The Secret of the Tulip

“I hope it won’t be taken as defensiveness if I raise an objection to what Professor Richards has said here today, though I found his remarks quite useful indeed…”

These politic words were among the last I ever heard from Theodore Banner, the American philosopher and occultist who died—under rather mysterious circumstances, as you’ve probably heard—just last month. The words were spoken at a conference on the theme of “Magic in Literature,” held at the University of Virginia some twenty years ago; I can no longer recall the precise point of contention that had been raised, but somehow I remember Banner’s next sentences exactly: “The intellectual movement that I am affiliated with, or what some well- meaning souls have dubbed ‘magical hyperrealism,’ does not submit to the idea of ‘the supernatural’ at all. In spite of what some of our detractors have said, here and elsewhere, we’re not mystics. We’re logicians.”

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The thing about the commissary is that it’s located right next to the second circle of torment. That’s what I would call a design flaw.

The hopeless souls sentenced to remain there for eternity are none too happy. Day and night you can hear wails of agony, not to mention the grating sound of them gnashing their teeth. They make quite a racket next door while being buffeted to and fro by the carnal cyclones of their own making. It’s very distracting. All I’m asking for is a little peace and quiet, essentially some “me time” while I sit and sip a fiery hot cup of Café de los Muertos coffee in between shifts.

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She was nine, maybe ten, and she zipped the folds of her puffy winter coat as high as they’d go, goose down and nylon and the metallic kiss of the zipper’s zigs and zags to her chin. Her legs––splayed before her in a narrow V shape with her bottom firm to the concrete, long john and leg warmer clad––sheltered a single bottle of pink nail polish. She was working the brush over her left-hand index finger with a sort of frenzied precision that only lunatics and little girls had the capacity for. The name of the polish was stardust, though the bodies that swung above her head were no more celestial than they were hot. Hanging was the process of maturing meat by stringing up the carcass from hooks. Hanging out was what she was doing, what she’d always done in the meat locker at the Quinn Brothers Butcher shop on Sunday afternoons, while her father inspected the flank cuts in the display case with an obsessive gaze.

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A Pretty Slick Game

I start making money at midnight.

My first reservation is for the Power Forward of the New York Knicks, his minimum spend is $1500, meaning I’ll make an automatic $300 tip. He’ll tip extra because that’s what famous men do in the presence of pretty girls, which I am. I’m a Bottle Girl– a VIP waitress at a New York City night club.

12:17: My second table arrives, stockbrokers eager to be in the same room as professional athletes. An $1100 spend, $220 for me. Another hundred in cash, which I shove into my boot. A tip for the cocaine I bring them.

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Carla loved Halloween. Or wanted to anyway, now that Hal had died.

She’d sweated and puffed as she’d hauled his six-foot behemoth of plywood out of the cobwebbed and dusty shed. Avoiding the mouse turds that she liked to pretend were black rice, Carla had tugged the wheel inch by dirty inch, freeing it from the space behind the garden tools and unused tomato stakes. She’d cleaned up her husband’s vision and returned the wheel of fortune to its annual place on the porch.

The effort of the lugging and cleaning and sweating would be worth it. The kids were counting on her. Carla wanted to do right by Hal. Getting this legendary monstrosity up and ready for Halloween—her first as a widow—was the way she intended to do that.

The fun-sized bars, spider rings, and glow-in-the-dark stress balls were in a large plastic bowl that contorted to the stretched shape of a pumpkin, as if sliced in half and squished to keep a flat bottom. Carla kept the quarters in her witch robe pockets, and the king-sized bars were inside the front door on the little wooden stand where she put her house keys. Someone hitting JACKPOT was always a big deal, and Carla intended to continue Hal’s tradition of the elaborate presentation. She’d tried to make it perfect, tried to ignore the unpredictable waves of feeling incompetent as she navigated the world without her husband. The wheel shone, the lights glowed, and she’d even gotten the spooky music set up on the speaker she’d propped in the front window. Heavy things, dirty things, things with plugs, they were all her responsibility now.

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The house was as old as their marriage: twelve years. And David still wasn’t finished building it.

Though he’d had success in real estate development, his true passion wasn’t in the money, but in the building. Since he was a small child he loved construction sites. Bridges, dams and highways. He had always had the urge to build, as his father had done before him. Inheriting the company wasn’t as seamless as he had expected. But after he restructured the debt and sold off some assets, things began to look up.

It wasn’t all about the holdings: it was the endless, epic challenge of building. From the drawing on graph paper, visualizing every outlet, fixture and bit of paneling, to watching his crew of men put in the miles of wires and duct work and pipes, making the vision in his mind real. It was like art, or music, or solving a puzzle. Choreography, workers and parts. The beautiful order of it all.

The funny thing was, he had never had the urge to build a house of his own. Until there came the summer that two things happened: he had a great quarter in the stock market, and he fell in love.

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The Trial of the Saltwater Bride

They pulled a corpse strung with marigolds out of the river today. She
was studded with stars and lava, her tresses of hair in a spider silk veil. All
bloody and bridelike. Her damp cheeks were powdered, over her broken
teeth her pale lips were painted scarlet. The town mourned her body like a
trophy, and she sat silent.

The women came to mourn her first. They touched the bruise over her
eye and gasped at the charming hollows of her cheeks. They bought charms
to protect them from her bad luck. She is too beautiful. Someone must have
jinxed her.

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A Silent Humming

“Hummingbirds migrate alone. Four thousand miles alone.”

Allen Bailey whispered the factoid to himself as he leaned into the column of steam produced by the boiling water. He felt the moisture gather along his retreating hairline and watched the muted colors of the kitchen cloud over as the steam reached his glasses. He removed the glasses and wiped them on his shirt, the frames square-shaped and a touch too large for his round face–the same style his father had worn. Placing them back on his face, he leaned away from the steam to peer into the pot. The sugar he had added, two cups in total, had dissolved completely.

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Masterpiece Theater

The little girl made the painting, it was said, over the course of two days. The story went that her parents locked her in a room and didn’t let her come out until it was done. No food. No water. For two days. Some townspeople said there was a light on in the room. How else could little Diana see what she was doing?

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