When his father died, Kevin MacMurray made invitations for all his little friends. In red marker he printed, “COME WAKE THE GREAT MAC!” and inside drew his father holding his trusty rabbit Clyde over the worn top-hat. His father might wear the hat in his coffin, but Kevin couldn’t be sure if the undertakers would hide Clyde under it. Maybe he could slip them a few bucks. He’d check his money box under his bed. 

His mother wasn’t aware until one of the other mothers called to express concern. Marty Klein’s mother dropped off the invitation, and Kevin’s mother nervously looked it over.  “That’s not what a wake is, Kevin.”

Of course he knew that, and was disappointed she couldn’t recognize his new found wit. In some weird and awful way, now that his father was gone, Kevin felt he might emerge from the man’s shadow as his own person. 

“It might scare the children, seeing him.”

“I think he wants this,” Kevin said decisively, nodding his chin three times like his father used to do when he was sure everything was set. “He loved kids.” Which was true. Take all the birthday parties he made a living from. At least, he seemed to like kids. 

It was settled when Uncle Ray showed up and put his big hands on her shoulders, saying, “Katie, we’re Irish, remember? It’s a party.”

Kevin knew his mother did not feel much like celebrating, considering how her husband had died, cut in half by a truck.

Kevin tried to sneak some ideas to the funeral people, but his father had beat him to it. He had surprises up his sleeve, so to speak, and many other places. But he hadn’t mentioned having kids come, so Kevin had something of his own right there, and felt his chest swell with pride. 

His mother warned him. “If I hear one kid cry or scream, I’m taking you all out of there.”

From the veranda of the funeral parlor the tall man's shadow stretched down the street. In his black suit he acted as traffic cop, directing the line of grown-ups inside. It was a long line -- the Great Mac had been loved by his drinking buddies and fellow tricksters and clergymen and maybe a few women that shouldn't have. A great many people had diverted his attention from his only son, the heir that so desperately needed more time to listen and learn the magic, because he was dull and slow at it. In some way he wasn't his father's son.

After the adults were inside the man lined the children at the railing and took roll. Besides Kevin, there were Buddy, David, Eddie, and Paulie. Marty had been banned. There were even two girls -- Bonnie and Jessie. They had all come with their parents, of course, who along with Kevin's mother glanced back through the double doors now and then, relieved that the kids were under the eye of the tall Wake Man, protected for as long as possible from grim death. 

The Wake Man had a stony face which transformed as it floated over them to a mask of kind mischief. He spoke softly. "You guys can be out here until all the blah-blah-blah is over." He winked. Then he crouched and whispered only to Kevin, "We're saving the best for last." Kevin wasn't sure how to take it; it was creepy and puzzling and exhilarating at the same time. 

The man stood watching them fidget in their dress-up clothes until he started fidgeting himself. From his pocket he took a deck of cards and some coins and tried doing tricks, but was lousy. Kevin knew the tricks: The Torn and Restored Card, the Wrong Pocket; he could explain how they worked but was just as bad at them as this guy, his hands thick and slow. When the kids started to boo and hiss Kevin felt each sound as a tiny knife. 

The man sighed and put his stuff away and walked to the double doors, looking through the highest pane. He turned the glass knob silently. Kevin crept up behind and the others peeked around Kevin's shoulders. Up in front a man was playing flute and an auntie was singing an Irish song. The uncles were slapping one another, forming the percussion section. The Great Mac was sharp-featured and waxy in his casket and the top-hat kept slipping down his forehead. A second, shorter Wake Man, stationed behind the casket, would quickly readjust it. He had decent hand speed, Kevin noticed. Kevin wondered if Clyde was moving the hat, getting restless. 

Short Wake Man had an earpiece like the secret service. Kevin heard Tall Wake Man mumble, "Okay," into his jacket, and Short Wake Man nodded and moved his hand slowly into his pocket. When the song ended there was a click and a pop, and Kevin saw his father's head vibrate and the fog begin to roll from his nostrils and the corners of his mouth. Some people in the room gasped, the uncles pounded each other, and the kids whispered, "Cool!" Kevin just nodded his approval; he knew his father would have a fog machine, but now he wondered if the undertakers had hollowed out his father's chest and hidden it where his heart had been. Talk about cool.

