Chuck Augello lives in New Jersey with his wife, dog, three cats, and several unnamed birds that frequent the
backyard. His work has appeared in Rattle, Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, DoubleThink, Pure Francis, and other journals. A story is forthcoming in The Dark Comedy Review. He spends his days in a cubicle, slowly plotting his escape. He
can be reached at email@example.com. Please love him.
“Mommy’s gone,” Chloe says. “I made her disappear.”
I put down the keys, take off my jacket, and try to stay cool. Chloe is only seven. There are butterflies and dandelions on the front pockets of her jeans. If she starts crying I will lose her for hours. She will sob, stamp her feet, pull her sweater over her head and pretend to be a turtle lost within its shell.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she says. “Don’t be mad. I didn’t mean it, not really.”
“It’s okay,” I tell her. I look around the kitchen. Amy’s work ID dangles from a hook on the microwave cart; a cup of tea, lukewarm, sits on the counter. Our daily routine is almost military in its precision. Amy picks up Chloe from the aftercare program at 4:30, arrives home at 4:45; at 5:10 I come through the side door and Chloe greets me with a kiss. At 5:20 I start dinner while Amy goes for her run.
“Is Mommy out jogging?”
I already know the answer. Amy’s sneakers are on the porch, lined beside the door; her hoodie is draped over the chair, her iPod and ear buds waiting on the table.
“No, I told you. She disappeared. She was mad because Mrs. Caulfield had to call from school and I told her that Mrs. Caulfield is a liar; Mommy started yelling and I only wanted her to stop but then she disappeared.”
I search the house for a note, a message on the answering machine, anything. We’ve had a rough year, Amy and I. Ten years of marriage can bring out the worst in people, make them long for something else.
“I closed my eyes and I tried really hard not to think about it,” Chloe says. “But sometimes the magic just comes. I’m sorry, Daddy. I want Mommy back.”
She begins crying and I hold her, and for the next half hour we sit in a rocking chair by the fireplace as Chloe clings to me, her tiny hands around my neck, her face pressed against my shirt as I try to soothe her. Lately she has been stealing things at school: pencils, glue sticks, a coffee mug, a vase filled with silk flowers on the librarian’s desk. Mrs. Caulfield, her teacher, called us in for a conference.
“The strange thing is, your daughter doesn’t deny it, but she won’t admit taking them, either,” the teacher said. “Chloe says that she uses magic to make things disappear.”
“Our daughter has a strong imagination,” I said.
“Yes, and we encourage that, but not when it involves theft to validate a fantasy.”
“We’ve searched the entire house,” Amy said. “If Chloe is taking things, she’s not bringing them home.”
Mrs. Caulfield made a note in her folder. “Have there been any changes in the family lately? Any stressful events that might be impacting her behavior?”
Amy and I were married a year after college. Chloe arrived a few years later, and we were happy. Maybe our lives never became what we’d imagined, but isn’t that true for everyone? You compromise and let go of certain dreams; you find a comfortable spot and try to hold on. We still laugh together and Chloe is our glue, the one thing we both did right.
We’ve already talked to her about magic. “People learn to do tricks, Chloe, but the tricks aren’t real. That man on TV didn’t really cut that pretty woman in half. It was pretend.”
“I know that,” Chloe said. “That’s fake magic. But some magic is real.”
There are hundreds of Web sites and blogs devoted to magical children. A parent in Manchester, England posted a video of her five-year-old levitating the family cat. In Wyoming a ten-year-old made a tractor disappear from her grandfather’s farm. There are conventions and newsletters and professional analysts who will evaluate your child’s magical potential for five hundred bucks.
When Chloe stops sobbing I bring her to the kitchen and heat up a can of soup. She sits at the table, coloring a picture of a rabbit on a bicycle. I stir the corn chowder and pop some breadsticks in the oven. Every couple faces temptation. For a while Amy talked about a co-worker, a new guy assigned to her team. They spent a week in San Diego on a business trip. After that she grew distant and stopped talking about him. I imagine a hotel room with her blouse and skirt neatly folded on the desk, her stockings rolled in a ball at the foot of the bed.
I serve the soup in Chloe’s favorite bowl, the one with SpongeBob smiling at the bottom. She is calm now as she dunks a breadstick into the soup. Amy’s mug is still on the counter. Every morning I brew a cup of chamomile and leave the mug on the bathroom sink so it’s there for her when she steps out of the shower. Sometimes I watch her silhouette through the filmy curtain; I follow the beads of moisture as they form on the shower rod and then disappear.
I bring the mug to the table and place it between us. I need to believe.
“Chloe, I want you to make Mommy’s mug disappear.”
She looks up from the soup bowl, her eyes still puffy and red. “You’ll get mad at me.”
“No, I won’t. I don’t believe Mrs. Caulfield or Mommy. I believe you. I want to see your magic, Chloe.”
“You’ll get mad. Mommy said I shouldn’t talk about magic anymore.”
“Mommy’s not here. It’s just the two of us, sweetie. I want to see it.” I give her hand a little squeeze and tickle her chin. “It’s just a mug, Chloe. We have dozens of them. It’s okay—really. Make it disappear.”
She closes her eyes and clenches her face. I can sense her seven-year-old brain whirling, focusing all of her concentration on a white ceramic mug half-filled with tepid chamomile tea. Is she chanting a spell? Visualizing the mug dissolving into a thousand little pieces and fading into the air? Does Amy think about us when she feels the press of his body against her skin?
The mug remains in place, inanimate and solid.
Chloe begins to cry. “I can’t. It doesn’t always work.” She puts her head down and hides her face in the circle of her arms.
“Chloe, it’s okay. But I need you to—”
“Leave me alone!” she screams. “I want Mommy.”
“Bring her back, sweetie. If you made her disappear...” The words stumble in my throat, bitter and cruel. “...you can bring her back. Make her reappear.”
“I can’t. Leave me alone.”
She kicks away the chair as she runs crying from the kitchen. Her feet stomp the stairs, her bedroom door slams shut. I can hear her through the ceiling, her deep sobs, the word “Mommy” repeated like a mantra.
On the Web I read about a twelve-year-old boy in Croatia who made a parakeet disappear. Three weeks later the parakeet reappeared in its cage as if it had never left. I’m afraid to look for our suitcases, afraid to open Amy’s closet and find her clothes missing, her dresser empty, all of that cotton and lace replaced by a bare drawer. If I look in the garage, will her Honda Civic still be there?
When Amy first told me she was pregnant it seemed impossible. She’d been on the pill since we’d met. Yet nine months later Chloe appeared, our fluids mashed together to form a perfect little creature. It was magic.
Mrs. Caulfield once sent home a note suggesting that Chloe had taken another girl’s peanut butter sandwich during lunch. “The sandwich was missing,” the teacher wrote. “No one saw her take it, but suddenly it was gone.”
At the front window I pull back the curtains and wait for the headlights to flash in the driveway, wait for my wife’s hand on the knob and the sound of her key turning the lock. I think about that parakeet in Croatia and the mug of tea on the kitchen counter.
In the morning I will write Chloe’s teacher explaining the prerogatives of magic: pencils, peanut butter sandwiches, a purple magic marker, a mug of chamomile tea. Some things stay, some things vanish.
Chloe’s bedroom is quiet, her tiny body submerged beneath pink sheets and white fuzzy blankets with rabbits on them. I sit in the dark, listening to my daughter breathe.
“Make her reappear,” I chant. “Make her reappear.”