“I can read minds,” said Julian.
For the past half-hour, Ronnie had been sitting on the edge of the river bank, his legs dangling and his eyes fixed on the river. It was eleven o’clock in the morning of a late January day, and it was hot as far as the eye could see. The landing stage at the end of the strand, the islander who was making his way across the river in his canoe, the reeds over on the other side of the gully, everything rippling as though imprinted onto the finest and inexistent (but still transparent) screen. Ronnie raised his eyes and saw a boy the same age as himself (twelve). It was the same boy who had been observing him a while ago. A chubby boy with a nondescript face, with a fringe of lank hair flopping over his eyes. Ronnie hadn’t heard him approach. For a moment he looked surprised, and then he ignored him and resumed gazing at the river. That was when the boy told him he could read minds.
“Why did you say I look like a jerk?” he added.
“Did I tell you that?”
“No, well, you didn’t say it, but you thought it,” replied Julian.
It seemed to Ronnie that there was nothing threatening about the boy, no particular reason to raise his guard and his suspicions. He restricted himself to looking over his shoulder at his sneakers. They were brand new, overly attention-grabbing, with silver seams that shone in the sun, and green soles with tiny acrylic mirrors around the edges. Julian followed Ronnie’s gaze, and for a moment the pair of them remained silent, observing the sneakers. Then Ronnie jerked his chin in the direction of the islander crossing the river in his canoe, and said:
“Tell me what that guy is thinking, then?”
“I don’t know, he’s a long way off . . .” replied Julian, shaking his head. He paused a minute, then added: “Now you just thought, ‘Yes, how true.’ And of course, he is far away! Let him come a little closer and I’ll tell you. Oh, by the way, my name is Julian.”
Ronnie’s attention was attracted by the boy’s way of talking: the tranquil tone of voice, with no trace of hesitation, the choice of old-fashioned words. He stared at him again. The boy was formal, neat and tidy. He was wearing jeans with a sharp crease ironed into them, and a white Donald Duck T-shirt. Ronnie got the impression that he was some poor kid under the thumb of an obsessive mother, who selected the ugliest clothes in the world for him, then obliged him to wear them. Still, it wasn’t this that impressed him most, but rather the image of the boy’s mother proudly combing the lock of hair on his forehead. Then he heard Julian say:
“No, it’s not like that.”
He started. Could he really have read his mind?
Julian began to laugh.
“No, that can’t be right . . . Do you know what the man with the boat is thinking? That he’s not going to get to see the football match. He’s crossing the whole breadth of the river to go and see a football game! He’s rowing two hundred meters against the current in order to go and watch a match! How brilliant, just think, there are people who . . . Well, so that’s it.” Suddenly he became serious. “That’s the last proof I’m prepared to give you. I can read minds,, and I approached you because I know that you too possess a special power.”
“Who told you that?” asked Ronnie.
“No one. You. I was wandering in this direction (my parents are over there setting up a barbecue) and I saw you, and couldn’t help reading your thoughts. You were thinking of using your power against yourself. What is that power you possess? Whyever would you want to use it against yourself? Okay, be that as it may: please don’t use it that way. I found you and I saved you. Now there are two of us.”
Julian announced this with a solemn air, and prepared himself for a reply worthy of his own words. Ronnie got up slowly, as if his body were weighing him down, and stared at him eyeball to eyeball. Then he said:
“It’s true. I have a terrible power and I was considering using it against myself. But what I’ve now decided to do is use it against you. I’m about to make you disappear.”
“You really make people disappear!?” squealed Julian.
Ronnie raised his hand and opened it like a claw over Julian’s face, as the boy began to sweat. His eyelids were trembling, as were his lips; even his ears wiggled.
“No, no . . . please . . .” he said. “Wait a minute . . . let’s think about this . . .”
“I don’t have anything to think about where you’re concerned, you fat nerd. Just give me a moment, and you’ll see what happens to you . . .”
“No, wait! You think you can just make me vanish like that in a second? My mum will kill me!”
“Your mum isn’t going to kill you, because she’s never going to see you again,” said Ronnie, and his claw drew closer to Julian’s face. Julian fell to his knees.
“Get up,” Ronnie ordered him.
Julian shook his head, crying. His nose was running.
“Forgive me, forgive me,” he was saying. “I’m new around here, and I don’t know anyone, I was just bored, and I thought meeting you was going to be great: I didn’t think this was going to happen.”
Ronnie spat to one side like an adult and, very slowly, relaxed his fingers and let his arm drop to his side again.
“Go on, scram,” he told him, “if I ever see you again, I’ll be the very last person on earth who does.”
Julian walked a few yards toward where his parents were, without taking his eyes off Ronnie. Then suddenly he turned on his heels, and began to run with all his might. He tripped; picked himself up; and ran on again so chaotically that it was impossible to know whether he was fleeing, or merely striving to recover his balance.
Ronnie sat down again. The islander was by now substantially nearer. Sweat formed a triangular stain in the shape of an upturned triangle on his striped shirt. No doubt it was his best item of clothing, and he’d put it on not only to go and watch the football match, but also in order to cross the river . . . Ronnie raised his hand in the direction of the islander, and in so doing, the river became once again deserted. Not even the water bore a ripple on the waves from when he last dipped in the oars. Then he lifted his hand to his face. He considered that the gesture with his hand in the shape of a claw had been a theatrical gesture, extraneous to the effectiveness of his powers. On more than one occasion he had made people disappear without having recourse to such a gesture: he used it in order to instill fear. It was a threat, and also a joke, since his victims didn’t believe in him and he liked to make them laugh before they vanished into thin air.
Two hands belonging to a woman, cool despite the heat, reached from behind him and covered over his eyes. The voice of Suki (aged nineteen) asked him:
“Who am I?”
“Suki,” replied Ronnie.
She released him and, before her back had hit the grass, Ronnie was already on top of her. They kissed.
“Have you been waiting here long?” Suki asked him.
“No, only about half an hour, maybe less.”
“I got here on time, but I could see you were with someone, and I didn’t want to approach you . . . Who was it?”
“Nobody. Just some kid who said he could read minds.”
“Are you serious? Did he really say that?”
“I swear it.”
Suki giggled. Ronnie was charmed by Suki’s giggle. “Why does Donald Duck wear a towel around his waist when he comes out of the bathroom, and then go around totally naked?” That’s what Suki’s giggle was like.
“I missed you,” Ronnie told her.
“Me too,” said Suki. She kissed him fiercely. Behind Ronnie’s back, before they pulled apart in order to resume kissing again, she made the islander reappear in his canoe on the river. The islander passed the back of his hand across his forehead as if he were emerging from a fainting fit, and resumed rowing.
Translation of “Magia!” Copyright Sergio Bizzio, 2004. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Amanda Hopkinson. All rights reserved.