Fiction · 05/12/2010

two from Our Island of Epidemics

On Telling This Story

The epidemics were relentless, like the epidemic of laziness—during that one I couldn’t have even told this story, not that I am sure I wanted to tell it, not that I am sure I want to tell it now. The telling is relentless, too.

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The Man in the Hills

We woke up and could do magic. It was the latest epidemic on our Island of Epidemics. We disappeared into boxes and reappeared at friends’ houses, springing out of their closets. We hovered for seconds in the air before our feet touched down again. We shot sparks from fingers and they zigzagged across the sky like banners. We made ourselves bigger or smaller.

But then we discovered we weren’t magicians: we didn’t know how our tricks were done or how we did them. We disappeared and reappeared in closets, waiting for someone to change clothes. Our feet left the ground to our surprise. Our fingers burned with sparks and we couldn’t hide where we were. We made ourselves bigger or smaller.

The man in the hills who’d grown immune to our epidemics and couldn’t do magic shouted about the noise. We could hear his shouts echo off the hills. He could hear our exploding fingers. This made us keep pretending magic was the best epidemic.

Yet we opened gifts carefully, took cautious steps, pointed our fingers at the air, ignored our bodies.

When the epidemic passed and we got over magic we relearned how to live without expecting surprise. Then came the day we could laugh about the man in the hills who would never feel his veins hot with sparks, his bones lighter than air.

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Matthew Salesses is the author of We Will Take What We Can Get, a chapbook. His fiction has or will appear in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. Other stories in the Our Island of Epidemics sequence have or will appear in Cavalier Literary Couture, Wigleaf, Hobart, PANK, Kitty Snacks, Corium, and Word Riot.