He looks at the bags of cat food. Free range, grass fed, wild game. He finds the most expensive one. It’s an animal he’s only seen on late-night nature shows.
He looks in his wallet.
He puts the food back and gets the third most expensive one. The smallest bag. Just enough for one meal. A last supper.
He pays the cashier in torn and spilling rolls of quarters, his earnings from the last dive. He’s been diving a lot lately, most of it intentionally. Diving, never surfacing. He needs fast money. But it comes slowly, like the choked water down the Dahisar in Mumbai. Or what he remembers of it. Even his memories come slowly now. Like traffic over the GWB at rush hour. His imagery has been transplanted, too.
You’re a buck short, says the cashier, a teenager with horn-rimmed glasses, after counting through the small change a second time.
I’m not a buck short, he says, waving his fingers in the air before her face.
That’s weird, don’t do that, she says, but she rings it through anyway.
He tucks the bag under his arm and heads out into the rain. People lurk under eaves and in doorways like rats, watching the sky with narrowed eyes, waiting for better weather that will never come.
He cuts up Broadway. Even thirty years later it seems alien to him. Billboards the size of ships, faces of giants on marquees. Musicals, concerts, performances.
He stops under a fifty-foot video screen, images transforming across its surface. A man in a tux, half-naked bored looking women hanging from either arm, sparks flying from his hands, becoming doves flying across the uncaring face of the Statue of Liberty.
He knows a rougher kind of magic. His father had been a street magician. He’d go with him, at dawn, to set up in the bazaar. To hold the hat while his father made small things appear and disappear for tourists. His hands traced intricate patterns in the air: a bird’s wings, waves, an explosion.
His father wore simple clothes, except for one indulgence: a brooch that he pinned in his turban. A tear from Shiva that became a ruby when it fell to earth, he’d tell the tourists, even though he was an atheist and knew nothing of religion. It would catch the sunlight and send dazzling shapes across the square: a beetle’s shell, stained glass, starlight.
He remembers the first time he saw his father’s hands slide a watch from someone’s wrist. Gentle. The motion of a lover. The tourist was blinded by light reflected into her eyes. His father’s brooch. She never even noticed.
From then on, all he could see were rings, bracelets, sunglasses. Foreign objects. For his father, the translation was tonight’s meal, new clothing, school books. But to him each sleight of hand, each flash of the brooch, slightly diminished the magic.
When his father was dying he gave him three things: a ticket, a kiss, a small box.
On the plane ride over the ocean, he opened the box. There was a wad of cotton. Wrapped inside it: the brooch. Out of the sunlight, in the shadows of the cabin above the clouds, he saw it for what it was.
He can feel it there, in his pocket, as he catches the 7 under the East River, leaving the neon and noise behind him. He slides the brooch out, running his thumb over the chipped surface. He holds it up, sending prisms of light around the train car. He telegraphs his every move in Morse code pulses.
I’m stepping onto the platform, I’m going up the street, I’m opening the door.
She’s where he left her, curled up next to the leopard-print sofa, almost camouflaged, stripes against spots. She moves her great head blindly, as he shuts the door, sniffing him out.
He sits on the floor beside her and runs his hand under her throat, pulling her chin up toward him. She’d purr if she had the strength. Wet pieces of leather are scattered around her. She’s chewed his boxing gloves to pieces, looking for his smell.
He opens the bag of food and feeds her by hand, one pellet at a time.
She only gets a few down before her head sags, resting in his lap.
He throws the brooch, clattering, on the coffee table: cheap, plastic, tinted pink. Next to it: a yellow slip of paper and a torn envelope. His invitation to the fight. His chance to reappear.
He used to watch his father swim his hands through the air of the bazaar. The brooch, the ruby, a third eye. The magic he could do. The things he would build.
He puts one hand under her jaw and clamps the other over her nose, plugging the nostrils. She hardly struggles, she’s already asleep. He’s making her disappear, just like he’s made himself disappear. He’s cast half a spell. Nobody taught him the second half.