There’s a white ibis begging for beignets at the table across from her. Its legs and the patch of skin around its eye are a nice tender pink, not raw looking at all, just pretty and blushing. It marches. It stalks. It eyes the clustered smokers with speculation.
She can never smoke when it’s hot and bright like this. It seems like homeopathy gone wrong. In Korea, she knows, they eat fiercely hot soups in summer, treating fire with fire, but smoking in the sun leaves her dizzy and sinful feeling. After dusk, then it’s okay. Everything is padded with shadows and if you bump up against a bit of sin, well, it won’t hardly leave a mark.
She’s tired of stories where everyone’s unhappy and nobody does anything about it. She’s tired of sitting. She stands and gathers her things, sunglasses, keys, quarters.
What’s the point if there’s no magic? She stands on the edge of the path and stares unseeing up into the Spanish moss. What’s the point if you have to shoehorn it in yourself? Parents being the magic for their kids until they’re old enough to have it destroyed. Girls in lakes pretending to be mermaids at night for the pique of the insomniacs. Churches hedging the little bit of magic they do have all around with coffee klatches and sexual abuse and bureaucracy and bullshit so it’s all tainted.
Magical realism was the hope of her childhood, Peter S. Beagle and Francesca Lia Block and Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman and Emma Bull. Somehow they’ve made it worse though: the reassurance that in this empty bowl somewhere you will happen upon the wonderful. Well, it’s just not true, is it? They’ve set her up for failure. They were just protecting themselves from the desolation, reassuring themselves, shoehorning it in just like everybody else.
When she talked to her guidance counselor about it, when she said just the very edge of the truth, she got a variation of her parents’ “the world just isn’t like that” speech with a side of pity and a palate cleanser of impatience. It seemed that other kids had real problems, hunger, drugs, drunk parents. Not just that there weren’t any fairies in the park.
But it was a problem that there weren’t any fairies in the park. For her, it was a serious problem. A life or death problem. She couldn’t say that, she knew people would get upset and then it would be even worse. You can’t walk up to your grandma and say, “If there isn’t any magic, I don’t want to be alive.” She will take it amiss. People object to other people wanting to be dead, it makes them nervous about their own lives. They worry that they’re missing something.
Somehow she cannot stand the idea of playacting. It used to appeal. It used to ease things a little. But now the idea of some city elf with blue plastic sparkles on her lips and silicone ears coming home at night to her apartment to make macaroni and cheese and go online makes her so hurt and angry that she feels like she’s been gutpunched. She knows it’s not fair to be mad at the Ren Faire people, the convention people, the cosplayers, festival followers, ravers. They’re all trying to scrape up magic. But she is mad at them. She’s humiliated for them and for herself. Pretending. Telling these soft pointless stories about something fierce and foreign and devastating.
She used to do rituals in the sandbox at night. Digging holes and cutting her finger into them, spitting in them, whispering the words that felt most right to seal it and then covering them over. Trying to make magic wake up and pay attention to her. Trying to open a door.
It worked once. She tries not to think about that. It went…very badly. Not at all like she expected. But that was the point. It wouldn’t fit inside her moral parameters. It was not moral in the way that she was. It was too big.
Did it change anything, that it worked that one time? It should have. It made her more scared. It stopped her doing rituals. But it didn’t stop the longing. It didn’t stop the feeling that there should be more, that something was missing and stuck and needed help to fill out all the empty Spaces.
It doesn’t feel so bad in wild places. Not so thin.
She can feel her fingers losing purchase on the day. She takes a deep breath and walks to her car, rolls down the windows and drives out to Jean LaFitte to look at the alligators. Alligators are magic all on their own. And so is the pink footed ibis. So are the butterflies in her backyard. So is anything given to her that she has not earned because they have no notion of her deserving or not deserving.
There’s magic in Barataria. It’s not the kind she wants. It’s not flamboyant, it has no set story to lull her. There’s no witches framed against the moon, or hipster cool elf tweens eating the viscera of a fox on the path, or huge ancient shacky houses rising dripping from the swamp with calliope music coming from dark windows. It’s just wild things living their lives. It’s not what she wants. But it helps.