reason to be embarrassed. Now it was all too obvious, and the only strategy for dealing with the strangeness of his house and his family was to face it head-on and play eccentric tour guide.

As they trudged upward, Edward explained between breaths, “I want to welcome you to the Boltwood House of Oddities. To your right, just as we ascend the hill, you’ll see a still-life scene constructed entirely out of rubber bands.” In vivid colors, slightly smaller than life-sized, two muscular male tennis players faced each other, one older, frozen, and pensive at the baseline, his racket raised, after having just lobbed the ball, which was suspended high above the net, hanging from a barely visible string attached to a tree branch above, as the other younger player stretched to volley it, his face contorted with effort, while, near the baseline, a golden retriever on its hind legs seemed poised to catch the ball and disrupt the game to the amusement of a blond little girl in ribbons and a sailor suit on the sideline, and to the chagrin of an older woman drinking what appeared to be a martini, in an old-fashioned tennis outfit with a handkerchief around her neck. Nobody in the scene seemed to notice a third spectator, a very young blonde boy on the other side of the court crouching next to the net and about to shoot, in what was surely the piece’s most brilliant detail, a rubber-band in the direction of either the dog or the older woman. Edward, who was accustomed to passing this scene without even a glance, found his awe in its subtle evocation of the family’s vaguely disturbing psychodrama revived, but still he couldn’t even begin to imagine what Brandon must be thinking.

“Wow.”

“In case you’re wondering, this is not a fake. There is no wood, metal, plastic, or glass used. It’s all rubber bands, from the exterior to the core.”

“Wow.”

“That, by the way, is the work of my father, mathematician, storyteller, and, most notably, hobbyist.”

“Wow.”

“Let’s proceed into the house, shall we? There’s more inside.”

But before they reached the front door, the rubber band dog was supplanted as the center of attention by the quite real snarling Sidney, suddenly galloping across the yard in a straight path toward Brandon, who, for the second time that day, was shielding himself with crossed arms. About ten feet from where they were standing, just as Brandon began to hug himself and moan quietly, Sidney stopped and went up on his hind legs in a remarkably faithful imitation of the fake golden retriever, and, without advancing any closer, continued to growl, snarl, and bark.

“Electric fencing,” Edward remarked. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Right.” Brandon appeared to let all of his muscles go limp.

“But I don’t know why he’s outside. There shouldn’t be anyone home right now.”

“Hm.”

“Hey Sidney. Good dog.” Edward calmly walked over to pet him while Brandon looked on with alarm. “Ok, let’s go inside. None of the other surprises will threaten your life. I promise.”

“Good.”

Once inside, Edward decided to leave the robot collection for later and take Brandon directly through the photo-realistic safari airbrushed on the walls of the staircase. On one or two occasions, the massive rendering of a tiger at the top of the stairs, looking downward and poised to leap, had frightened visitors, but Brandon’s encounter with a truly life-threatening creature outside had rendered him temporarily impervious to all forms of shock. He merely raised his eyes and nodded with a jokingly matter-of-fact gaze.

“This is not the work of either of my parents, but they did offer creative input. When I was seven, I asked to go on a safari, and they gave me this instead. They hired a painter. I think the tiger is supposed to frighten you at first glance and then reassure you with his friendly smile, thus teaching me as a young boy to overcome my feelings of fear and anxiety when I encountered things that were unfamiliar. Or maybe it’s the other way around; you’re supposed to trust the tiger at first, but then wonder if his intentions are truly harmless, teaching me the lesson that appearances can be misleading. I forget which.”

“Good lessons,” Brandon replied.

“Sure. Can’t you see how well I turned out?”

As they climbed the stairs, they could hear music, something dissonant like Bartok. It was coming from Edward’s parents’ bedroom. “I guess one of my parents is home,” said Edward. “That’s weird. They were both supposed to be at work today. Hold on. Let me just see what’s up.”

Edward knocked on the door, and this was followed by the sounds of someone hurrying around the room. A few seconds later the music stopped, and then a few seconds later the door opened. Edward’s mother, dressed in a raggedy blue sweatsuit, but looking otherwise composed, came to the door.

“Edward. I didn’t expect you to be home so soon.”

