Iowa Writes

SUSAN MCCARTY
Magic Trick


That isn't my wife, is what he says. It's her angular nose, and the side of one fleshy cheek that had made her father call her Chipmunk, even into her thirties. It's her large hand and her bent ring finger, broken playing high school basketball and never set. It's her foot, now paled to some color he's never seen before, and her ribs and her lovely hip. One of two hips that had made him growl, when they were falling in love, that he wanted to fill her with babies. But her parts do not add up, not even at this forgiving angle, where the gunshot wound that must be disfiguring her other cheek and the top of her head faces politely away from him, toward the wall.

This is not his wife, who said to him four days ago, before she left, that she found him selfish and distracted and hopeful to a fault. As if hope itself were a fault. His wife, for instance, did not have a tattoo. And this one, crawling across the inside of the forearm like an insect, just above the elbow, reads, "breathe," a command that the corpse in front of him unabashedly ignores. He sits down hard on the folding chair behind him. The pathologist pulls the sheet back over the body.

That isn't my wife, is what he says. It's her angular nose, and the side of one fleshy cheek that had made her father call her Chipmunk, even into her thirties. It's her large hand and her bent ring finger, broken playing high school basketball and never set. It's her foot, now paled to some color he's never seen before, and her ribs and her lovely hip. One of two hips that had made him growl, when they were falling in love, that he wanted to fill her with babies. But her parts do not add up, not even at this forgiving angle, where the gunshot wound that must be disfiguring her other cheek and the top of her head faces politely away from him, toward the wall.

This is not his wife, who said to him four days ago, before she left, that she found him selfish and distracted and hopeful to a fault. As if hope itself were a fault. His wife, for instance, did not have a tattoo. And this one, crawling across the inside of the forearm like an insect, just above the elbow, reads, "breathe," a command that the corpse in front of him unabashedly ignores. He sits down hard on the folding chair behind him. The pathologist pulls the sheet back over the body.

"I know this is hard for you. I'm sorry." It's the policewoman talking now. Lieutenant something. She wears a suit. Mitchell can't tell if there is a gun underneath it. He remembers from the movies that you're supposed to be able to tell about the gun.

"My wife hates tattoos."

The pathologist speaks quietly to the lieutenant. "The scabbing around the tattoo indicates that it's a new one. Probably less than a week old."

"When was the last time you saw your wife, Mr. Mitchell?"

"She thinks they're trashy."

"Mr. Mitchell? Do you know where she got the gun?"

He can't look away from the draped sheet, hanging like a magic trick waiting for a magician. Or maybe he could conduct a symphony over that sheet, ?the waving of wands, the rising of things.

"She loves the symphony though," he says, and is vaguely embarrassed for himself, but is not sure why.

"Okay, Mr. Mitchell? I'm going to take you back upstairs."

It's her car he gets into and backs out of the parking space at the hospital. Her blue hair tie hangs off the clutch and is caught in the shifter when he moves into first gear. Her half-empty water bottle is stuck in the console between the front seats. His car is impounded, her head emptied onto the leather interior. He wonders vaguely who will pick it up and clean it and is shocked to realize that he will.

This is why he almost hits the kid in the crosswalk. It's been years since he's had to slam on the brakes and the act sends a nauseating pulse to his extremities. The kid, ?a skinny teenager with a lip ring and a baseball cap, smacks the hood of the car and swears. Mitchell can tell, even with the cap, that the kid is bald. No eyebrows or lashes, no hair on the arms. As he gestures and moves to walk around the car, Mitchell sees the blue-black tip of something tribal and jagged inching up the skin of the neck, from the collar. The thought flashes through him that he hopes the boy will die and just as swiftly it's gone and there is something heavy and painful pushing up from inside him. He coughs twice and draws a breath. Holds it as he pulls into traffic. Holds it as long as he can, until he is very close to home.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


SUSAN MCCARTY

Susan McCarty was born and raised in Iowa City and now works in New York City as a book editor. Her writing has appeared in Hunger Mountain, Northwest Review, and Boston's Weekly Dig. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005.

This page was first displayed
on September 06, 2006

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