Not A Single Instance of Magic

Randall Brown

We had four forks left. That couldn't be right. Forks were not socks; they didn't vanish or turn into lint. One could imagine a misinterpreted Shakespeare witches' brew where adder's fork, the forked-tongue of a snake, became "add a fork." But who on earth? And our world consisted of only my son and me, and I'd seen no traces of witchcraft from him.

I found him in the basement, alone, a miracle of sorts, our home the hangout-house, four, five teenage boys and cartons of take-out food. Today, his NCAA Xbox team reached #1 in the country; he acted as if this were a real accomplishment.

"Forks," I said. "What do you know about forks?"

He remained focused on the game at hand, but managed to say "Spoons. That's my area of expertise." The college crowd cheered. I could've pulled the plug on the game, but then nothing would get saved and that'd create a separate argument.

I told him to pause the game, then waited. Empty water bottles littered the basement floor. I dragged my foot as I walked, an attack of foot pain that no podiatrist or arch-gel could make vanish, so I dragged myself across the rug, picked up a few of the bottles, sniffed for vodka. Nothing. Also, from falling asleep on the busted couch, my neck had stiffened, and even the slightest turn sent pain into far-off places, like toes and fingertips.

Along with the bottles, empty wrappers—cheese crackers, chips, chocolate chip cookies—covered the floor. I couldn't twist my neck to look down, so I picked them up looking at the wall, dented and scraped from what? What the hell went on down here?

"I'm going to throw these out." I crinkled the wrappers so he knew what I was talking about. I'd earlier spotted an open trash bag in the corner.

He jumped up. Grabbed them out of my hand. "I got it." I was twisted to look at the TV screen, his quarterback frozen as the entire opposing defensive line piled atop him.

Indeed magic, my son's leaping up to offer some help. But, as always, something hid behind it, and that had to be his desire for me not to see what lay buried in the trash. A dead body? Rolling paper? Bottles?

He stood in front of the bag. "Anything else?" he asked.

My foot joints throbbed and my neck sent rivulets of pain down my arm, into my leg. "I'll take the bag up," I said and dragged myself over to him a few steps.

"I got it, Igor." He tied the bag in a knot, slung it over his shoulder. "See."

"What's in the satchel, Santa? Misfit toys? Forks maybe?"

"Do you think that I'd consciously throw out forks?"

"Consciously? That's an odd word choice. I don't think you'd throw them out unconsciously."

My son's cheeks flushed a deep red.

"Are there forks in there?" I asked.

"I wouldn't consciously throw out our forks."

"If I open the bag, am I going to find forks?"

"Not consciously."

At the drug talk during his school, with parents and kids separated into different discussion groups, all the kids, when asked what they were afraid of most, said getting caught and every parent said something horrible happening to their kids. And later every parent whispered about the alcohol smuggled on bus trips in soda cans, the joints smoked during free periods, and this and that but given all that, what did it have to do with this?

He handed me the bag.

I didn't have to look. I raised a kid who threw out forks. What did that mean? Where did it go wrong? How fucked up did I fuck up?


A few hours later, he emerged from the basement, what he jokingly called the meth lab. As a kid, he went to sleep to my singing Dylan, about a kid in the basement who lived underground, mixed-up. It was the only thing that worked. Like fairy dust.

The bag sat unopened and unsearched on the kitchen table in front of me. My son untied the knot, dug through the cartons and half-eaten food. A magic trick. He reached in his hand and voila! It hurt too much to turn and look.

"I didn't do it consciously. They were just in the food boxes."

A bamboo pattern. Sara had bought them on our honeymoon, two boxes of eight forks. She cheated for eight years. My son threw out forks. My foot and neck sent pain throughout my body for no known reason.

"Unconsciously?" I asked my son. "Why? Why not, unconsciously, bring them to the sink? You have to bring the bag up eventually anyway. Why do this to me?"

I twisted through the pain to face him. Red again.

"It's not like that, Dad."

"For you maybe," I said.

"I told you—"

"I know, I know. No one does anything consciously here. Just forget it, okay? I don't fucking care anymore."

The forks clattered to the table. Four forks. I had one complete set now. The bamboo pattern felt like bones. I pushed the tines of a fork into the pinched nerve of the neck, so whatever arose to make it stop might do so again. Upstairs, my son bounced his pink rubber ball off the walls.

Randall Brown
Randall Brown

Randall Brown teaches at Rosemont College's MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print, and blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net. His is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.