This story first appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of The Battered Suitcase.

Mitch loved kids. He liked being around them, talking to them and playing games with them. He figured this was either because he missed the joy he got from his own kids when they were little, or he wanted to hold onto the “kid” within himself. He learned much from his own father on how to relate to children, and picked up tricks and games from him and other adults that he put into practice himself in his adulthood. When his kids were too old to hug, but young enough to still want to play with him, he would engage in physical activities with them, such as wrestling, indoor football, or whatever, so that he could keep that physical contact that would all too soon pass as his boys advanced to adolescence.

His favorite icebreaker now with kids was his magic quarter trick. The child had to be old enough to grasp the concept, but young enough to believe in the magic. He would show the kid the quarter and while describing the trick and the need to select a magic word, he would slip the quarter to his other hand, then behind his folded knee. After making it disappear he would make it reappear in an unexpected place, like behind the child’s ear, or in a pocket. The trick never failed to win over a child and bring joy to Mitch.

Once, when his wife Emily was babysitting for her cousin’s four-year-old son Brian, who was a precocious child, borderline ADD, Emily asked Mitch to do the magic quarter trick with him to keep him occupied for awhile. The first time Mitch did the trick, he made the quarter reappear behind Brian’s ear. Brian, like the others, was amazed. He made Mitch do the trick over and over again, and progressively tore the room apart looking for the quarter before Mitch could produce it fast enough. Finally Brian said to a worn out Mitch, “Do it again and make it come out of my privates.” Emily and Mitch looked at each other in shock. Mitch had to turn away from Brian since he didn’t want him to see him laughing and be encouraged by it.

“Okay, that’s enough magic for the day,” said Emily with a smile.

“Yes,” Mitch added, “let’s go get a snack,” he said wearily leading Brian to the kitchen as Emily stifled a laugh.

Emily and Mitch met in college, and they were a couple almost immediately. He was attracted to her carefree attitude, her wit, and her girl-next-door good looks. They married before they graduated, and after five years getting established with jobs and a home, had their first son. A couple of years later, their second son was born. They both enjoyed raising the boys, and participating in all the activities that comes with that. She always told him that he was a great father, and was thankful for all the time he spent helping her with the kids. The truth was that he wouldn’t have it any other way. He treasured his time with them, and enjoyed every minute. Emily equally enjoyed watching him with them, and she knew the kids would be okay having parents who loved them so.

They were devoted to each other, and as time went on, looked forward to the “empty nest” days of doing things together again, just the two of them. Fate intervened in their plans, however, when Emily’s mammogram revealed a lump in her breast. She underwent a lumpectomy, and, with Mitch’s support, came through the ordeal with her usual strength and positive outlook. They made a good team in the sense that, while they shared a general optimism, Mitch often rolled with the punches and was more accepting of what life had in store, while Emily was a fighter. He kept her calm, while she got him fighting for what was best for her, or for them both.

One afternoon, during her convalescence, they were walking the floor of the hospital when they wandered into the pediatric wing. Emily smiled as she saw a group of kids in one of the playrooms. Some of them had their hospital gowns on, others had IV poles with them, and still others had street clothes, obviously siblings visiting patients. Emily looked at Mitch and said, “Why don’t you go in there and entertain those kids,” as she tilted her head toward the room.

“They don’t look like they need entertaining, they look pretty busy to me,” he replied

“Not that little girl standing in the corner,” said Emily motioning toward an obvious patient standing alone holding a doll. It seemed like she didn’t know what to do and was too shy to mix in with the other kids.

Mitch looked at Emily and shrugged his shoulders, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot,” he said to her as they wandered over to the girl.

“What’s your name?” Mitch asked her as he squatted down to her level.

“Heather,” she said shyly.

“Heather, that’s a real pretty name. Heather, did you ever see a magic quarter?”

She shook her head no.

“I have one here,” said Mitch as he winked at Emily, “want to see if we can make it disappear?”

She nodded yes. Mitch explained what they had to do, and now had the attention of a boy, apparently Heather’s big brother, who joined them. As Heather was about to say the magic word, the boy shouted, “Hey, he put the quarter in his other hand. This ain’t no trick, this is bogus. C’mon Heather, let’s get outta here.” He took her hand and they left the room.

“Tough crowd,” Emily said, as she led Mitch out of the playroom.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Maybe I’m getting too old to do that lame trick.”

