Ch. 8: I thought this was a volunteer position?
- Ch. 1: Science has to be right all of the time. Magic only has to be right once. Or twice.
- Ch. 2: There comes a time when a decision has to be made. Well, someone does. Ideally not me. Gotta run!
- Ch. 3: Please be careful as passengers may have shifted during flight.
- Ch. 4: This is probably going to end well.
- Ch. 5: Take me where I need to go. Show me what I need to learn.
- Ch. 6: Depth of Field
- Ch. 7: Mirror, mirror on the wall … who’s the guy behind me?
- Ch. 8: I thought this was a volunteer position?
- Unknowing Majestic Mystic: The Plot
- Ch. 9: Isn’t there a back office job in the superhero department?
- Ch. 10: There is no manual for superheroes. Is there?
- What if magic were closer than we thought?
What if I don’t want to play anymore?
I felt the blood slowly trickling down my neck, but I couldn’t take my eyes off my dad on the other side of the salon.
I also couldn’t move or speak.
In my head, I asked, ‘Dad, what are you doing here?’ But it was a moment where I wasn’t too sure what was going on in my head and in front of me — and which was which.
“Do you remember the photo from my high school football team that hangs in the hallway at home?” my dad asked as if we talked every day, as if we were continuing a conversation from the day before, apparently about his high school football career. But we didn’t talk every day, we hadn’t talked for two years — at least, not in person.
I was so taken aback with his off-the-wall question that I just continued to stare at him. As if he were a wax museum piece and I was trying to figure out if he was real or not. I wanted to reach over and touch his skin to know for sure, but he was on the other side of the room and I still couldn’t move. Finally, I snapped out of it and remembered that he had asked me a question.
“Of course I remember that photo,” I said. “It’s black and white and panorama shaped. It’s mid-height between lots of other photos, but this one is closest to my old bedroom,” I said as if he had asked me to describe exactly where it was on the wall, which he hadn’t.
“They’re all black and white,” he said dryly.
“Oh yeah,” I said.
“Do you know what number I was?” he asked and I immediately knew, but then I instantly doubted because I was being asked. If this were a question on some million-dollar game show, I would have hesitated and thought about it some more, which would have, of course, brought on more doubt and more hand wringing.
I had the answer clear in my head, but I was pretty sure it was wrong, or maybe just a little off. He was number twenty-three. Then I did exactly what I felt was instinctively the absolute wrong thing to do: I started to voice my doubts and concerns. I just started blabbing. It was probably because I was nervous.
“Oh, oh, I know,” I started out with the charisma and poise of a kindergartner who raises his hand even when he doesn’t know the answer, but just wants to answer because, actually, I don’t know why they do that. But that’s what I did — and with the same lack of logic.
“You want to know because then you can prove that you know something that I don’t know so that I’ll know it’s really you and not just my imagination of you.”
He tried to keep a stoic look, but he couldn’t and he broke down and smiled and spoke.
“I’m glad to see you’ve still got your analytical side working in top shape,” he said.
I was just glad to have those initial words under the bridge so it would seem a little less strange. Although being in a hair salon in Holland with a jackhammer of a trimmer going off in my head, bleeding because I turned around so quickly, and my father sitting across from me asking about a photo on my childhood hallway wall was strange, but now a little less so.
“You were number twenty-three,” I said. “Your position was, well, I never really know the names of the guys on the line. Let’s see, there’s the center, maybe a left and right tackle, then two more guys I don’t know, then I think maybe there are the tight ends. I’m not sure if there are guys between the tackles and the tight ends and then again, I’m not even really sure they’re called tackles. But yeah. I think you were maybe one of those tackle guys. Yeah, that’s what I think. Oh, and you were number twenty-three.”
