Fiction Monday: The Disappearing Act

A short piece of fiction inspired by tonight’s sunset … 

For the third week in a row, Janet forgot to shave her legs. The first time she forgot was on a Sunday when she was changing into her swimsuit for Joel’s picnic-basket dinner on the beach. Janet looked at her legs as she slipped on the pink bottom to her tankini and after noticing the small granules of dark hair, called Joel and cancelled.

“I have an appointment,” she explained plainly and with enough contriteness to make him believe it was true.

Joel said he wished she would reconsider and was very sorry she couldn’t make it; he even bought Meyer lemons because he knew Meyer lemonade was her favorite. Janet said she’d visit him soon.

The next time Janet forgot to shave her legs was the following Friday, when she put on her blue turtleneck sweater and fat-cinching skirt to photograph O.C. Theater Academy Presents: A Magical Evening with Rhodes Deleone. The moldy, old curtain would rise on the county’s longest-standing magic show in 20 minutes, so Janet pulled out a pair of black stockings instead of searching for her razor and made it to the theater with two minutes to spare.

And today, on her thin porch, watching the sun sink over the white-tipped curls of the ocean and into an oil-yellow sky, she noticed the longish threads of hair on her legs and realized she forgot to shave, again. It wasn’t so much that she forgot to shave, though. It was that Janet really didn’t care to shave.

“You think you’re trying to turn chic like those beautiful French girls with all the hair under their pits?” Asked her friend, Charline, when Janet told her over homemade sangrias and a cheese platter that she hadn’t shaved – or, now that she thought about it, showered – since Thursday two weeks ago.

“I don’t know,” Janet said, nibbling on a chalky rind of brie.

Janet felt the same way about Charline as she felt about her leg hair; annoying but innocuous and therefore allowed to remain. Charline was and always would be an unimportant slice of Swiss cheese in the hole-filled history of Janet’s friendships. Her crumbling mascara; her fake, neon nails; and her too-tight, leopard-print body suits were nothing more than vacuous spaces of apathy Janet couldn’t be bothered to push away.

It could be Charline was meaningless cheese or she was the little hair growing from Janet’s right knee. Both were just as harmless. Yes, that was a good word for Charline. Harmless. Stupid might be another.

“Shame about the Joel thing,” Charline mumbled between gulps of sangria, her voice typical and high-pitched. “I think he really liked you. And not in the, ‘Oh I like those shoes’ or ‘I like sushi with avocado’ kind of way. In the, ya know, boy-girl like kind of way?”

“He’ll find someone else.”

“Yeah. Or you’re missing out because he’s freaking hot?”

“I guess.”

Charline picked at some cheese between her teeth. “Mmm, anyway, I gotta bounce, Jannie babe. Fred’s taking me to that new movie tonight … the scary one with the pirates who turn into clowns?”

Almost everything Charline said ended with a question, even if it wasn’t. Sometimes, when their time together ended, Janet would half-smile at Charline instead of saying goodbye, imagining a life without Charline Pagonini and concluding that not much would change.

Beyond Janet’s now-empty porch on 41st Street, the sunset had already grown more serious; purple streaks of magenta clouds marbled the darkening horizon, smeared below a slim hangnail moon. Sunsets were one of the few things for which Janet still cared. Unless a photography job was scheduled, she made it a point to sit on her porch to see them, and stayed for longer than she should guessing if the clouds would be stained more pink than yellow or more orange than blue. Maybe it was her soul burping up the dregs of a once-passionate inner artist but she found more joy in sunsets than anything else in her life.

To someone’s surprise who might inquire, Janet never tried to photograph what she saw. It was troubling to her seeing so much beauty cheapened beneath her Nikon lens. Even taking out her camera from the case as the sun dipped below the horizon felt like an act almost sacrilegious in its perniciousness. Sunsets were her own; brilliant secrets kept with the world that shouldn’t be seen pixelating on a computer screen or clinging to a gallery wall.

She took in tonight’s show, complete with a solitary, huddled figure sitting so close to the breaking waves Janet thought he must be getting soaked in their spray. The man had a glass bottle next to him, which glinted in the brassy sunlight, and it was the particular blue tinge of the glass that made Janet immediately recognize this was Rhodes Deleone, local magician and brewer of Deleone Blue Bottle craft beer.

Crusty with age and an ex-surfer, Rhodes was more famous for his inability to accept that his body couldn’t survive solely on alcohol and ocean breeze than he was for his slight-of-hand tricks. Unfortunately, he was the most talented person in town willing to regularly fill the community stage. A Magical Evening with Rhodes Deleone was about to enter its sixteenth consecutive year of spottily attended performances.

“It’s cool by me but I have to ask … you growing some fur pants on those legs of yours?”

Janet had settled down next to Rhodes in the sand but remained silent; his question lingered lazily in the wind-whipped, gray air. She probably should’ve worn pants to cover her unshaved legs but she just didn’t care.

“Okay, if you’re not talking then go away. Nobody asked you to sit here.” Rhodes crinkled his leathery nose, a straight-edged thing that sat on a onetime-droolworthy face, still topped by straggles of bleached-blonde hair.

“I’m sorry.” Janet wasn’t sure why she said this to Rhodes but as the words evaporated into the dusk, she realized she was sorry. For what, she couldn’t say.

“It’s all good, Jan. Heard from Charline you’re not so hot on the photography thing. Not wanting to take a pic or something. Hey dude, I feel ya. The magic shows aren’t exactly making me the rockstar I thought they would. After I knew my surfing days were finito mi amigo, I’ve wanted to really make something of myself as a magician.”

Janet bowed her head, unable to respond. When Rhodes spoke again, his voice was clear and determined.

“Listen, I know what to do.”

The next week, A Magical Evening with Rhodes Deleone featured a new trick. As a surprisingly sober Rhodes slipped a black curtain over his new lovely assistant, Janet, fog machines and frenetic spotlights signaled to an excited audience that something special was about to take place. When the curtain lifted, Janet was gone, and would never be seen again on this stage, or any other.

“Observe, ladies and gentlemen, she is not under my hat, not in my sleeve, not underneath some hatch in the stage. She has absolutely disappeared,” Rhodes would tell an amazed audience of hundreds.

The feat was hailed pure magical brilliance by newspapers and cable access programs throughout Newport Beach. One reporter even wrote, “Magician Wows A Stunned Crowd; Trick Widely Agreed to Be The Greatest Thing To Hit Community Theater, Ever.” In the span of a few well-planned minutes, Rhodes was given his sought-after fame and Janet her life-cleansing nothingness.

The following week, a woman named Kimberly Smith showed up at a small hotel in Ko Samet, an island off the coast of Thailand, ready for her first day of work as a windsurfing instructor. She had requested her classes be scheduled at sunset but apparently that couldn’t be accommodated as most guests preferred early afternoon instruction. That was fine, Kimberly told Pen-Chan the hotel manager, and only asked for directions to the nearest store where she could buy a razor because, as she explained to a puzzled Pen-Chan, she desperately needed to shave her legs.