Just An Act

His hand fumbled through the trash in his pocket. paper, lint, cigarette case, ahh a coin. That’d do. Richard pulled it out, a quarter he realized upon inspection, and rubbed in between his thumb and pointer finger. The motion began to ease his nerves and he slowed the tapping of his foot. All of this over an interview. The thought made him shake his head. He hadn’t made it this far to chicken out now.

As his nerves lessened, he became aware of the piano player on the other side of the lobby. It was a man old enough for a mustache to be expertly grown in with round glasses and gelled hair. He sat with a stiff spine, the years of his learning apparent. The plinking of the keys carried through the open room, small scales and arbitrary notes that warmed the fingers for the forthcoming music.

Richard turned his attention back to the coin as the meandering pianist stopped and began a calm, slow piece. The high notes twilled out and Richard huffed a laugh. He would have known the piece anywhere. An old, neglected piece that his father had favored while working to, “pick up the solutions to the problem” he had said.

He closed his eyes. He could picture his father’s office perfectly. The high windows, forever clouded by the years, letting in the distilled light. The beams traveling over the worn, dark floors illuminating only what sat near them, leaving the rest in shrouded silence. Dust scattered to the corners and clinging to the base boards. Richard didn’t think he had ever seen the place rightfully clean. The middle of the room ever only got a quick sweep while his father worked a problem. And the smell. He breathed in deep and swore he could pick up the smell of the wood-burning fireplace, the heady smell of the wooden contraptions, and the faint spice of his father’s cologne.

Richard smiled, a slow, warm thing that reached into his core. He remembered, as a child, standing in front of his father. The man that marveled audience, crouched down in his suit, eyes sparking blue in the light, and humbled his craft before his son.

“Now, watch Richard,” his father had said, bringing his hand up.

A single coin had sat between his fingers. Richard remembered laughing, his glee bouncing up to the high ceilings and filling the room as the coin danced along his father’s knuckles. Until his father jumped it into his palm and with a slow unfurling of fingers, revealed its disappearance.

“Now, you try.”

He dragged opened his eyes as the pianist looped the song and fixed his gaze on the head of the coin. Richard slipped his thumb along its outer edge. It had been years since he had tried the tricks his father taught him. With the memory of precision, Richard placed the coin between his fingers. He danced his fingers, watching as the coin slowly moved between them. It reached his thumb and, careful not to drop it, Richard slipped the coin into his palm. He turned his hand, letting the warmed disc fall into his sleeve. He unhinged his fingers, revealing the soft, uncalloused palm.

“Beautiful job, Richard!” He could hear his father say. His voice echoing in that high-windowed office among the wooden contraptions that would have been death to anyone without the magic tricks. “You’ve done splendidly.”

Richard dipped the coin back into his palm. The pianist had moved on to a longer piece, but Richard could still hear the twills of the high notes, could still see the wrinkles of his father’s face as he smiled. The grandfather clock in the corner chimed, signaling the half hour. He stood and crossed to the piano, flipping the coin into the small bowl. It landed heads up.

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