This spring, Rowland Hall junior Isabel Hill was awarded three Honorable Mentions in the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (West Writing Region-at-Large) for the short story “Now You See Me” and two pieces of original artwork: the painting The Goat in a Suit and a handmade necklace. This work has been shared below with Isabel’s permission.
Now You See Me
By Isabel Hill, Class of 2022
Maybe things changed when I first cut my hair. Or maybe things changed when I refused to grow it out again. My parents loved my hair; I think that might have been one of the reasons I thought It had to go before I did. Mom and Dad never like the thought of me leaving home. We weren’t exceptionally close, but it was kind of a protective love that they gave me. They gave me their opinion, and they gave me what was best for me, and yet I cut away every line they roped around me. My hair seemed like one of those ties. It was long and flowing and beautiful, an altar to my parents' depiction of perfection.
I think I scared myself when I looked in the mirror after setting down the silver-bladed scissors. The dark halo around my head had been reduced to something jagged and sharp, like messy broken glass. I just stood there, longer than I knew how to count, holding fistfuls of severed wavy locks, and holding my breath even tighter.
I learned my first magic trick with a deck of cards. I learned how to make things disappear and reappear, but I didn’t stop at cards. I taught myself when to disappear. To disappear from friends, from teachers, and sometimes my parents. But no matter how long I had disappeared for, I always came back. Not with a flourish, or a puff of mysterious smoke, but in silence, as if I had never left to begin with. But staring at this stranger in my own mirror was scary. I couldn’t make my hair reappear. It was really gone. I didn’t think I would miss it, and I was right. It was my parents who were furious.
When I left home I stopped wearing skirts and dresses and switched over to dress shirts and ties. I sometimes annoyed myself when I insisted on wearing a tie. It felt too tight, too close, but it looked good on me. It looked refined and precise, just how I wanted to feel. I didn’t think my parents would approve, but the thought became numbed, like a dull headache that one can learn to live with.
My new friends seemed to like my wardrobe choice, and I built my demeanor around that knowledge. I stood straight, with my shoulders squared, and spoke kindly but firmly. Confident and calm, like a gentleman should be. So self assured, yet not self absorbed. The one thing past my appearance that everyone seemed to adore was my magic.
I could perform acts with smooth fluidity. People could get as close as they wanted, they would never figure out how I did it. They wanted to know my secret and learn my spells, and I would always tell them the truth with a little wink. I told them that It's not magic, it’s misdirection.
They liked it when I deceived them, so I kept practicing magic. It became my signature, the thing that people would whisper about me with awe. I liked doing it, and seeing people’s faces melt with wonder at the thought that maybe, just maybe, magic really was possible. I continued to practice new tricks. If there was something I couldn’t figure out at first I knew I would master it eventually. It was only a matter of time. My performance was as important as the trick itself, but I soon came to realize that it wasn’t just my shows that I was performing in.
When I stood with my new friends it was like standing on a stage, only my audience was surrounding me. I would easily enchant them with my witty and friendly act. But it wasn’t magic, it was misdirection. Whenever I was in a group I was surrounded by companions, but a piece of me always felt hollow. I could thrive in the spotlight, the center of attention, but that was all an act of magic. I had taught myself how to disappear and how to go unnoticed, I didn’t know what to do with myself if I tried to show what was behind my expression instead of what was behind a spectator’s ear.
My expressions hid an emotion, a kind of feeling that I couldn’t touch under my fingertips. I felt it crawling under my skin from time to time, but I couldn’t grab a hold of it and crush it. It was infuriating, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I wanted to cut away my confused pieces like the shriveled leaves in my mother's garden that the plants didn't need anymore. I tried to reshape who I thought I was, pruning myself into a beautiful rose. But no matter how many leaves I trimmed the thorns would always grow back.
I kept performing. It was only a matter of time before I met Adrien. The one with a soft smile and sharp eyesight, the one who was always too perceptive for my own good. Or maybe it was for my own good. He was very kind to many people, and I seemed to be one of them. Adrien’s eyesight was sharp enough to cut through a person’s skin and see what they were underneath. He could see people opened up like the petals of a flower.
I was scared to open myself up, as if doing so would break myself as well, like a flimsy little piggy bank. He didn’t need permission though. He wasn’t invading, he was just too attentive. Adrien could tell the difference between my thoughtful silence and my upset silence and I had no idea how he did it. He seemed to take a special fascination with me and I found it almost alarming.
It took me a while to figure out that Adrien’s fascination was more of a friendship. I already had friends of course, it was something I prided myself with, but this felt different, more honest. And Adrien, he was like glass. He was transparent, but somehow he was not fragile. He could get angry, and act cold, and sometimes his accomplishments would go to his head and he would talk too much.
He was more transparent than me at least. I found it charming. Sometimes I would see him fraying like a rope when it was pulled too tightly. But he never broke. He never shattered. I’m not sure many other people could see when he was fraying. I was attentive to detail, it was how I became such a good magician.
I liked to baffle him with my magic. I still enjoyed doing it, and even more so when I believed I was fooling someone who seemed to see things so clearly. He never figured out the secret behind my magic, or if he did he didn’t find it important to mention.
Once he asked me to go perform magic at one of his parties, and I said no. Once he asked me to join him and his friends at a café one afternoon, and I said no. But once he asked me to go walking in a local park, and once, I said yes.
I was scared for days. I’m not sure what intimidated me so much about being alone with someone, maybe it was the knowledge that there would be no one else to help pick up the conversation. It was daunting, and the thought lurked behind me like a shadow.
It followed me as a dark and transparent figure tugging at my heels. It pulled at me, but it couldn’t pull me back from the time Adrien had set. No amount of misdirection could change the advance of time. Yet when the time came, I performed again. Only this performance seemed different. I was only hiding my nervousness, for my sake of course, and eventually the theater mask fell away.
It started to happen before I went to meet my friend, when I had chosen my outfit after fretting over it like a child. I looked at the person in the mirror, and I saw myself. I had a nice and relaxing posture, and I spoke softly; I no longer needed the confidence that dripped from my tongue as it had before. My short, dark hair haloed around my face, the tips curling upwards like the tendrils of a tiny sun. I wore a blue vest with little stripes, and a white blouse cuffed up to my elbows. I thought I looked beautiful. I didn’t wear a tie that day.
I met Adrien outside the park. The shadow was back, gripping at my ankles, yet somehow managing to take hold of my throat and close it up in the process. I managed to bluff my way all the way past the first fountain until we could manage to walk without needing to fill the cacophony of noise with our own voices.
He picked a flower at his feet and handed it to me to admire. It was a little purple clover. Its leaves were being nibbled away by some small insect, but it was just so pretty sitting there between my finger and thumb. Adrien smiled and said he thought it looked nice against my vest. He was right, it really did seem perfect. I kept the flower.
We only talked about neutral matters, or at least, I did. Adrien told me about what he had been up to, and what his parents were doing. We kept drifting back towards school, and the weather, and the national news. Once he asked me about my magic, and a smile crept towards my face. That was something I understood.
Later that day we promised ourselves we would meet again, probably at the same place, and perhaps on a similar time around a weekend. It was later that day when I realized something else about him. Adrien was like a mirror. He would take peoples images and reflect them back at you, but somehow you would only see the best frames.
Maybe by watching him closely enough I would understand that trick, how he could see through our skins and see something pretty amongst the coiling veins and tendons. I would figure out the secret behind that trick someday. It was only a matter of time.