Conjuring: A History
We noticed Sarah Mihalyi as a child because she had this remarkable collecting habit. She gathered a dozen kinds of wildflower from a trailside when her class visited the town nature preserve. She obtained a friend’s favorite doll after asking for it for weeks. She seized a toy boat she found untended by the pond shore. She picked up a scarlet ribbon that fell from some girl’s hair and kept it as her own.
“Why do you collect all the different things that you do?” a boy asked her as she pocketed gray and purple pebbles beside the school playground one day.
“To keep track of everything,” she said, sifting her gravel. “It’s easier to do when I have a bit of everything I’ve seen with me.”
An odd way to act, most people would say. Soon, however, Sarah took a stranger turn when she started to conjure the items she had collected. A friend mentioned going on a flight with her parents and Sarah produced a model airplane right by the jungle gym where they spoke. The item came complete with aluminum wings, tail fin, and every other feature to be expected. “Your air travel 747,” Sarah said, raising the plane to eye level.
In class, her friend Sue mentioned one November the nature preserve they had visited the past school year; at once, Sarah extended several wildflowers in her hand. “We saw these by the preserve trail,” she said. The flowers were fresh it turned out, unspoiled as the day they were picked.
Sometime later, a classmate sang a random tune from the past month’s holiday chorus and Sarah whipped out the microphone from the event. The microphone was active and had a cord plugged in down the hall. “It still picks up sound well,” she said.
It seemed a person only had to hint at something from the past and Sarah suddenly produced an object that gave it color. She conjured her items at the ready and with ease, months, even years after the events they recalled. She fetched them from unexpected places, too. Told about a camping trip, she pulled a flashlight, like the one you might use in the woods at night, right from her lunch bag. Her teacher gave a lesson on insects and the girl drew a live butterfly from the pages of her science book. She even conjured things from the air. She once produced a drum as a boy marched like a soldier in the waiting room at the doctor’s.
Sarah amazed people with her conjuring. Her parents praised her for it richly. “Our gifted little girl,” her father said. “Your talent beats that of any magician straight.”
For all the wonder she drew, some people were skeptical of Sarah.
“Those things she conjures can’t be real,” her critics said. “A toy plane from the grass? Live butterflies from a book? More like she’s sprung a lot of fakery on us.”
The hardest of the skeptics, Silas Walman, tried to prove Sarah wrong.
“So you’re the girl who conjures?” he said, visiting her at home one day. “What’s it take for you to do it? Promise of a beautiful, new house? Birds from the tree? A buzzing spring meadow?”
Without delay, Sarah took from the umbrella stand beside her a child’s linking log cabin; she followed this with live birds and finished by presenting several bees from a field. Her conjured things sported real colors and filled real space, Silas discovered to his amazement. Her robins and bees sounded real, no different than any you might hear. Silas and her other doubters felt convinced: they accepted the things she conjured were true to life as they had been told. It made Sarah proud.
“I don’t just show people things,” she told her friend Meghan. “I show them the things for real.”
Sarah gained a name throughout our town for her ability. People invited her over to talk about summer on cold winter days and she produced heaps of warm beach sand on a carpet in their living room. Kids told her about a former friend and she whipped out the boy’s Little League cap from a book. So it went until Sarah became a teenager. No one knew whether it was because she was growing like anyone else her age or just had grown daring, but she conjured in a double sense starting from this point in her life. Whereas she used to produce one item at a time in her bizarre way, now she produced two. She did it with ease, sparked by the words that she heard just as she had when a child. However, she discovered that these items she brought forward caused problems once shown. When her friend said that she enjoyed feeling “warm as toast”, Sarah extended from her pocket a pair of winter gloves within which sat a block of ice.
“These would be a comfort to wear,” she said just as she realized the effect the ice might have on her friend.
Her brother Frank insisted one day that he could eat a mountain of food. From a pencil box, Sarah drew forth a steak on a plate with a blood-splattered bone from some cattle. She handed these to her sibling.
