He conjures her from the perfumed page of a vintage magazine…

She has a body. She can wriggle its toes and pinch a floret of belly, turning this way and that in a clouded mirror. But still, she is paper thin somehow.

In the burnished theatre where she makes her debut, he folds her into a cherrywood box; tucks her up his sleeve. She crouches in the dark, listening to the audience gasp and murmur, sharp creases deepening in her origami heart.

* * * *

In a warehouse full of mirrors, there’s a locked room…

She lies on a table of ice, its fanged breath frosting her back. She is learning how to freeze and thaw her molecules — or rather, how to expand the emptiness between the atoms, how to hold them a sword’s width apart. The secret, he says, is for the body to be as cold as the blade.

She nods, ready, and he saws her in half. She doesn’t feel a thing, though she can still wriggle her toes.

* * * * *

He takes her on tour in a suitcase made of glass…

In Monte Carlo, she becomes the rustle of satin as he’s sleeping, the parchment scuff of slippers sheathing feet, the tender click of a hotel door. She walks into the sea until his magic pulls her back, waves thickening around her like rope.

On the casino floor, she drifts between blackjack and baccarat, slots ringing in her ears. Here, she is already invisible: no illusions required. Here, their eyes are fixed on other tricks: the flick of red, the flash of black. Here, in smoke and shadows, she lingers, watching how Lady Luck is both everywhere and nowhere, how the Queen of Hearts hides in plain sight, how jackpots slip through fingers like water, how ice melts in bourbon, never to be seen again…

* * * *

He dreams of a mermaid, trussed in a tank…

When she curls into bed hours later, the ends of her hair are still wet – telltale tendrils inking dark sigils on the sheets. Only then, sparking with secrets, does her heart billow and start to beat.

***

Lynda Cowles writes fiction in small doses, alongside murder mysteries and video games. You can usually find her on Twitter @lyndacowles.

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