“Naw,” she said, “you’re never too old. You just have to pick the right audience. You had her; she would have been amazed like they all are. That brat just couldn’t let her enjoy it.”

“I don’t know Em, maybe I’m losing my touch.”

“Hey, you still got it; don’t let anybody tell you differently. I could see it in your eyes when you looked at that kid. Don’t give up that trick, you’ll make a lot of little friends with it, and it’ll keep you young.”

“All right,” he said. “Let’s get you back to your room your lunch should be coming soon.”

“There she is,” shouted a nurse pointing at them, with several others following her. “You almost started a panic, you’re not supposed to leave this wing, the monitor won’t work if you wander too far.”

“Sorry, we didn’t know,” said Emily sheepishly.

“We thought you flat lined, you should have seen the rush to your room. Glad to see you’re all right, but from now on, don’t leave this wing without telling someone, okay?”

“Sure,” said Emily. She and Mitch could hardly keep from laughing as they returned to her room.

“I could just see them running in here with all those ‘stat’ shouts and all, only to face an empty bed,” said Mitch, “and here we are calmly off playing with kids.”

“It’s all your fault,” laughed Emily, “you big kid you. You got me in trouble; they’ll probably punish me by giving me two meals.”

Mitch did keep at the trick, and playing games, whenever he was around children. Mitch’s favorite child to do the trick with was Derek, his best friend’s son. Jim worked with Mitch, and they found they shared a lot of the same interests. It wasn’t long before Jim’s wife, Sue, and Emily connected also. Although they were younger than Mitch and Emily, they became friends and spent a lot of time together. When Emily got sick, Jim and Sue were there every day giving their support. Sue made many easy to heat up meals for Mitch while Emily was in the hospital, and they both visited her often. When Derek was born, they asked Mitch and Emily to be his godparents, and they happily agreed.

Derek was five now and there was something special about him; he was smart and loaded with personality and energy. He reminded Mitch of his own sons when they were toddlers. Mitch decided Derek was ready for the trick.

“Hey big D, c’mere, I want to show you something,” he said one day while they were visiting.

“What?”

“See this quarter?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s a magic quarter that will disappear if we concentrate and say the magic word. Want to try?”

“I don’t want to say no magic word,” Derek said as he frowned.

“But it won’t work unless you do, trust me.”

“Yes it will, we can just consetate,” he said. Apparently he was in a mood to do things his way.

“I’m telling you it won’t work,” said Mitch.

“Try.”

“Okay, but at least blow on my hand, that’s part of it.”

This he agreed to, blowing on Mitch’s closed fist. He then opened Mitch’s hand and sure enough, the quarter was still there.

“See,” said Mitch, “it won’t work unless you say a magic word.”

“That’s silly, why can’t it just dis’pear by itself?”

“’Cause it has to know that you believe in its magic and it won’t know that unless it hears a magic word. How about it?”

Derek got that serious, thinking look on his face and finally said, “Okay, but what’s the magic word?”

“It’s whatever you choose, as long as you concentrate and believe that it will work.”

Derek looked doubtful, but said, “Ok, how about ‘A’?”

“That’s not a word sport, that’s a letter. Try again.”

“Um…peanut butter?”

“That’s two words, but okay, that might work. Now shout it out and concentrate.”

“PEANUT BUTTER!”

Derek blew on Mitch’s fist again and opened his palm. No quarter.

“Open my other hand,” said Mitch, as Derek’s eyes grew wide. He opened Mitch’s other hand and once again no quarter.

“Where is it?” Derek squealed excitedly. “Em, do you know where it is?” he said to Emily.

“No sweetheart, I don’t, where could it have gone?” she said, smiling at Mitch.

“Wait a minute,” Mitch said, “I think I see something” as he reached behind Derek’s ear and pulled the quarter away.

The look on Derek’s face made Mitch smile. Emily laughed as Derek ran to the kitchen shouting to his parents “Hey, guys, c’mere, you gotta see this.”

They did the trick countless times that night, right up until Derek’s bedtime. The bond was formed, and Mitch and Derek became fast friends. As time went on he and Emily would visit often and Mitch and Derek would invent games to play, or do physical tricks and wrestling that would result in both of them laughing. But Derek would always ask Mitch if he had the magic quarter, and make him do that trick again and again insisting that Emily participate and help him find the quarter after it disappeared.

One night after returning home from one such visit, Emily was smiling at Mitch.

“What?” he said.

“Just thinking how young you look after you’re around kids.”

