Monday, July 11, 2016

Secret Lies

Everything magic buys is paid for. I know this, better than most other magicians. Some day the magic in a magician becomes prose rather than poetry, and soon after they die, and pay after that for a long, long time. Paying back the universe the gifts that were given to them one deed at a time. But some bills come due far too early, and I am considering food in the kitchen of a house that let Charlie, Jay and I stay in it when I feel a shift in energies. The house is scared, and it was empty and let us stay in it, but no longer.

I sigh. Charlie has a god inside her, and they both have a temper. One Jay sometimes presses without knowing, for all that he’s from far Outside the universe he is also a boy of eleven and his innocence is a terrifying armour against the reality of his own power. Most of the time.

The living room isn’t quiet. The TV is on, to C-SPAN, the screen blurring as facts move at speeds faster than they should, flickering to Fox, then to news channels in a stuttering blur. There are channels I block Jay from seeing in every place we visit, websites I bind with magic so he can’t visit them. But he is young, and curious in his wondering, and the bindings he can make and unmake go far beyond what magicians can do. It was only a matter of time before he decided to undo mine. And watch the news.

He turns his head toward me from the couch. His face is even paler than normal, and those so-ordinary eyes are dark and cold, his body rigid. He doesn’t move otherwise, doesn’t get off the couch. Jay is eleven. He was never eleven at all. “Honcho,” he says, his name for me from back when he first came into the universe and had a lisp, “I am watching the newth.”

And the lisp hasn’t been in his voice in a long time. Not unless he’s pressed beyond bearing, scared or terrified both.

“I noticed.”

He gestures, impossibly fast for anything human, the remote punching through the TV screen and out the back to impact with the wall. Jay is tough and quick, and he can make and break and shift bindings on levels so deep I’m not sure even the universe is aware of most of them. “There have been four mass shootings this week,” he begins in a calm, serene tone, and begins listing political issues, sociological issues, economic ones, one after another like bullets fired from a gun.

“I know,” I say.

He jerks his head up at my gentleness, eyes bright and fierce, fists clenching tight. “You know and you let it happen?” he demands.

“You know magic is only a small part of being a magican. There are balances –.”

“Shut up.” I do; Jay looks as shocked as I am for a moment, and then he is standing. Pacing, fury radiating from every line in his body. “I know you have limits, Honcho. I know Charlie does too. I don’t,” he says, with a terrible certainty that contains nothing human at all. “I could fix this, and you hid it from me.” His voice isn’t a magicians, to bind and force truth, but there is a terrible emptiness, a crushing purpose behind the words.

If I was anyone else, the words would have forced me back out the door. Sometimes, so rarely I half-forget he can, Jay stops hiding from himself, has some awareness of what he is capable of.

“I did.”

“Why?” His voice is very soft, something breaking in the word.

“Because there are things you can’t do.”

“I can do anything,” he screams, and the world about us shudders under his will.

“Jay.” He just glares, panting heavily. “I know what you can do.”

“You don’t –,” he begins.

“Jayseltosche.” Jay jerks at his full name, eyes wide and shocked almost back to himself. “I am the wandering magician. I have cost you dearly, restored what was lost at a deeper cost. I have broken the skin of the universe and knit it, slept with a Walker of the Far Reaches and survived, become fae and let that power go. You do not get to tell me what I do and do not know.”

He opens his mouth, closes it. Stares.

“People are mean, and cruel, and ugly. This is a fact that no amount of huggings or jaysome or friendship will change. Not if they are to remain people.”

“Then maybe they shouldn’t!”

“Charlie gets angry often, yes?” He nods warily. “The anger is what drives her, in part. She wouldn’t be Charlie without it, Jay. People wouldn’t be people without their darkness. We aren’t whole unless we have our shadows, and sometimes they aren’t dark at all. People are angry, and foolish, and often cause for despair, but one must love them anyway.” I’m trying to recall words I read once, paradoxical commandments for a time such as this, but they fall apart under the furious hurt in his face.

“I do, only people are mean and I can fix that, Honcho.”

“I know. But they wouldn’t be people.”

“And maybe that would be better!”

The word hang in the air, half-threat and almost promise. He can do that. Change everyone in the world in a moment. Make humanity something – not more, not less, but wholly different.

“I can’t argue against that,” I say softly. “We live in a fucked up world, Jay. But the only way to make it better is small, slow steps. We are getting better. Some days it doesn’t feel like that, and there is a lot of hurt and pain in the world – but birth is hard, and change is even harder. No one wants enlightenment, Jay. It is neither sought not welcomed, but it comes. In shifting beliefs, in altered systems, spasms toward the future that end up with at least one step forward in the end.”

Jay doesn’t move. I can’t eat his expression for the first time since I’ve known him. I don’t think even Jay knew he could hide what he was feeling from showing on his face. Maybe even he doesn’t know, not in this.

“People are jaysome, kiddo,” I say, and he flinches visibly as if struck. “Maybe not as jaysome as you, or for as long a time as you’d like. I help the world, the world pays me back for it. You help people, Jay. And they pay you back in kindness, and it takes courage to be kind, a type many people might never find in themselves if they don’t make friends with you, if they never meet you. It can’t be forever, but nothing is that.

“Everything I do will be forgotten, Jay, no matter that I am Honcho, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. That the sun will burn out some day is what keeps it shining. Thay jaysome exists is enough to shift the world in small, small steps toward something better. People have to change themselves or the binding isn’t as real.”

“But ... but – it hurts,” he cries out, and slams into me, trembling violently into the hug I offer.

“I know. Charlie and I didn’t want you to hurt like this, not if we could avoid it.” I hug him as tightly as I can. “And you can’t be Jay, not the Jay you have to be, and truly remember this.”

He sniffs. Looks up. The knowledge in his eyes hurts so, so much. “Honcho? Has this happened before?”

“No.” I am very good at this lie, so good he doesn’t question it.

He reaches inside, binding his own memories from himself. Forgetting, because the fact that we can forget is sometimes all we know of bliss. It’s not perfect. It’s as far from perfect as anything I know, but Jay can’t – he can’t be Jay, not as he is now, and not be compelled to fix things, no matter how much he would break in the process.

“Sleep,” I say, and he does so without a word. I put him into a bed, call Charlie and tell her to pick up a TV. I don’t say why. She knows by the tone in my voice.

Everything is paid for, but sometimes – sometimes some prices are so high that all you can do is pay and pay again and know nothing will balance the books in the end. I go outside. I am a power in the world. There is so much I hold back from doing, and some days it is so, so hard to do so. I don’t have Jay’s innocent arrogance as armour. I have nothing at all beyond a bitter understanding of how hard change is and how much the world fights against the future to cling to ugly pasts.

Such a messed up world. But setting that to right would only cause a bigger mess. I believe that. I have to, or everything I am has been for nothing at all.

Charlie brings me a latte, and we just drink, and say nothing, the pain Jay buried from himself in our eyes. Neither of us say a word, but we each hide it in our own way before we go back inside. There is a TV to fix, and Jay to wake up, and new adventures to have. And a world to help in steps so small that only the ripples will ever be felt, like faint breath on the back of the neck. I have to hope it helps. That what we do is enough of a push toward a better world. But deep inside I wish I had the courage to let Jay loose the depths of his power upon the entire world.

But I am not that brave. And I am not jaysome at all.

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