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Vanishing Actsby Jodi Picoult
I was six years old the first time I disappeared.
My father was working on a magic act for the annual Christmas show at the senior center, and his assistant, the receptionist who had a real gold tooth and false eyelashes as thick as spiders, got the flu. I was fully prepared to beg my father to be part of the act, but he asked, as if I were the one who would be doing him a favor.
Like I said, I was six, and I still believed that my father truly could pull coins out of my ear and find a bouquet of flowers in the folds of Mrs. Kleban's chenille housecoat and make Mr. van Looen's false teeth disappear. He did these little tricks all the time for the elderly folks who came to play bingo or do chair aerobics or watch old black-and-white movies with soundtracks that crackled like flame. I knew some parts of the act were fake — his fiddlehead mustache, for example, and the quarter with two heads — but I was one hundred percent sure that his magic wand had the ability to transport me into some limbo zone, until he saw fit to call me back.
On the night of the Christmas show, the residents of three different assisted-living communities in our town braved the cold and the snow to be bused to the senior center. They sat in a semicircle watching my father while I waited backstage. When he announced me — the Amazing Cordelia! — I stepped out wearing the sequined leotard I usually kept in my dress-up bin.
I learned a lot that night. For example, that part of being the magician's assistant means coming face-to-face with illusion. That invisibility is really just knotting your body in a certain way and letting the black curtain fall over you. That people don't vanish into thin air; that when you can't find someone, it's because you've been misdirected to look elsewhere.
Copyright © 2005 by Jodi Picoult
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