The long walk back to my house from Emerson Park gave me enough time to shake off the tension I felt after grasping Sol’s magic wand crystal-first. I’d been told over and over again since I was a kid to never touch a dangerous object by anything other than its handle, as my parents and teachers worried that I would seriously injure myself. In a way, I was thankful Sol’s wand didn’t have any magical energy to burn when she handed it to me. There was a good chance my carelessness would cost me my right hand, and Sol would have received a long, harsh lecture from the guys down at “the station”, followed by the kind of overnight stay no self-respecting Sharonian wanted to have on their permanent record.
When I walked up to the front door and fumbled in my pocket for my house keys, the tingling sensation came back to my fingers. I thought it was a side effect of the wand incident, but the tingling went away as soon as I put away my keys. When I tried to close the door from the inside, a sharp, searing pain shot through my right hand as if I’d accidentally laid it down on an iron that had been plugged in for a minute. I looked down at my hand and started freaking out when I saw that the palm had turned bright red.
Instead of spending time pondering why my doorknob had burned me, I rushed to the kitchen to run my hand under some cool water for several minutes until the pain in my right hand subsided. The first-aid kit in the bottom drawer of the medicine cabinet hadn’t been used in so long that there was a thin layer of dust on top, but the bandages inside were still sealed. I felt that wrapping my hand in gauze tape was a bit excessive for my injury, so I grabbed the largest bandage I could find that wouldn’t arouse too much suspicion from my parents and slapped it on my palm, where it hurt the most.
Starting that new painting was out of the question for the moment. I still had the video footage of Sol on my phone, so I could at least review that to find a decent shot to use as a reference image.
Mom kept a stack of smooth jazz CDs next to the living room stereo that she’d sometimes listen to after a stressful week at work. I picked one out at random and played it to break the uncomfortable silence in the house. It helped take my mind off the pain a little bit, but it took a few pain medicine pills and some rest to actually make it go away.
Before I could fully load the video, I got a phone call from Randy Lippman, one of my co-workers at the local Ada’s supermarket.
“How you doin’, Didi?” he asked with a peppy, high-pitched voice. I pictured him trying to smile at his cell phone as he talked, wishing some of that enthusiasm would rub off on me.
“I’ve had worse days,” I said. “How about you?”
“Pretty good, I guess. Listen… can you do me a favor?”
There was that phrase again. At least I knew Randy wouldn’t try to make me do anything that might cause me to hurt myself.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“Could you come in for me this afternoon? I have a doctor’s appointment at one o’clock and I won’t be able to make it.”
“Why? What happened?”
“It’s a bit of an embarrassing story,” he said. “I’ll tell you about it later. So, will you be able to help me out today?”
It was hard for me to clench my right hand into a fist with the bandage in the way. It only hurt a little bit, but picking up and moving bags of groceries around for several hours was probably going to make things worse.
“Sorry, Randy,” I said to him. “Maybe another time.”
“Oh… All right, then. You’ll be in on Wednesday morning, right?”
“Yeah. Come visit me at lunch if you’ve got time.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it,” he said, “but I’ll try.”
I said goodbye to Randy, trying to sound as cheerful as he did when he first called me.
After hanging up my cell phone, I started watching my recorded video from the beginning. It was difficult to hold the phone camera still while I was standing behind that tree outside Emerson Park, but I managed to get a few good minutes of Sol’s magic dance on film.
I had no idea what the actual steps of the dance were supposed to look like, or if there even were any official steps, but Sol made it look so easy. Whereas my version of the dance was done hastily to get the wand charged as quickly as possible, Sol was graceful with every step – not a single fumble or wasted movement.
At around the two-minute mark of the video, I pinpointed a frame where Sol was about to raise her wand arm in the air to signify the end of the ritual. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting pose if I’d asked her to do it myself. I fumbled around with the phone trying to press the buttons using only my left hand, but I eventually got it to take a snapshot of Sol’s faux-heroic wand stance. It almost felt like a cruel joke that her wand didn’t respond positively to her dance. Perhaps it didn’t really care all that much about the aesthetics of a spell as long as its holder got the job done.
