Ta-Dah! by Aaron J. Housholder

vintage illustration of magician performing card trick

“Image from page 589 of “Modern magic: A practical treatise on the art of conjuring. (1885)” (image via Flickr user Internet Archive Book Images)

The twins were named Abra and Cadabra because Dad was indifferent and Mom had a crush on Chuckles, the poorly-named local magician. He played birthday parties and daycare centers and generally scared the children to tears and never chuckled at all. “He’s so dark and angsty,” Mom once said to Dad, in what must be called breathy tones. Dad said nothing and twiddled his thumbs, as always.

The twins’ older brother was named Lance because Mom tried to stab Dad with a sword-shaped letter opener shortly after her water broke. She would have pierced his chest right there in the soggy home office except for the harmonica hidden in the inside pocket of his purple corduroy blazer. Everyone chalked the musical stabbing up to pre-birth hormones and anxiety, but Lance came to know as he grew older that Mom was a local-Gothic-magician-chasing crazy person, and that Dad was a purple-coat-wearing crazy person too. An attempted stabbing was inevitable at some point. And the twins were loathsome on top of all that.

Their loathsomeness became a problem for Lance after Dad’s reaction when Mom ran off with Chuckles. Instead of fighting for the integrity of their family unit, Dad handled his grief and rejection by cutting a hole at the base of the living room wall, a hole shaped like a Tom and Jerry mousehole but much larger, and then lying on his back with his head in the hole. He lay there for a few hours each day at first, occasionally twiddling his thumbs or wetting himself but otherwise remaining motionless and oblivious to the activity in his house. Soon he made the hole his permanent residence. The care of the younger boys then fell to Lance, whose loathing for them steadily grew.

In this fashion twenty years passed. The twins were now twenty-eight and still needed Lance’s care. At thirty-two, he considered himself to be their de facto father, particularly as all attempts to give the boys up for adoption or to sell them at garage sales had failed, and also particularly as their father still lay in the living room with his head in the wall. It fell to Lance to care for his father as well. It was he who, some years ago, cut a hole in the wall above the mousehole and contrived a way to drop food and water down onto Dad’s face. Abra and Cadabra spent those years perfecting their magic act by plugging the higher hole with long colorful handkerchiefs, then pulling them out of the wall with a flourish, saying “Ta-Dah!” and then bowing to their older brother. Lance also tiled and guttered the living room floor around Dad so they could occasionally douse him with water to wash away the filth. He twice caught the boys building a box around Dad’s prone body so they could saw him in half.

It was Lance, too, who opened the door to Mom when she came back brokenhearted after Chuckles left her for a dwarf woman in a fluffy pink bunny costume, and who saved Mom when Abra and Cadabra decided to thrash her about the head and neck with their bendy dollar-store magic wands. Mom spent a week stepping over Dad in the living room as though she did not notice him and then ran off with Jethro the cable guy, who promised her premium channels for life if she’d move to Texas with him. Lance sometimes thought of her as he hosed off Dad and hoped the Showtime reception was good in Waco.

Lance’s main concern now was that he couldn’t tell if his father was in fact dead. The man in purple corduroy rags lying between the tiled gutters no longer twiddled his thumbs and had long ago mastered the art of breathing shallowly, presumably to minimize his presence in the home, so his abdomen remained deathly still. And yet he seemed to Lance not to smell worse than usual, and he definitely wasn’t shriveling up or darkening – his pastiness was a constant – so his life status was up for grabs. In fact, Lance harbored a sneaking suspicion that his father actually gained weight during his two decades in the mousehole, which led Lance to believe that his father might have made a few nocturnal excursions to the kitchen. The time has come, Lance finally told himself one afternoon, to discover the truth. Abra and Cadabra threw fistfuls of silver glitter at Lance’s head – magical thinking powder, they called it – as he sat on the couch and pondered his next move.

Lance awoke two days later, still on the couch but slumped over, and quickly determined that the thinking powder was a powerful narcotic. He made this determination because Abra and Cadabra hovered behind the couch and chanted over and over, “The thinking powder was a powerful narcotic.” Lance staggered to his feet and noted through cloudy eyes that in his absence from consciousness his brothers had finally perfected their magical arts. They had foregone the building of a box and instead had sawn their uncovered father directly in two.

The gutters surrounding their father were more filled with water than gore, suggesting perhaps that the boys cleaned up after their performance, or perhaps that their father had already been dead for some time. As Lance looked over his father’s halved body, however, he saw his father’s hands come together there just above his severed waist and his thumbs take to circling each other as they used to. Lance looked back at his brothers, still standing side by side behind the couch, their eyes glistening with triumph and thinking powder.

“Ta-Dah!” they said in unison, but more quietly and to Lance more menacingly than ever before. They stared at him. Then they threw fistfuls of glitter into the air and locked eyes with him through the sparkling silver mist and moved together from behind the couch.

Lance started to run but then hesitated amidst the glitter as it caressed his skin and swirled its way into his eyes and nose and mouth. He imagined himself banging through the screen door and out into the afternoon rain, determined to run all the way to Waco, maybe, but as he stood in place the front door seemed to recede from view. He felt himself sinking to the floor with something like a smile on his face and a new ease in his shoulders. He barely noticed the teeth of the saw tugging back and forth on the front of his shirt. He clasped his hands together and twiddled his thumbs because everything was at it should be, finally. But he was quick to close his eyes, hoping to sleep before hearing his brothers once utter their accustomed, ever loathsome celebratory phrase.

Aaron J. Housholder teaches writing and literature at a small college in the Midwest. His fiction has appeared in Five2One Magazine, Maudlin House, freeze frame fiction, CHEAP POP, Chicago Literati, and elsewhere. He is currently the fiction editor at Relief Journal. You can find him on Twitter @ProfAJH.