Some Have It

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Some Have It

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Margaret Lamb/Writing to the Right-Hand Margin Prize Runner-Up (Fiction)

A flashlight sends a beam of yellow through the blanket strung across the backs of two tall chairs, casting a spider web across the otherwise dark ceiling.  The hand-made blanket with loops of thread and soft yarn is pitched like a tent above the two children, with long sides pooling onto the floor at their sides.  The fort is narrow, but to Aaron and Annis, it extends into a boundless world removed from the party downstairs, away from the relatives and stories they tell that mean nothing to the young pair.  They have covered the small stretch of wooden floorboards beneath them with pillows and sit cross-legged, face to face upon them.  The flashlight is held between Aaron’s ankles, pressed together in front of him, but his hands hold the plastic grip as if prepared to grab it and go at any moment.  It is the only light in the room, but it brightens their small, secret space enough for Annis to see her cards and prepare her tricks.  Aaron’s eyes leave her pale hands to look from left to right; he’s too aware that outside of their hiding place sits a still, dark room.  Their shadows can be seen hunched over and whispering from the other side of the fort, but Aaron realizes that, from within, he may as well be trying to stare through a solid wall.

He feels safer focusing on her movements and her face, framed like a portrait by straight black hair that hangs just below her boney shoulders.  Her eyes follow the cards that she shuffles in and out and spreads across the floor in one swift motion, more agile than anyone of their young age that Aaron has ever witnessed.  The smooth playing cards follow her fingertips as if attached to them by unseen strings.  As if she knows that Aaron is taken by this skill, a crocodile smile spreads across Annis’ face and she laughs quietly in her throat.

“What?”  He asks, suddenly self-conscious.

“Nothing.  It’s just fun, you know.”  She doesn’t raise her eyes to him as she speaks.

“What exactly are you doing?”

Annis gives no answer.  She simply gathers the cards into a deck, fans them out, and commands, “Pick a card.  Any card.”

“Pick a card,” he begins with a furrowed brow, “that’s it?  Everyone does that.”

“Really?  So you’ve done it before?”

“Well, no, but you see it on TV all the time.”

“That’s television, this is real.  Just take a card,” she says with a flash of her small, pointed teeth.

He pulls a card out and shields it from her view; it is the seven of clubs, a boring card with no king or queen staring back at him.  The flashlight shines through the back of the card, causing the red design on the opposite side to bleed through to the white face.

“Okay, now remember that, and put it back in the deck.  Oh, sorry, I forgot you were an expert, Houdini.”

“I never said that,” he replies while sliding the seven of clubs into a new position in her crimson fan.

Annis sticks her tongue out at him from between puckered pink lips.  He feels a slight squirm in his stomach from looking at the mushy shape created by her mouth.  He takes the twisting inside as nervousness, and his brown eyes shift around the space again he assures himself that they are alone.  She puts on a neutral face and shuffles the cards expertly, but after a few seconds, her eyes close and her hands freeze around the deck.  Her elbows rest upon her knees, peeking out from beneath a violet dress, and she leans her body forward in concentration.  Aaron thinks she’s putting on a show, but can’t help but wonder what thoughts might be floating in her mind.  He doesn’t understand how a family member can possibly be so foreign to him.

Aaron opens his mouth to speak, but before he can conjure his voice, Annis opens her hands.  The deck is split in half, revealing the seven of clubs clutched within her fingers.  He’s surprised to see the right card, but he’s hardly impressed.  It must be rigged, he thinks – but only for a moment.

With her eyes still shut Annis declares, “This is your card: the seven of clubs.”

Aaron’s doubts are quickly silenced as he looks from his cousin’s smirking face to the upturned card in her right hand.  He stops his arm from reaching out and snatching the deck from her, expecting to find every card decorated with seven black clubs, all part of a little scheme to fool him.  But in the shadowy fort with mere inches separating them, he can’t help but feel that something so strange is possible; and if it is, he doesn’t want it to end by chasing her away with bold anger.

“How did you do that?  How did you know if your eyes were closed?  It’s a trick deck, isn’t it?”  He tries to keep his voice steady, scared of how Annis would think of him if she knew that his nerves were electrifying his body.

She drops the cards on the floor between them, allowing many of them to scatter face up.  Aaron sees enough to know that the deck is not fixed.

“That’s just kid stuff,” she says with a shrug.

“Then what’s serious?”

“I could show you something I’ve been working on.  But I haven’t really tried it yet.”

“Show me.  Please.”

Annis leans forward again and wraps her hands around the standing flashlight.  Aaron quickly pulls his own hands away from it but keeps it pressed between his feet.  She closes her eyes tightly, seeming to have more trouble with this than she did with the cards.  Slowly, her hands slide up and over the bulb, making the fort dark but illuminating her hands as if they were glowing from the bone.  When she lifts her hands, the flashlight is no longer warm and bright.  The bulb is dark though the switch is still pressed down, but Annis’ hands remain lit as she cups them in the air between their bodies.  The light did not go out — it came out.  She holds the gleaming orb close to her chest, looking down at it with wide eyes; she is almost as impressed with herself as Aaron is.  They look at each other with two pairs of dark eyes now circled with rings of gold.  He holds his hands out, his palms facing the light, and feels the heat emanating from the sphere.

“Tell me how you did it,” he whispers.

“It’s magic.  I can’t reveal my secrets,” she teases.

“You can’t just say that it’s magic and leave it at that.”

“Sure I can.  Lots of people do.”

She gestures for him to take the orb in his own hands.  They handle it like fragile glass, and for all they know, it could break or disappear at any moment.  He transfers it with care to his hands, but once she pulls away, the fort is consumed by darkness.  Aaron’s hands grasp empty air and his cousin’s face is painted black.