At noon, I heated up a slice of frozen pepperoni pizza in the microwave. I preferred the pizza we ordered from Rococo’s every month to the store-bought brands for its softer crust, but I needed to make my money last for the rest of the week, and that meant no takeout food or ordering online until either my painting sold or I got my paycheck from Ada’s.
My entertainment options for the next few hours were limited while I continued to nurse my right hand. I couldn’t play video games or do much exercise beyond stretching. We also managed to sign up for the only high-speed internet plan in town that didn’t include cable television. Dad told me he did it to save money by not paying for shows that we’d never see because we would all only watch a few channels anyway – he would go for all the movie channels, Mom would watch all the music channels, and I would lean toward cartoons and the occasional comedy show. After the afternoon news aired, I watched a couple of quiz shows and tried to play along with the contestants. The questions weren’t designed to be difficult since they aired on syndicated daytime television, and I was confident enough in my knowledge of pop culture trivia to get most of the answers right without looking them up on the internet.
Dad came home a little after three o’clock carrying a bag of freshly-baked donuts from the bakery in his right hand, and a stained apron in his left. I reached up to give him a big hug just after he stepped in the door and sat the bag down on the coffee table. He wasn’t very muscular, but he still had a strong grip that made me thankful his first impulse wasn’t to shake my hand.
“How’s my precious daughter doing today?” he asked, his deep voice betraying his somewhat skinny frame.
“I finished the painting I was working on last night,” I said, showing him the picture of “The Sword” on my phone’s gallery.
“That’s wonderful! Are you going to let your mother or I watch you paint a picture one day?”
“It’ll take a while for me to make another good one, but when I do, I’ll let you guys see it before I give it to Cherry’s.”
I was glad Dad appreciated the work I’d been doing. It had been almost a year since I last painted something I was proud enough to put up for sale. My bedroom was full of paintings of random houses and skylines I’d seen while we were out on the road, most of which were done while I was in art school and was just starting out as a painter. Even if I had started going to Cherry’s earlier, I doubted those paintings would sell, so I kept them in my room for atmosphere.
Dad flopped down on the sofa and pulled out a powdered donut from the page. The cream-filled ones were one of my favorite flavors, but I hated the mess they made when you bit into one so I grabbed a chocolate glazed donut instead. When I pulled my hand out of the bag, Dad looked at me with one eyebrow raised. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Why?”
He leaned in to take a closer look at my right hand while I tried to play off my injury by eating my donut. The longer I tried to hide it from him, the more curious he got.
“Let me see that,” he said firmly.
As I ate the last bit of my donut, he lowered my hand and gasped in shock when he saw the bandage, demanding to know what happened.
“I… burned it?” I couldn’t believe what I was saying, but it was the best explanation I could think of to describe my predicament. The way Dad continued to look at me with his right eyebrow up, it became obvious that he didn’t believe me either.
I was prepared to tell him right out that I burned it while closing the front door, knowing full well how ridiculous it sounded. A recap of the last few hours of my day spilled out in disjointed order in response to his every question – going to Cherry’s to drop off my painting, how I met Sol in Emerson Park, her identity as a possible witch, how she asked me to help recharge her magic wand, and how I got zapped when she handed it to me. I left it to Dad to try to piece everything together for himself, but I had a feeling I already knew the answer: my injury wasn’t sustained when I touched the doorknob, but when I was given the magic wand. I hadn’t noticed it at the time because I immediately grabbed the metal part of the wand after Sol gave it to me. It wasn’t until the tingling in my body wore off that I actually felt the pain in my hand, and making contact with the doorknob only made things worse.
After listening to my explanation, the smile Dad wore when he entered the house melted into a half-frown. “I don’t know how you got mixed up in this witch business,” he said, “but I’m booking a doctor’s appointment for you for tomorrow morning.”
