Moses Allan Hubbard
Francis and Elena are sitting at a table in a small courtyard. The sun is down but the air is still warm and thick. At one time the walls of the courtyard were part of the defensive architecture of some long-forgotten royal estate; now there are restaurants inside them, all of which have tables and chairs that spill out into the little square. Everyone in the courtyard seems to have come back from a long day at the beach, after which they have washed and made themselves up and dressed in elegant, loose-fitting clothes. The glittering sounds of silverware meeting other silverware and plates punctuate the murmurs and discreet babbles of laughter swimming around them.
It takes Francis a second to remember that there is a glass with a splash of Catarratto in front of him, and a waiter standing next to the table, and a question hanging in the air. Do you like the wine? But even before he has reached out to touch the stem of the glass, he knows that the real answer to this question, the thing that would be honest to say, is something that cannot be spoken.
In a world with different rules, maybe he would be able to give the honest answer, and maybe that answer would make sense. He would look at Elena, who is watching him now, and he would tell her, If I ever meet the person who did what they did to you, I will kill them. I will hurt them as badly as possible as quickly as I can. I’ll pick a point on their body and I’ll beat that point until it breaks, until it disintegrates, until it ceases to serve its function.
But here, at this table, with the waiter standing patiently beside them, it would be impossible to say this. Not just because it would be strange or rude, or because it might offend Elena or the waiter or whoever might happen to overhear them, but because it simply does not fit. The true thing has nothing to do with the waiter or the wine or the gentle good mood of the space around them. It has nothing to do with the question he has been asked. There is no place for this answer here.
Elena and Francis had woken up early in the morning to go to a small town on a mountain, where there is a castle on the side of a cliff. The castle is separated from the rest of the town by a garden, which has a maze of paths and alcoves and miniature courtyards and small staircases that trickled down the mountainside. The gates were closed when they arrived, so they bought coffee in little paper cups and wandered through the garden, studying the statues in the fountains and gazing out at the landscape beneath them.
Francis remembers, very generally, that they were speaking about what they had believed about magic when they were children. Elena explained that, when she was a child, she had often felt as though magic was always waiting just around the corner. If she went through the correct door or followed the right path in the forest she would discover a portal into another universe, or a ring that would give her the power to fly, or a magical wand. She spent much of her childhood anticipating the moment when something like this would happen, when she would finally stumble her way into this more dazzling and mysterious way of being alive. As she got older and learned to contextualize her fantasies, she began to think of magic as precisely this anticipatory space, the sensation of it being possible for something impossible to happen. The anticipation was real to the extent that it was bounded by itself, that it formed its own borders.
Then Elena was telling Francis about the thing that had been done to her when she was younger. The information slipped into the conversation almost without Francis realizing it; they were talking about one thing and then they were talking about something much more serious. Elena said that she still doesn’t remember exactly what happened, or how it happened. For a long time she had simply forgotten about it, or she had refused to let herself think about it, refused to let it be a part of her life. Even at the moment when the thing was being done to her, she had felt herself leave herself, is the way she described it.
Francis leans forward and reaches out to catch the stem of the wineglass between his thumb and his middle finger. A cuff of perspiration is beginning to form on the lower surface of the glass, around the splash of straw-colored liquid. He dials the stem between his fingers. The light in the wineglass appears to remain in the same place even though the wine and the glass that contains it are turning.
When Elena told him what had been done to her, Francis knew that this information should produce an equivalent emotional response—that he should feel rage, nausea, maybe a shameful erotic arousal—but he didn’t experience any of that, not at first. Even as he went through the motions of sitting down with Elena on a bench beside a fountain, and putting his arm around her, and looking into her eyes, and asking her things, and trying to say things that were honest and correct, inside he was unchanged. Not numb, not shocked, but no different than he had been before.
It wasn’t until just now, here in the courtyard, when the waiter pulled the cork out of the bottle of wine, that the feeling arrived. Now he understands that the feeling moves of its own will. It lingers behind things and expands and emerges suddenly. And in this way, by burying itself and waiting to emerge, the feeling protects itself, ensures its own continuation.
When Francis himself was a child, he had imagined that he might have the ability to move objects with his mind. It wasn’t that he expected magic to happen, exactly. There was never a moment when he fully believed that he would in fact move an object with his mind. But what had been there was a much more tangible sense of the possibility that something magical might happen. So even if he never technically believed that he would move an object with his mind, in a way he also knew how it would feel if he actually did.
This sense has dissipated over time—the membrane between worlds has thickened—but it has not entirely disappeared. This, too, remains somewhere inside him. As Francis looks at the glass he imagines a pulse of energy running down his fingertips and through the stem with so much force that the glass shatters.
But things don’t work like that. Invisible things have power over us, not the other way around; magic is a fantasy that attracts us because it allows us to imagine that this relationship is reversed. All that Francis has is more questions. Where do the things that happen to us go? Do we hold these things in our bodies? And how is it that they spread, invisibly, from one person to the next?
Elena reaches out to touch Francis’ wrist. The tips of her fingers are cool against his skin. She looks at the waiter, nods at the bottle of wine.
“I’m sure this will be fine,” she says.
Moses Allan Hubbard is an editor and writer based in Berlin. His work has appeared in FU Review, HASH, L’Inquieto, Passengers, and Sleek, among others.