“And I didn’t expect you to be home now.”

An extremely bright light was emanating from the bedroom, and Edward peered over his mother’s shoulder to see what it was.

“Oh, well, you know, I decided to just take the day off. On a whim. I called in, and nobody asked any questions, so, presto, it was easy. I haven’t played hooky in twenty years.” Noticing Edward’s searching gaze, she turned around and said, “Oh, well I decided to take some pictures, do some photography. You know it’s been so long.”

“Really? That’s great, mom. What are you taking pictures of?” Hesitating for a moment, his mother stepped out of the room and motioned for him to look.

“Oh, by the way, this is Brandon. He’s new in Southridge. He’s a friend of mine, we’re just hanging out.”

“Hi Brandon, very nice to meet you. Where are you from originally?”

“Eugene, Oregon,” Brandon muttered, looking for an instant at Edward’s mom and then turning his gaze awkwardly to the ground.

“Oh, wonderful. Never set foot in Eugene in my life,” Edward’s mother said and laughed to herself. “Do you like it here in Southridge…. Brandon?”

Still failing to make eye contact, Brandon replied, “It’s fine, I guess. You know, it’s the suburbs.”

“Yes, I do know that, all to well.”

While the two of them were attempting to sustain a conversation, Edward took a look inside the bedroom. His mother had clamped several floodlights to various pieces of furniture around the two twin beds. The covers had been piled on and arranged in some messy but careful manner, so as to resemble geologic formations, and the camera, on a stand, appeared to be pointed directly at the gap between the two beds. As he was trying to process his mother’s arrangement, she interrupted him. “Edward, have you shown Brandon the used record place? It sounds like he’s starved for cultural enrichment here, and he might like to know that there are a few redeeming points to this town.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to do that. Well, I guess we’ll go hang out in my room now.”

Evie gave Brandon a wry glance and remarked, “Be careful in there. It’s not very safe.” Brandon laughed nervously. Edward smiled at the idea that his mother feared what Brandon might think about his room after he had already encountered the rest of the house.

Edward opened the door and led Brandon in. Menacing behind the innumerable, haphazardly placed, tattered, crooked posters — the grim reaper in “The Seventh Seal,” a scene from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” Edward Munch’s, “The Scream,” U2’s “Joshua Tree,” the Smurfs, “Empire Strikes Back,” and so on — the red painted walls and ceiling imprisoned the heaps and clusters of clothing, gleaming magazines, medieval weapons, dusty, used pieces of furniture, miniature figurines, crystals, CDs, bamboo sticks, carpenter tools, stringed musical instruments, sand toys, stuffed animals, and paperbacks within a vaguely sinister atmosphere of stale incense.

“Have a seat,” Edward offered, and as he hastily cleared away a pile of clothes and other assorted objects, a small beige recliner appeared. Brandon stared at the chair, as if inspecting it for any debris that might stick to his clothing and then sat down and looked around the room until his eyes landed upon a pair of numb chucks, which he immediately picked up and began to play with.

Edward sat across from him on a small couch. He felt considerably more relaxed now that he had gotten Brandon through the tour of his house and hadn’t frightened him away. “Well,” he said. “Now you’ve seen my house.”

“Your mom’s really nice.”

“Thanks.”

Looking up from his numb chucks for a moment and taking in the room again with a squint, Brandon began, “Hey, do you ever find it, like, hard to spend lots of time here?”

The way Brandon posed the question, Edward knew that the two of them had reached, in a remarkably brief time, territory safe enough for mockery. He looked around his room with a naïve expression and replied, “Why? Whatever would make you wonder that?”

“Isn’t it a little overwhelming?”

“What? The red walls? The mess?”

“Well, everything.” And, upon saying this, Brandon sneezed once. And then twice. And then a third time, crossing his eyes and composing his face in a cartoonish fashion after he was finished.

“You ok?”

“Yeah, just a little allergic to dust, that’s all.”

Edward offered him a box of Kleenex, which Brandon gratefully took, but not without warily peering inside its opening first. Edward wondered what Brandon’s room looked like. He knew that he ought to feel embarrassed, but mostly he found the situation comical, especially with Brandon looking frightened and holding the numb chucks as if to defend himself against Edward’s room.