“What? You don’t need to do that, Dad,” I pleaded. “I’ll be fine!”
“We’ll let Dr. Keller make that decision. For now, just keep taking your medicine, and don’t take the bandage off until the doctor has a chance to take a look at it. Understand?”
There was nothing else I could say to counter that. Dad scheduled an appointment for me to get a morning exam, and then called the bakery to request a day off, citing “a family issue”. Neither of us was happy with the arrangement. Dad didn’t like having to drive all the way out to St. Gabriel to visit the doctor’s office because of all the traffic, and I was worried that the doctor would ask me a bunch of weird questions, especially since magic was involved.
My hand didn’t hurt as much after taking some more of the pain medicine. It still hurt when I poked the area covered by the bandage, but I could once again close my hand around one of my large paintbrushes for a few minutes at a time. I decided to take a chance and start my painting of Sol while I waited for dinner. Painting a base for the body was easy enough – some caramel brown for the skin and streaks of dark brown to represent the hair. If I swapped the two colors and shortened the model’s hair a bit, I could have turned it into a self-portrait.
Mom walked into the room just as I’d started filling in the background of the painting. “Deanna, could you sit down for a moment?” she asked as she sat down near the foot of my bed and patted the corner next to her. Although she phrased the question as a suggestion, it felt more like a command since she kept her eyes on me the whole time as I sat my brushes and palette down next to the easel before taking my seat. Her wrinkled blue blouse suggested she had a busy day at the library and was in no mood to mess around.
“Now, your father told me about your little ‘misadventure’ in Emerson Park today,” she continued. “What were you doing down there, anyway? Why didn’t you just come home right after you left Cherry’s?”
“I just wanted to take a walk and look for inspiration,” I said. “I didn’t know that I’d find a witch there. I guess I got lucky.”
“You were lucky, all right – lucky she didn’t turn around and zap you the moment she saw you!”
Mom paused for a moment to close the door – something she only did either when she was about to take a nap or start yelling. Perhaps in an effort to avoid the second outcome, she took a few deep breaths before sitting back down. I clutched my bedspread and braced for her to start yelling anyway, but she continued to speak in a calm, serious tone that I found more unnerving.
“Now, tomorrow after your appointment with Dr. Keller, I want you to stay here and watch the house,” Mom said, “and don’t go anywhere without your father’s permission.”
“Am I seriously being grounded? I’m 24 years old, Mom!” I quickly covered my mouth after that outburst, as it would have given Mom a good excuse to ground me for real.
“I don’t want you getting hurt again, honey.”
“Can I at least try to explain the situation to Sol – uh, to Marisol tomorrow?” I asked.
“Only if your father gets to go with you.”
My face sank into my palms when Mom told me of her “condition” for my meeting. Neither of them had met Sol before, and I didn’t want them to make a bad first impression. Given Dad’s tendency to crack bad jokes in the company of strangers, I feared the conversation would go south in a hurry if I let him talk first.
“All right, all right,” I mumbled. “Can we talk about something else now? Anything else?”
Mom patted me on the shoulder and said, “No problem. Now don’t stay up here too long. We’re having spaghetti tonight, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out.”
“Sounds great! I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
After everything I’d gone through in the last several hours, the spaghetti dinner sounded like it would be the highlight of my day so far.
A little while after my chat with Mom, I went downstairs and listened to her and Dad talk about their work days over dinner. The library just recently introduced a comic book section to try to draw in younger readers. Mom always saw the same group of kids come in after the final school bell to read back issues of Street Smashers, and she had to yell at them daily because only one of the kids had a library card and he and his friends would make a lot of noise while they were reading. Dad’s day at the bakery sounded positively mundane by comparison. The only conflict he had to deal with came after work when he had to call out to arrange my appointment with Dr. Keller. His boss chided him for calling out on such short notice because another worker had already called out sick, and someone had to be moved up from the next day’s shift to cover for both of them. I offered to wash the dishes after we ate, but Mom repeated Dad’s warning to me against getting my bandage wet.