The fog spread slowly and finished its job by condensing into white pellets; these became white mice on the shoulders of the old ladies in the audience. Predictably the old ladies stood and spun but couldn't budge the red eyes. They ran toward the doors and pushed past Kevin (the mice already turning to a fine dust that blew away), muttering about lack of respect, but Kevin knew the opposite was true, that these funeral people had the ultimate respect for last wishes. 

Tall Wake Man said, "Let's go." Kevin let the others go before him. Eddie was first to the casket, and Short Wake Man spoke without moving his mouth, a decent ventriloquist. "Check the hat." Eddie lifted the hat. Clyde wasn't in it. Eddie stared at the mixture of milk and eggs and dark powder. "Mix it and put it back." Eddie swirled the hat and replaced it. Nothing flowed across Mac's forehead, and when Eddie picked it up again there was a chocolate cake on Mac's head with a single candle burning. Eddie blew out the candle to applause. 

Kevin was jealous and then afraid. This trick was impossible without his father's participation. This was more like real magic, the magic of the dead, and these people should be running for their lives, not clapping. Clyde appeared from the bottom half of the casket, his nose covered with chocolate icing. He dove clear and ran an obstacle course of legs, the uncles trying to capture him. 

Buddy was next. "Here's looking at you," said Short Wake Man, without saying it. Mac's right eyelid sprang open and the eyeball shot into Buddy's hands. It sat on his palm, pupil dilated and twitching around the room, watching the growing exodus. "Keep it." The words seemed to come from Mac himself, and another eye filled the hole as the lid closed. "Neat!" said Buddy. 

Kevin's eyes burned.

Jessie pulled coins from Mac's ears. Bonnie slid roses from button holes, the thorns making her bleed but the wounds healing instantly. 

Paulie pulled the snake from Mac's right sleeve and it slithered up his arm and nestled around his neck where it became a silk scarf, and David yanked the tip of the never-ending handkerchief from the breast pocket. 

Kevin stepped up, knowing he had to top them all. What would his father have for him? He saw the fluttering in his father's throat. He tried opening his father's mouth but it resisted. Jessie bumped him out of the way and the mouth opened easily for her. The canary popped out and landed on her finger, shaking its feathers before flying off. Kevin felt the blood rush to his face.   He searched and tried, but nostrils and ears and sleeves and hat were giving nothing more. He reached into the bottom half of the casket. He'd make his father's legs reappear. He came up with a handful of newspaper. He put a piece on his own head, hoping for a magic hat. He threw a wad into the air, hoping for a dove. It landed at his mother's feet, still just crumpled paper. She was crying with her palms on her eyes, and he started for her, but then backed up, not giving in. He took the microphone from the stand and made his announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen. The Great Mac did not die in a car accident. I killed him with a trick gone bad. He tried to teach me. I sawed off his legs. I did it." It was a lie, but not useless; it was Kevin's contribution, the shock and drama to end all. 

He ripped the end of the hanky from David's fingers and ran with it. Two blocks away he was still going, and no one followed, not even his mother. He stood in the middle of the street and waited. He saw that far back the white hanky had turned red and the blood was dripping, but when he followed it back it was an illusion. He started winding himself up in the cloth, still in the middle of the street, growing dizzy as he spun. He could hear the kids laughing and clapping as he approached. Had they done it? Had they woken the Great Mac? Kevin imagined his father there waiting. Kevin would arrive all wrapped like a mummy, and when the Great Mac unwrapped him he would find that he had disappeared, the greatest trick of all! Gone! His father's son at last!

Through the fabric, wet from his tears, the people on the lawn had no faces.  Someone was unwrapping him, drying his face with the cloth, but he kept his eyes closed so he couldn't see who it was.  He felt the soft weight on his head. He held up his hands and Clyde hopped into them.

Gary Moshimer has stories at Storyglossia, Word Riot, Smokelong Quarterly, Pank, Wigleaf, and other places.

This piece is the result of dreaming of a magician's wake, combined with my childhood fear of never being able to please my father. 




Copyright 2009