“What do you use these for?” Brandon asked.

“They’re for fighting off the goblins, when they come,” Edward replied.

Brandon smiled and swung the numb chucks as if striking an invisible enemy “This is all you need? They must not be very tough, as far as goblins go.”

“Well sometimes I need to use sorcery.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“Only those who have magical powers,” said Edward enjoying the absurdity of the conversation.

“And you’re lucky enough to be one of those people?”

“Who have magical powers? Actually, not yet. I will be one day. But luck has nothing to do with it.”

“I see. Is it just a matter of practice then?”

Edward considered how to answer Brandon’s question. He could keep joking, or he could try yet again to share his secret. How could he explain it so that it would make sense and not seem laughable? How could he communicate his perspective when, as he knew from his own periods of doubt, you needed to be looking at things from that perspective already in order for it to make sense? And Brandon, as far as he could tell, was far too cool to greet the idea of sorcery with the wide-eyed willingness to believe that Edward knew was required. But maybe he’d be able to enjoy the strangeness of it.

“In my opinion, all you need is belief in order for magic to work.” Brandon was beginning to suspect, Edward could tell from his steadier eye contact, that this might not all be a joke.

“So, in other words, I could just jump off a cliff, and, if I believed I could fly, then I’d be able to fly?”

“That’s right.”

“Well then why aren’t people doing magic all the time?”

“Because nobody really believes.”

Brandon shut his eyes. “Ok, I believe right now that I’m going to make your closet door open. Is it working?”

“My god! It’s swinging open. How did you do that?”

Brandon opened his eyes and looked skeptically at the closed closet door.

“The thing is,” said Edward, “that of course you didn’t really believe at all. I’m talking about complete total belief, like you could step off a bridge and not have the slightest doubt that you would float over the water. That’s not easy. You have to push aside everything that seems normal and familiar.”

“And you have the power to do this.”

“Not yet. I’m still working on it. I hope I’ll have it all figured out by graduation. I’m planning to fly away from this town right after I get my diploma.”

Brandon laughed for a second and then frowned again. “But you’re not totally kidding, are you?”

And what could Edward say to this? That he had spent so much time self-protectively joking about his beliefs that he wasn’t sure what he thought anymore? That he was both kidding and not kidding at the same time? That if he thought it was all a joke, then it became nothing more than a joke, but if he made himself believe, then it became true?

“I guess it’s kind of like acting.”

“I can’t act to save my life,” said Brandon.

“That’s why you can’t act,” said Edward. “Because you think you can’t. For me, when I’m on stage, it’s like I completely believe that I’m someone else, and, because I believe that, I become someone else.”

“Ok, I guess that makes sense.” Brandon opened his eyes very wide so that you could see the whites above and below his pale blue retinas, and then blinked as if to suggest that he was struggling to understand Edward’s argument, but it was exaggerated enough to be comical. Edward immediately imitated the gesture, trying to imagine what it would be like to be Brandon. He felt for an instant shiny and detached and razor-thin, like a sliver of ice on the surface of a melting pond. Brandon lowered his chin and stared at Edward admonishingly. Edward again imitated his expression, and Brandon made a pretend swing at Edward with the numb chucks.

“But I’m afraid levitating may be a bit more difficult than acting.”

“I would think. Have you told other people about your belief in magic?” asked Brandon.

“A couple. They all think I’m a weirdo.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

“Well that, Brandon,” said Edward, enjoying the small thrill of pronouncing his friend’s name for the first time, “is what it may take to do magic. You have to risk being a pariah.”

“Right,” Brandon replied. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that risk just yet.”

“Yet,” said Edward with mock-gravity. The bedroom had become quite dim, and, although Brandon still seemed entirely skeptical, there was something promising in his response, some whimsical quality to his sarcasm, that gave Edward hope and made him think his inner circle was on the verge of expanding.

An assistant professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, Timothy Aubry lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has published several articles on contemporary American fiction in journals such as PMLA, Contemporary Literature, and Modern Fiction Studies. He is working on a book of essays devoted to the therapeutic function of literature in contemporary society.

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