She stares at me with eyes scarred with needs. “I know what you are,” she say, and her voice isn’t rough, not yet crushed velvet and burnt smoke.
“I know that too.” I offer up a smile the Cheshire Cat would have given up so much to own.
It wins a bark of not-laughter. “Magician. Magic-man.” Her heads cocks to the side. “What can you give me?” she asks, not smiling though she fakes it well.
“What do you need?”
“Fuck. If I knew that – fuck.”
I light a cigarette, offer her one. She shakes her head, hair twisting in winds all its own.
“No. They don’t do anything for me. I need,” and the first time she flatters. “I need stronger things.”
“Perhaps.” I pull smoke in, let it out.
“You don’t need that.”
“Perhaps not. It is easy to give people what they want. But what they need, what they desire – there’s no magician born who can match the impossible needs of young love. For example.”
“Don’t want that. I’ve seen what it does.”
“Not every story is the same every time it is told.”
“Enough are. Enough of them.”
I drop the half-smoked cigarette, ask the wind to take the ash where it is needed. Sometimes that is all being a magician is: knowing what to let go. And sometimes why, or even when. “I can take away the longing,” I say quietly.
“No. But for the drugs.”
“Won’t matter. They’re about forgetting him. Without them – heh! Without them I’d go back. I’m not strong enough not to. Karmic butt-monkey, that’s me. You believe in karma?”
“No. But I understand that my belief has no basis on whether it exists or not.” I consider her. “I could take away your memories of him. If you’d let me.”
She lets out a laugh. “I don’t think you’d have talked to me, if I wanted that. You have power, magician?”
“Yeah. I can see it. Like worlds of hurt in your eyes.”
“Everyone has that; most people spread it out more than we do.” I reach into my wallet and pull out a billfold, handing it over. “You can go to a new city. Build a new life. He won’t follow.”
“I could come back.”
“You could stop me. Make sure I couldn’t.”
“Magic isn’t about taking away choices,” I say as gently as I can.
“But you gave me money. That’s it?”
“I would be a poor magician if I thought every problem had to be solved with magic. Or that magic could solve them. No one can make a choice they don’t know how to make; I’ve opened up your options. It’s up to you what you do with them.”
She nods; I am halfway down the street when she picks up my cigarette and begins to burn the billfold with the last smoulder of ash. I do nothing to stop it. I could. But not without hurting her. I bend the world, just a little, turn the money she burns into luck she’ll find as she needs it. Money for when she is ready. Or a friend who answers her phone call when she needs it most.
She doesn’t burn the entire billfold. She accepts some of the gift. Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for in this world.