“I’d strangle him if I thought he’d notice,” I mutter, but not so low that the wandering magician doesn’t hear me. “Where is Jay, anyway?”
“Finding a cold that lost its host. If left alone, it might mutate.”
I stare at the magician. “The word ‘might’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that, isn’t it?”
He smiles at that and sips his coffee across the table. The coffee shop isn’t crowded, but no one is paying us attention. Possibly my being a god-eater, or a ward on his part. Or pure chance, for all I know. “I thought you might need to talk. You’ve been pressing the kid a bit hard the last two days.”
“Right. You know what white privilege is?”
“I’m a magician. We know all about privilege,” he says mildly.
I count to ten. “You know what I mean.”
“I do, Charlie. But I’m not sure Jay can.”
“Jay senses bindings, the ways in which things are connected together, how bindings flow between people and groups. And he does this through time as well as space. Tell him a parent is hurting a child, and he’ll sense the bindings backwards and forwards, sideways and across – how the parent was hurt, how their child might hurt others. Ways the bindings shift and flow, how other bindings touch and mutate each other. He had a kind of hindsight and foresight we simply can’t have.” He has another sip of his coffee. “Jay has enough trouble differentiating humans of different sexes, let alone genders or skin tones. To him, we’re all human. Different, yes, but far more similar than we are ever different.”
“I can tell different dog breeds apart,” I say flatly.
“And yet you can understand why it is necessary to neuter a dog. Could you explain that to a dog in a way that makes sense?” he asks, magician-soft. “In a way they could accept?”
I stare at him. “What?”
“Jay might see what we call privilege. And he might understand why it is necessary, though not in any way we’d understand, not in any way we’d accept or make sense of. And, I imagine, definitely not in any way he could articulate without using the word Jaysome a lot. Strength is an accident arising out of the weakness of others, Charlie. It’s something one has, and not always something one is clever enough to refuse. Jay has to wear his innocence like armour, or he would see far too much about the world. Including the parts we never want to admit.”
“Like when someone claims privilege is necessary because we neuter dogs?” I snap.
“I can say what I wish, but you choose what you want to hear. How you interpret my words, whether you hear what is behind them,” he says as he finishes his coffee. “I am saying that Jay simply can’t explain how he sees the world without hurting us, without failing language because language always fails. Why else would we have poets, if not to chart such regions? I chose the worse explanation and metaphors I could think up, and they explained and said nothing at all. Jay would be even worse at trying to articulate his own truths in any way we would be prepared to hear, let alone accept.” The magician stands. “You know the saying that there are three sides to any story?”
“Yours, mine, the truth. What of it?” I say as I stand.
“Jay’s side is probably as close to truth as one can get. And the truth is rarely pleasant and never kind. If he articulated how he truly sees human who aren’t us, you’d probably never see him the same way again. That you are his friend matters, Charlie, more than trying to understand issues of privilege and he would rather have you and I as friends than be forced toward truths he has no desire to ever know.”
“You make it sound like a burden.”
“All curses are, even if they look like gifts from the outside.” And he walks away without looking back.
I get more water for my tea, and I sit. And wait for Jay. And I have no idea what I am going to say at all.
It turns out that I just need to offer a hug.