“Young? I’m exhausted, that guy can really keep you going.”

“Oh, you love it and you know you do. You’re so good with kids, and they love you. You have that magic about you that reels them in. And I love you for it.”

“I wish I had magic for other things,” he said.

“We’ll get through this, we did before. These treatments will work and I’ll be good as new. Watching you with Derek does wonders for me. I get such a kick out of the look of amazement on his face every time you do that quarter thing. But even more than that, I love seeing how much you enjoy doing that trick with kids. You become just as much of a kid as they are.”

“Yeah, its fun, but your being there makes it more fun,” he replied as he hugged her, cupping his hand around her bald head. “I almost gave it up, remember?”

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t? Derek just loves having you do it, and so do I.”

Six month’s later she was gone. Mitch ached so much he didn’t think he could go on. His kids were a comfort, but they were living out of the area now, and once they returned to their homes, the emptiness consumed him. The only ones he found he could be around were Jim and Sue. They weren’t afraid to talk about Emily with him, something he needed at first, and he wasn’t afraid to shed some tears in front of them. They helped him get through those early days without her.

“I really appreciate all you guys have done for me,” Mitch said to them one night when they were at his house to help him go through some of Emily’s stuff. Derek was home with a sitter. “Have you told Derek yet about Emily?”

“Yes, we told him the other night, when he was asking about seeing you two,” replied Jim.

“How did he take it?”

“I’m not sure he really understands the concept of death, but he does understand that he won’t be seeing Emily again,” said Sue. “When we got that fact through to him, he cried.” Mitch felt the lump in his throat and struggled to hold back the tears. Sue just grabbed his hand as they all sat silent for a few moments.

“But he’ll be ok,” said Jim. “You know how resilient kids are, he’ll bounce back fine. He did ask about you though, he wanted to know if you were okay and when he would see you. We told him you were fine, and that he’d see you soon. He really misses you Mitch.”

“I know I have to get over there, just not yet, okay?”

“Sure,” said Sue, “whenever you’re ready, but don’t get angry with us if we keep inviting you.”

“Deal.”

A few weeks later Mitch finally accepted an invitation to their house for dinner one Saturday, and while Mitch was looking forward to seeing Derek, he couldn’t bear to do the magic quarter trick again. It would bring back painful memories of Emily. He hoped that Derek wouldn’t ask him if he had the magic quarter this time, but he knew he would. He decided he would convince Derek that the magic was gone from the quarter so that he wouldn’t have to do that trick again.

Sure enough, shortly after arriving, and getting a hug from him, Derek enthusiastically asked, “Hey Mitch, do you have the magic quarter?”

“Here’s the thing pal,” began Mitch slowly, “the quarter has lost its magic, that trick won’t work anymore, let’s do something else.”

“How could it lose its magic? I wanna do it, c’mon.”

“I’m telling you buddy, it won’t work.”

“Yes it will, we just have to consetate like you tol me. If we find the right magic word so it will know we believe, it’ll work.”

“Ok, give it a shot if you want,” said Mitch. This was painful for him since he knew he’d be disappointing Derek, but in the long run, it was for the best. “Go ahead, pick your magic word.”

Derek looked deep in thought, and then his face brightened as the word he would use came to him.

“EMILY!”

Mitch jolted back as if trying to dodge a punch. Before he could say anything Derek was blowing on his fist and peeling it open. No quarter. He peeled his other fist open, again no quarter. Mitch’s eyes were as wide as Derek’s. His mouth plopped open as he stood up. No quarter fell from behind his knee, and nothing appeared on the floor. He sat back down slowly as Derek jumped up and down and began his search for the quarter to reappear.

“See Mitch, see, I tol ya it would work, where is it, where is it?”

Mitch looked toward the ceiling, “ok now what Em?” he thought. As his eyes returned to room level, he saw a glint in one of the cushions on the couch across from him. “Check out that couch,” he said to Derek with a slight smile.

As Derek turned toward the couch he too saw the glint and ran over to snatch the quarter, squealing with delight.

“Do it again,” he shouted, handing the quarter back to Mitch.

Mitch looked at the quarter, and then looked at Derek who was staring at him in anticipation.

“Okay pal, this time try a different magic word, let’s see if that works, okay?”

Mitch did the trick again, the conventional way, marveling as always at Derek’s reactions. It wasn’t long before he was tickling Derek, laughing along with him and overwhelmed with the sound of Derek’s laughter.

The End

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