After that, I went back upstairs to my bedroom to continue my painting. It was lonely not having anyone else to talk to, so I called Randy again because I was curious about his injury.
“Hi, Randy!” I said with cautious cheer. “How’d your doctor’s visit go?”
“As expected, unfortunately,” he answered.
“‘Unfortunately’? What do you mean? What happened?”
“Well, it’s like this… My buddies and I were playing a heated game of three-on-three over the weekend. We were up by two and just needed one point to win the game. I was feeling pretty confident in my skills, so I figured I’d try to finish things off with a dunk.”
I waited to hear where the story was going even though I knew there wouldn’t be a happy ending.
“So I got the ball,” Randy added, “I shook one defender down and tried to drive my way to the hoop and… do you know how they say ‘that guy’s ankles got broken’ when someone gets fooled by a crossover?”
“Let me guess: you went for the dunk and fell down the wrong way on your ankle?”
“Exactly! Well, except for the part where I went for the dunk.”
The thought of Randy rolling his ankle on an attempted crossover dribble made me cringe. I could only imagine how painful it must have been for him to experience it.
“How badly does it hurt?” I asked. “Can you still move around?”
“A little bit, but the doctor says I’ll need to be on crutches for a couple of days,” he said after what sounded like a combination of a groan and a sigh.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I wish there was more I could do other than say ‘I hope you have a quick recovery’.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, Didi, but I appreciate the call. I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self before long. I’ll have to take it easy on the dribbling, though.”
I felt bad for laughing along with Randy’s pain, but he seemed to be in good spirits in spite of what happened to him.
After hanging up the phone, I went back to work, thinking less about my injury as the painting started to take shape. Sol’s hair and facial features were more defined, and I was able to draw the fingers wrapped around her wand in greater detail.
I took another look at my video and noticed that there were none of the dazzling special effects I expected to see from a spell being cast – no particles of light dancing around, and no leaves or dust swirling around or shifting in the wind. The grass around Sol’s feet was still green when she was finished, and her footprints in the dirt were the only sign she had even attempted the dance. With nothing to use as a point of reference for evidence of magic activity, I painted some beams of golden light shining from the magic wand’s gemstone. It was hardly realistic but I decided to roll with it, believing most depictions of magic were highly stylized in order to appeal to outsiders.
It was 9:30 when I finished the painting, and I was starting to get tired. It took me even longer than normal to clean up because I had to be very careful not to get my bandage wet. It already felt like it was about to slip off, and I prayed that it would hold on long enough to allow my wound to continue healing until the doctor had a chance to look at it.
The night sky was cloudy, blocking my view of the stars. I thought of my painting of “The Sword” and hoped that whoever bought it would try to look for that constellation the next time they went stargazing. After taking another dose of pain pills, I said “good night” to Mom and Dad, and then went to bed.
As I slept, I wondered what Sol was going to do with her magic wand once she learned how to use it properly. Assuming she was telling the truth about not having a companion spellbook to study, she was going to have a tough time unless she either found a library that carried the exact book she needed or spent some time on the internet researching spell gestures and their effects. I wanted to visit the shop where she bought her wand one day to see what other varieties of wands and trinkets they sold, even if it was only to find out how much more there was to this whole “magic” thing.
When I woke up the next morning, my right palm felt clammy and gross, and there was a sticky residue around where my bandage was supposed to be. I must have been so sweaty that it fell off while I was asleep. Surely enough, I found the used bandage lying on the floor between my bed and the nightstand, and I wasted no time throwing it out.
I looked down at my right hand one more time, and while the redness had mostly faded away, I saw a circular indentation in the center of my palm that I definitely didn’t remember seeing before. I knew that something weird happened when I touched the doorknob, but I couldn’t figure out why my wound was suddenly glowing.
Perhaps I should have put the gauze tape on after all.