“A sorceress. That’s what my mom is,” he said, “a sorceress.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“In exactly the way you think,” he said, “she can do magic. For real.”
The two of them were sitting beside me on the bench, gazing together at a still pond of water. He breathed heavily, scratched his thinning hair, tried to conceal a small beer belly by straightening his shirt. She smiled and looked out into the distance, across the placid water.
“You mean like picking the right card and sawing people in half and that sort of thing?”
“No,” he said, “the real deal. A bona fide sorceress. Her specialty is levitation.”
He looked at her, as though seeking her permission to continue, but she just tossed him a bemused expression and turned back to the pond.
“The first bit of magic that I can remember her doing was when I was around five or six,” he offered. “She wanted me to eat chicken for lunch and I refused.
“She tried every trick in the book to get that lunch down my gullet: promises, threats, cakes, cops, the works. In the end she gave up and simply did some magic. She looked at me and asked, ‘If I make the chicken fly, will you eat it?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was just a kid, you know how it is.
“And then she looked at the chicken, concentrated on it a little, and it started to hover. A small piece, coated in some gravy, just started to rise up in the air and float in front of my face. I wolfed it down after that, obviously.
“During my childhood I saw her make matches, coins, leaves, and little flowers hover in the air.
“One time—when she didn’t realize I was watching—I saw her pick up a candy wrapper from the far end of the room and guide it ever so slowly to the garbage can, only because she didn’t feel like getting off the couch. She was right in the middle of watching something on TV.
“She was a bit of a space cadet, too, my mom. Sometimes she forgot to pick us up from school, sometimes she called me by my brother’s name and vice versa, sometimes she’d make cakes and other things and forget basic ingredients—sugar, oil, chocolate in what were supposed to be double-chocolate cookies, that sort of thing.
“One time, I caught her making the house keys hover in the air and sail over into her handbag. A minute later she was rummaging through her bag for the keys. Totally scatterbrained. But when you’re a kid, it doesn’t really bother you when you get left at school every now and again if, deep inside, you know that you’ve got a mom with, well, magical powers.
“We actually don’t treat our parents as human till the moment comes when they force us into the realization. As a kid, I didn’t even consider that my parents had a life before me, that they had wants and fears and actions that had nothing to do with me.
“Today, I wonder if she planned on becoming more accomplished at magic and then stopped on my account.
“There are those who can control water. There are those who can control fire. She made things levitate. Without me, maybe she would’ve expanded her repertoire?
“You don’t really realize that things come at a price, until it’s too late, you know? Sometimes you realize and you still make the choice. She chose me, us, and today I know that for a fact.
“I didn’t get it until the age of seventeen. I was a punk. Do people still say that, a punk? Doesn’t matter.
“I’d skip out of the house, cut school, drink. I’d sit on the roof and smoke roll-your-owns with friends. We’d play music, talk super loud. Neighbors would complain. Every once in a while, my parents would emerge and try to get me to come back inside, but I wouldn’t give them the time of day.
“Till one time I was sitting on the edge of the roof, alone, with a big boombox, which was all the rage back then, playing music till one in the morning. And when my mother came outside to yell at me, I yelled back at her. I was a piece of trash. I knew nothing.
“While yelling, I slipped and fell off the roof. But my mom, well, my mom’s a sorceress.
“I didn’t hit the ground. I stopped a few inches before impact, sort of hovering, and then I felt her let me down very slowly, placing me on the floor. I got up and saw her standing there in shock, her body shaking, maybe due to exertion. Even back then I was pretty big.
“And then she looked at me and asked, ‘What happened? Where am I?’”
He took out a pack of cigarettes and tapped out a single cigarette. He looked at her for a few seconds and then put the cigarette back in the pack and slid it into his pocket.
“Only then did I realize,” he said, “only then did I realize that things come at a price. Every time she made something levitate, she paid, paid in memory.
“A candy wrapper or a ring of keys was no big deal. After that, you forgot to put sugar in a cake, forgot that you needed to pick up your son at one o’clock from school. Small stuff. Once you make someone like me levitate, you start to forget bigger things.”
He rubbed his chin, scratched his cheek, suddenly bashful. “It took around two full days before she was back to herself. Once I understood that my actions could cause that sort of thing to happen, my personality changed 180 degrees. All of a sudden I it hit me, you know what I’m saying?”
“Since then I’ve hardly seen her do any magic,” he said. “Like she also understood the implications. Understood that it had to be saved for special circumstances. Up until two years ago.
“We were over at their place—me, my wife, the kids, having a cookout for my birthday. The food was good, the conversation was flowing, we opened a bottle of wine. And then I noticed that my youngest son wasn’t around, wasn’t in the yard.
“I looked for him and spotted him in the middle of the road, a four-year-old kid, bending over to look at something small, a snail, a pebble, who knows? And out of the corner of my eye I saw a cement mixer barreling straight toward him, head on, completely unaware, and I let loose the scream of my life. I’ll never forget that.
“My mother looked up, registered everything in an instant, and then raised her hands in the air and brought them down in a ‘boom’ on the table, both hands at once, eyes wide open, like this. The cement truck, bearing down on the kid, went sailing straight up to the sky, like a rocket. Boom. Went as high as the Empire State Building, I tell you.
“I ran into the road, picked up my son, he had no clue, no idea what I was on about. I ran back and behind me the truck was gently set down on the road. The driver got out, shocked.”
He placed his hand on hers and she looked at him with her faraway questioning look. Smiled at him without any sign of recognition and then gazed back at the placid water.
“She doesn’t remember who we are,” he said quietly, “not me, not my brothers, not my children, not my father. She’s very serene, at times it appears to bother her a bit that she doesn’t know who we are, but most of the time she’s calm, happy, and very quiet.
“Maybe she forgot much of her vocabulary, maybe she’d just rather stay silent. Maybe she’s even doing well, within that bubble of silence, within the forgetfulness. But I know and I remember and I tell everyone we meet. This is my mother, and my mother’s a sorceress.”
This story is part of the show Piano Stories — short stories inspired by piano pieces.
It was written for Frédéric Chopin – Nocturne in B-Flat Minor, Op. 9/1