A Magician and a Wish

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Johnny lingered by the magician and his assistant as they packed up their children’s party act. After the other guests moved away, he asked, “Can I make a wish?”

The tall, dusky man, with a touch of salt in his pepper-dark hair, smiled at the seven-year-old. “I’m a magician, not a genie.”

“Then can you use magic to make sure my dad drops by on my birthday?”

The chubby assistant, pretty as a plump tomato with auburn curls, sucked in her breath. She glanced at the name tag on his shirt. “That’s not the kind of magic we do, Johnny.”

Nearby, the party erupted with the frenzy of a new game. Johnny ignored it and held out some crumpled bills. “I can pay you. I’ve been saving up.”

“For magic?” the assistant asked.

“For a gift. I was gonna tell mom that dad dropped it off. She hates it when he forgets.”

The magician cocked his head. “If it’s a gift you want, then a gift you will get. And it won’t cost you a thing.” A top hat suddenly popped up in the magician’s hand.

Johnny jerked back. “No. I want my dad to come over. For real.”

“Keep it,” the assistant said as she folded Johnny’s tiny hand over his meager savings. “William might look like a real fancy magician with his velvet coat, but he’s really just a teacher—”

“What do you mean ‘just a teacher’?” William tugged on his purple coat. “Teachers can change lives, Amelia.”

“Then change mine,” Johnny said. “Teach my father how not to forget.”

The magician’s next words seemed reluctant to roll off his tongue. “I’m afraid my magic doesn’t work on fathers, boy.”

“I’m not asking for me. I’m asking for my mom. Maybe magic works on husbands.” Johnny fidgeted as he coaxed his own words out. “I mean…ex-husbands.”

Amelia’s shoulders sagged. “Our magic only works on objects, sweetheart. I’m sorry we can’t help.” She leaned over, smelling like bubble gum, and gave him a kiss. “Have a happy birthday, Johnny.”

He rubbed off the warm but worthless greeting from his cheek. “You said you can change my life.”

The magician grimaced, like a teacher suffering the grating sound of fingernails across his conscience. “Well, maybe…perhaps…there’s a principle we can work with. I can teach you how to make a wish.” He strode toward a trunk that lay open on the ground—the ingredients to his mystery in a pile. He pulled out a box the size of an old leather-bound book and held it out for the boy.

“Remember, my magic only works on objects. Think only of what gift you want from your father.” Then he gave the boy a wink, and his eye glinted as though it were made of glass.

Amelia stood with brow furrowed, biting her lower lip, as she stared at the magician. She clearly didn’t know all the secrets to all his tricks.

Johnny inched forward, placing one foot before the other, toeing a tightrope on which his faith in magic teetered. He shuddered when he took the wooden box then gaped at the emblem etched with ornate handwriting in a language he didn’t understand. The only word, printed in small block letters, he managed to read was “Havana”.

He held his breath as he opened it—only to find nothing inside.

“Ask it one question about your gift,” the magician said. “Right now, your wish is at the same time granted and not. Ask the universe a question, and it will be compelled to yield an answer. For as long as you don’t ask, your gift is an infinity of possibilities.”

Amelia huffed and shook her curly red head. “He doesn’t need an infinity. Just one gift.” She grabbed the magician’s top hat. “Just pull out something for the boy.”

“No,” Johnny said. “I’ll take the box. My birthday’s tomorrow, so I suppose…” He heaved a sigh to muster his courage. “The best time to ask is now.”

“Excellent,” William said, his eyes twinkling. “Remember, it matters what you ask, because the outcome somehow collapses in a manner guided by your question.”

“Why just one question?” asked Amelia who seemed like she was on the edge of her seat even though she was standing.

“A classical reason.” William smirked. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So an observer’s inquiry doesn’t come free. There’s always a tradeoff, you see, and each question subtracts more and more from the infinity.” He leaned closer to Johnny, as though sharing a secret. “Don’t just ask for a yes or a no. Give it leeway to give your wish a better chance.”

A baseball. That was where Johnny had to guide the answer. “I have my question.”

“Blow it into the box.”

Johnny stared at the magician’s purple bowtie and breathed in the assistant’s bubble-gum scent as he thought: What is the leather of the baseball my father will give me tomorrow?

Then he blew.

William slammed the box lid shut, startling both Johnny and the assistant. From thin air, he plucked a magic wand and laid its white tip upon Johnny’s head. “By the powers of Heisenberg, Schrödinger and Planck, may the certainty of uncertainty give you much reason to thank.”

Johnny brought the box home—a lightweight container of his infinity of possibilities still working out the answer to his question. He could open it or not, the magician had said. It was thinking up the question it contained that had mattered.

The next day, on his birthday, the doorbell rang, and Johnny ran to the door.

“Happy birthday, Johnny,” his father said, grinning broadly, as he held out a pouch full of balls.

Bubble gum gumballs. All of them purple.

His mother smiled. Johnny laughed, and he hugged his parents tight—delighted over the immeasurable uncertainty that was both reality and magic.

About the Author: 
Zed Paul Draeco is an advertising professional who, as a kid, wanted to be a scientist.