I didn't know much about him, only that he was a magician with salt, pepper, and purple hair that spiked as high as his pointy beard extended down low. In his profile picture, he poses with a patch-eyed parrot on his shoulder and a wand in his hand. I hoped neither would make its appearance at dinner and that he'd downplay the magician thing. In his note he said he liked my impish name, Fiona, and my far-off look; he could see mischief in the glint of my eyes, wanderlust in my nose, and trepidation in my mouth--a study in contrasts. He had said it made him want to explore the disquiet. I loved that he used the word "disquiet." I studied my photo and saw little of what he claimed to see. But he was right about one thing: my long-held fear of being swept off the ground at the mercy of the wind was written on my lips.
I suggested a place where I suspected we wouldn't run into anyone familiar--a Korean restaurant on the outskirts of town frequented by Asians, who might just see us as two quirky Caucasians rather than a pair of desperate Internet daters. I'd have bi bim bap--beef with egg, veggies and rice--and, if it didn't go well, I'd wash it out down with super spicy kimchee.
For me, a corporate content curator (aka: a creative writer who wanted to eat), the magician was Internet date number 99, not that anyone was counting. I wanted him to be 100; I felt there was something enchanted about a magician being my 100th, but the 99s kept canceling or were no-shows. I finally accepted that the magician was meant to be 99; if things worked out with him, I'd never move into higher math. The triple digits made me feel despondent--like from there the numbers would expand into infinity--a blur of badly balding; charming but acerbic when drunk; tall, dark and creepy; loveable but destitute, wealthy but stalking; sexy but penny-pinching; affable but kinky. My sky-high numbers would be an aching testament to my inability to couple, to pair up, to be anything but alone.
My friends told me the best approach was to scrap Internet dating (losers, players, and flakes) and angle for widowers, but how? Was I to frequent mortuaries or graveyards searching for the handsomely bereaved? And what if the grieving guys had actually loved their deceased wives? I'd be competing with a ghost. During lovemaking, I'd wonder if she was hovering above us poised to her ghostly powers with every ecstatic moan especially during climaxes. I simply wasn't game for phantasmal voyeurism.
I strolled into Dae Gee Pig Out! Dae Gee means pig in Korean, but most non-Korean-speakers didn't know the translation, so weren't bothered by: Pig Pig Out! I scanned the place for the magician but only saw a sea of Asian faces. The pleasantly plump Korean hostess wearing a jade green pantsuit handed me a laminated menu with pictures and said, "Just one?"
"No, actually there will be two of us." She peered behind me as if challenging my number. "Oh, he's not here yet."
"Would you like to sit now?" I nodded and motioned toward the back.
I slid into the booth at the very back and wondered if the magician would appear. I had had such bad luck with 99s, I expected him to be another no-show. If he did show, would he be one of those card-trick-up-the-sleeves guys or sleight-of-hand-now-you-see-it-now-you-don't types? Would his magic feature bandanas and marbles, or top hats, white gloves and rabbits? Would I have to feign wonderment when he performed his tricks, only to break the bad news to him? No, I wouldn't reveal on the first date that he needed a real profession if he wanted to be with me.
In the meantime I'd take a moment to meditate. I had been advised by just about everyone--including my boss--that I needed to meditate to become less frazzled. It's bad when you're summoned to your boss's office and you anticipate a raise or a promotion but instead she doles out personal advice. "Fiona, if I were you, I'd give either meditation or medication a try." Is it that obvious? I thought I hid it pretty well. I pinched my eyes closed and focused on my in-breath, out-breath, in-breath, out-breath, but if you've ever tried it, you know it is tedious as hell. My mind gets bored and makes shit up like picturing the magician as a serial killer whose dates appear in his magic shows in the table sawing segment. But instead of doing abracadabra, here's the magic show lady all safe and sound; he actually saws you in half. And that's how your life ends--in halves.
When I opened my eyes abandoning my two-minute meditation, the magician was sitting across from me in the booth. As were the parrot and the wand. And the patch. Damn.
"Why does he wear a patch?" I said.
"Oh, sorry. Why does she wear a patch?"
"She's a pirate," said the magician.
"Who's ever heard of a lady pirate?"
"Oh, there have been plenty."
"Does she want to be a pirate?" I said.
"Not me. I'd be perpetually sea sick, peg-legs scare me, and pirate talk sounds so kitschy. 'Sink me! Ahoy thar. It's time to walk thee plank.'"
"You don't have to talk like that."
"And the wand? Do you always take it with you?"
He nodded. "You never know when you're going to need to change what's in front of you." I laughed nervously wondering when he would want to change me. I didn't want to become a parroted pirate or a pirated parrot or any other creature requiring a patch.
"So is this what you do for a living--the magician thing?"
"It's how I've made a life." The way guys answer when they're poor. His eyes were like kaleidoscopes with shifting patterns of beads, pebbles, and bits of glass in purple, blue, green, and yellow. I could have watched them for hours, but I didn't want to be rude or prematurely intimate, especially not with a one-eyed parrot staring me down. For all I knew, she'd squawk embarrassing things and the whole restaurant would crane their necks.
"But, I mean, do you make money, you know, doing your magic tricks?"
"You don't need money with magic."
"So how do you pay for things like dinner at a restaurant?"
"I don't worry about that." Perfect. He's one of those guys who have no problem using other peoples' money.
"Shall we order?"
"No need to. Our food is on its way." I laughed again, this time a high-pitched titter. I wished it had been more guttural and commanding. This guy seemed more delusional by the minute. Despite being mesmerized by his kaleidoscope eyes, I was ready to cross him off my list and surrender to the triple digits.
Sure enough; seconds later piping hot bowls of bi bim bap and heaping servings of kimchee arrived at our table. I glanced at the server, at the magician, then at the food, trying to piece it all together. "Hey, how'd you do that?"
He responded by diving into his meal. I guessed he never answered questions about magic. No true magician did. Nothing seemed to faze this guy. If nothing else, I could use a dose of his unfazed-ness. As my question dissolved into silence, the pirated parrot took flight high above the patrons--a spectacular flash of green, yellow, and orange. She was a confident but lopsided flyer; I couldn't help but blame the patch. I wanted the magician to remove it, but I didn't want to interfere with the parrot's nautical identity. Of course she'd dream of life at sea when she was better suited to being a pilot. But did parrots dream?
Diners exclaimed and pointed at the bird. I thought we'd be chastised for our parrot or escorted out. Then I noticed the parrot was flying with red roses in her beak and delivering a fresh red rose to each table, sliding it into skinny glass vases and flying to the next table with flourish. Not only were customers not perturbed with an aviary addition to their dining experience; they were delighted. She landed, perched in the middle of the restaurant, and squawked, "Sniff your rose, people. Sniff your rose." And surprisingly everyone did. They picked up the vases and inhaled their roses. The solo red flowers exploded into bouquets of lilacs, tulips, orchids, hydrangea, and narcissus. Patrons' faces lit up with curious glee and a hint of ecstasy. Some even cheered.
For some reason, I had no faith in my rose or my nose. Sensing this, the magician reached out, grasped the vase, and held it up to my nose. My suspicion was right. Mine didn't blossom into a bouquet of flowers like everyone else's. My rose bloomed into a dozen red balloons, each marked with the number 99. I inhaled my astonishment. I hadn't told him his number.
He offered me the balloons. "Take these outside, don't let go, and you'll soon discover what stars are made of," he said stroking his beard making it even more pointed than it already was.
I didn't know if I'd ever make it to 100, but it didn't matter. When the world was this magical, you stopped counting.
©2017 by Ann Tinkham