Although the trimmer was still going strong like a motorboat without a muffler, the stylist moved her hand and the trimmer away from my head and onto the area between my neck and my shoulder. She raised the cutting part, thankfully, so that I was no longer being sheered like a sheep, but was only getting the intense vibration from the trimmer. As she did so, the vibrating massage reminded me of Fred’s Barber Shop while at the same time, my vision improved. Both of my father in front of me and of my childhood wall.
“Wait,” I said. “Wait. It wasn’t twenty-three.” The wall came into better focus and I could see the other photos too. There was a photo of my sister in a blue and yellow baseball cap, not black and white. Then there was a really old photo of some old guy who was probably a relation. Then there was the football team.
“No, no,” I said, my vision blurring of my dad and clearing of the photo. Somehow I could still see both, but the photo was as if there was a screen in between us in the salon, a pull-down translucent screen where I saw this video of my childhood hallway.
“It was 25,” I said although as soon I said it, I knew it wasn’t right. I was guessing, probing, reaching.
Her grip tightened on my shoulder and the buzzing trimmer sunk deeper through my skin and into my bones. Now I saw my dad more clearly and the screen less clearly. My dad was just looking at me, not saying anything, with an expression on his face that didn’t tell me anything at all. He was just waiting for me. I wanted to ask for his help, but the look on his face was all that I was going to get.
It was as if I had to get the tumblers right into the combination lock so he could talk. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do.
It took some willpower and strength, but I turned my head away from my dad and towards the stylist.
“I don’t know what number he was,” I said. “I thought I did, but I don’t.”
She swiveled the chair so I was facing the mirror. I could now see myself, the hairdresser, and my father behind me. No one spoke. I was losing the old staring-contest game and spoke first.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what the number was and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” A sense of overwhelm came through me that I hadn’t expected and I even felt tears in my eyes. I was getting tired of all of these games and not knowing and not talking and no direct questions and answers. Sure, it was neat to see my dad sitting over there, but maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe this was all too wishy-washy for me and I should go back to being an accountant. Ha, that’s a joke. I’m terrible at accounting. But at least they are numbers and one plus one is two and not vibrating neck massagers from old guys named Fred from twenty years back and my dad having me guess his number on his football jersey. Even accountancy sounded fresh at this point.
“You know,” I started, quickly noting my debating skills improving dramatically with my opening lines. “I don’t know who you are or what games we’re playing, but I’m done playing,” I said, trying to sound serious and convincing. I felt neither.
“I don’t know what the number of his jersey was. I thought it was twenty-three, but it might have been twenty-five. Who cares? I can call my mom and ask her to look on the wall and come back and tell you. Would that help? Would that do the trick?”
As I said the last words, the trimmer stopped. Compared to the orchestra of chainsaws that had been ringing in my ears for what seemed like an hour, the silence was deafening. I truly couldn’t hear a thing. I looked up to the stylist through the mirror. She looked at me and spoke.
“OK, we’re done here,” she said softly. “What do you think?”
“What do I think? What do I think?” I started as if I had a huge monologue prepared, but I had nothing. I didn’t even have another ‘What do I think?’ lined up. I was drained, empty, lost, losing.
“It’s perfect, thanks,” was all I said as some rational, present-moment self stood up in my brain to answer. Thankfully. No other part of me was responding.
She expertly cleaned me up without another word, brushed off the hairs, and twirled the cape off of me like a ballerina. She handed me a little slip of paper which I assumed was the receipt and did a little nod of her head and a knowing smile and she would have tipped her hat had she been wearing one.
I got up, noticed my dad was gone, didn’t seem to need to be a big deal and I continued on to the cashier and paid and held onto the receipt as the cashier didn’t even ask for it. I stepped outside and with no intention, turned over the receipt.
The blue ink was crawling like a millipede. But as if it came up through the paper on the side I could see and then out the other side. I quickly turned it over but there was nothing but the printed receipt. I turned it back over and the lines were still crawling, moving, flowing.
Nothing fancy or complicated. There was no missing what it said. Just two characters, two numbers. Written out by hand.