A friend said in youthful enthusiasm, “How much I love life, its verve, its freshness!” Promptly, Sarah took an apple blossom from her pocket. A worm was crawling on the bloom, eating away at its life.
The worm unnerved the friend. The bone unsettled Frank. Indeed, her companions became uneasy whenever Sarah conjured her dual items.
“Why are you showing me both these things?” her cousin Julie asked one day. She had spoken about making a camp fire and Sarah had produced a match and a heap of ash. “Why not just a match? In fact, why do you conjure two things at a time so much now?”
“They come to me that way,” Sarah said, smiling gently. “I suppose they belong in pairs. Every night follows day, right?”
Cousin Julie failed to understand. Her more perceptive friends tried to clarify Sarah’s point. “Just like love has its counterpart in hate,” they said. “Black goes with white. Rich and poor.”
Julie got the message, but it did nothing to curb her dislike for the new side of Sarah’s talent.
She was not alone in her ill sentiment. The town became suspicious of Sarah Mihalyi as she went on conjuring her pairs. Did she mean to offend us?, we asked each other when she came up in conversation. Did she hope to look superior conjuring two things when one might do perfectly well? Our upset brewed at the idea of her conceit. She began to look a bad apple.
So nobody was ready when, as an adult, Sarah started to conjure pieces of things rather than whole ones. She presented us with wood splinters. Squares of lemon peel. Threads from a cobweb. No one figured what she meant by the odd bits and parts when she whipped them out. The items seemed garbage. However, the sense behind them came through in her words and she spoke more of these than ever she had; she seemed to have decided this was the way to share the things that she now meant. A good early example of her new method came at the local cafe on Main Street. Sarah was telling her friends about two men from work who had gotten into an argument. As she described the one man yelling at the other, his best friend, she fetched the wood handle of a hammer from beneath the table where they sat. The handle was missing its iron head. Sarah had not mentioned a hammer or its handle as she spoke, so her companions were bewildered. She did not remark on the object, either, as she told how the men grew red in the face, that one made threats, and finally that the other slammed a hand on his desk. When she finished, she laid the hammer handle on the table and said, “Anger aims to break us.” Sarah got up then and left. Her friends, staying behind, considered Sarah’s comment and the headless hammer.
“Her story makes me wonder how anger works,” one of them said. “Do we teach a lesson to people who make us angry? Or can we be hurt for it more than we reckon?”
The friends lifted and dropped the wooden handle that Sarah had conjured. A second person said quietly, “What Sarah said makes me feel that sometimes anger lacks power–like a headless hammer.”
The conversation gained steam. “The question I was left with is if some things never can be the same again after we’ve been angry,” a third friend said, touching the wood on the table.
The friends could not make up their minds one way or another on the story or the hammer’s handle.
On a lighter occasion, Sarah talked with her friends Sue and Meghan about her boyfriend, Mark. She mentioned that she had broken with and later returned to him after an argument. She took from her pants pocket a few bits of sharp, twisted metal and a torn patch of red cloth. She spoke about the difficulty of staying and parting with her significant other, and ended by saying over the small items in her hand, “Love does go by turns.”
Sue and Meghan felt moved to read Sarah’s statement in light of the odds and ends she had presented. Yes, love can tear us like a hand does cloth, they said. Love can cut like sharp metal. However, they asked if we might want love to break us. Did we hope passion would tear apart our unions?
“Slights and cuts may make love exciting.” Sue admitted. “But then, do we think it because we’re moved by love?” The topic worked the friends up and left them intrigued still when they parted.
The questions that Sarah helped raise on this and other occasions got us talking in town. It was no longer simply the spectacle she conjured, but her words and the things she meant that refused to let us go. It seemed she spoke some new language that had to be sifted and re-sifted before it was understood. And it made everything that we thought we grasped seem fresh and new, just like those first flowers Sarah conjured in her childhood.
By Norbert Kovacs
- Norbert Kovacs lives and writes in Hartford, Connecticut. He has published stories in Westview, Thin Air, STORGY, Corvus Review, and The Write Launch. His website is www.norbertkovacs.net