“Ready?” he asks, and Melly nods. He pinches a blue plastic brick between two fingers and lifts it up before his daughter. “And now,” he says, “I will make this disappear!” Melly nods again, solemn as a statue. She doesn’t smile much, not anymore, but he is hopeful that this will do the trick.
He holds the brick for a heartbeat longer. Then he takes his other hand and swirls it. “Abracadabra,” he says. “Hocus pocus. . . Now close your eyes!”
Melly does so immediately. A faint tink falls somewhere in the room. “Look,” he says. “It’s gone!”
It is gone. Melly jumps up and down and claps her hands; pleased, he spreads his arms in triumph. “Again!” she says. “Daddy, do it again, please!”
He knows he shouldn’t, but he no longer has the heart to refuse her much. And so he does it again: he holds another brick out, he waves his hand, he incants the magic words. Except this time when he shouts for her to close her eyes, she keeps them open. Her gaze tracks the brick as he tosses it over his shoulder.
He sighs. “Potato,” he says, invoking his pet name for her, “you didn’t close your eyes.”
“I wanted to see what you did.” Melly says. Her forehead creases, and for a moment he sees the ghost of her mother there. “You just threw it! That’s not magic.”
He rolls his eyes, exaggerating for effect. “Well of course not. That’s not where the magic is.” He takes his index finger and places it on her forehead, firmly. “Closing eyes is magic.”
Melly hesitates, then agrees. And when he performs the trick a third time, she closes her eyes. When she opens them, the brick is gone, he is grinning, and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
The next afternoon as they walk home from kindergarten, Melly trips over cracks, stumbles over rocks, bumps into mailboxes. After the third time she falls, he examines her and frowns. “Potato,” he says, “are you walking with your eyes closed?”
Melly smiles. One hand grips her father’s; the other is outstretched, palm up with fingers lightly curled, as if holding an invisible hand, or perhaps one that has been missing for the past half year. “Closing eyes is magic,” she says, gently. “I remembered.”
Startled, he opens his mouth. He should say something, but he does not know what. So instead he watches his daughter float along, a dream on her face. A few steps later, he closes his own eyes. And then he opens them again to cross the street.
Tzu-Mainn Chen takes creative writing classes at Grub Street in Boston.