The first time I used magic I thought it was just an accident.
It begins and ends with small things. First you're looking for your keys, and then you feel their weight in your pocket and stop looking. Then when you come across your wallet where you left it in last night's pants, you sort of wonder how your keys made it to the pants you just put on, but only in a shallow sort of way, not quite making it to the surface. Later in your car you reach for your phone, which is fully charged, and while speaking a name into it to call, you half-remember how it was beeping all last night because it had run down, but by the time your call is connected, this thought vanishes. At the counter of a diner you order coffee and read your newspaper, and while you hold the paper with one hand, your other hand reaches for a sweetener, then pauses in mid-reach while you read an interesting paragraph. When you've finished reading, there is a small pink packet between your fingers.
Most people know what it's like to get in a car and drive somewhere with no awareness of stopping for traffic lights or even the route being driven, if it's a route taken daily. There are so many times that one finds one's self passing through existence with only absent-minded nods to action or circumstance, that it's often a challenge to see when something small has changed in one's surroundings. It could be a new house on the way to work, or the fact that a regular where you buy groceries has become pregnant. It's this kind of thinking that kept me asleep for so long, or acting as if the world rotated but I stayed still, that life presented me with things instead of my creating or taking them for myself. If I had been used to making instead of accepting, to driving instead of riding, I might have noticed, for example, that before the sweetener was in my hand, it simply hadn't existed before, that there had been a small puff of air as this small familiar object had sprung in to being because I thought about it.
I grew up medium. Not that nothing ever happened to me, plenty of things did. And not that I grew up a medium. Not only was I not connected to the spirit world, I was also not particularly connected to the material one. Surrounded though I was by a veritable whirlwind of the unusual, I managed not to let any get on me. Except one thing — I didn't change my name when I was eighteen, when I could have. "Deasil" is uncommon enough, in fact unheard of, and I didn't know its origin until it was a little too late. Besides, every time I'd asked my aunt what it meant she'd just tell me to move to my right a little. Later I figured out that she had been saying, "a small move to the right, dear", and that that was what a deasil was — a small movement to the right. Used only to refer to a motion during the casting of a spell. That had struck me as a little odd. But not enough to nudge me out of medium.
Everything else I have to say I simply didn't see. My aunt Arthur, who raised me, was always throwing salt around. Every time I looked around she was tossing salt out of the front door or out of a window. I thought since she spent a lot of time in the kitchen there was just a lot of excess seasoning on her hands. And it honestly never occurred to me that, from the time I was four and went to live with her until I finally left her house, I never knew her to have any kind of a job. She was small, wiry and dark, and her leanly muscular arms had surprisingly dark hair on them, which I chalked up to her Mediterranean heritage. I tend towards the pale myself, and I sometimes thought about how different we must have looked when we walked to the market together.
She had purpose when she moved, and commanded a curious sort of respect in our neighborhood, which is to say that crowds seemed to part when we approached, people not even looking up as we approached but sort of bent or rippled around us, like a bow wave. Once I waved at a girl I knew from school in one of these crowds, but she didn't seem to hear me, or seemed unable to hear me, and when I said something about it to Aunt Arthur, she said in a distracted tone of voice, "I'm sorry, dear, but it's just so much easier to do it this way," and then as if catching herself, said hurriedly, "I mean, it's hard to hear anything in the street, isn't it?"
As she said this, she seemed to relax and lowered her handbag, which she'd been holding before her like a barrier. Almost immediately it became impossible for us to continue talking about it because the crowd became much more dense and we had to struggle to get through it. I suppose it doesn't look like I was very aware, and that I've seen a lot of things in retrospect that I had been oblivious to at the time, but I'll say this to you — if someone had been wiping your memory daily for most of your life you would probably miss a few things too.
These days, when I try to scrape together something resembling a past (the writing of this missive being a part of my process), I try to figure out what allows me to remember one event while obscuring others, and I think the answer has to do with self-preservation — that whatever it is that makes me who I am, whatever commonality that strings together those brief flashes of memory, asserted itself beyond all efforts to fragment it or make its parts unable to recognize each other; that I was always able to find the thread again and somehow continue, like the way old friends can still talk after years apart. This fills me with something resembling pride — and because my past feels like it happened to someone else, and that person who I will never meet held on so fiercely so that I would live, I also feel something like gratitude.
When I think of Aunt Arthur I feel many things, and I know gratitude must be in there somewhere, but it's squashed beneath ire and exasperation and also a secret mixture of horror and rage at what she did to me. And so poorly! Not like I could ever have all of my memory back after she'd picked it from me so haphazardly, like a child cleans up a mess by grabbing things at random. When I finally had collected enough bits of myself to make a fist to shake at her, she cowered and confessed in her jaggedly-breaking alto that she was just plain bad at it after all, should never have been left alone to handle it, and how they expected her to be a guardian to me, much less a bloody aunt, was beyond her, she'd only done what was right and expected and what had to be, but she'd hated every minute and besides, the words were so awfully hard to pronounce, and remember…
Most of this was babble to me at that moment. I'd been angry with her over something completely different that (not surprisingly) I can't remember now, but for some reason what she was saying prodded a nascent presence of mind in me and I just let her talk. She said that the night she heard the words spoken she knew they were about me, knew it like she knew her own name, and when she told them about it, they said (and no doubt about it, she emphasized with a curving finger pointing not quite at me as if she were talking to someone else) that I would have to be kept away from all of it, kept clear, so that if the other boy turned out not to be the one, well, I would be safe until the time was right. But after all the rush of escaping and hiding and transforming (I'd thought she said "transporting" at first), when things quieted down, and no one came, she'd begun to wonder if maybe it wasn't exactly as the woman said, and when finally word had come to her that the evil one was in fact gone forever she had realized with some degree of surprise that her life was something different now than it had been, she had become used to her life, that caring for me had become her pleasure rather than her duty, and that she was rather used to being someone's aunt. Better that than some lonely, pointless nobody who no one would know if they saw him. Even though no one really noticed her now. The one thing, the one thing (she pointed her finger crookedly again, making me want to look behind myself) that she couldn't let go of, now that her purpose had evaporated, was me. She knew if I remembered, I would keep remembering, and she wouldn't be able to stop it, that as the old things flowed in and took over that she would be forced out and that there would be nothing left of her.
I stood there, very still, for a few moments.
She said softly, "You should do what you want, now. You're a man."
I said, "So were you, right?"
I lay on the seabed, in the shallows, and watched above me as the waves slowly rolled over like history. Where there might have been clouds visible in the sky I could see, bent and distorted through the water, vague images that might have been faces, which I knew I would never be able to resolve. This frustrated me, and I began to move my limbs in an awkward manner, trying to release myself from the sand, but it wasn't working, and the surface seemed very far away — was I breathing? I had to breathe. I was suffocating. With a final huge effort, the weight was lifted, my eyes were open, and my patchwork blanket was hovering about four feet above my nose, trembling slightly.
Well, good morning to me. This was not the first overtly weird thing that had happened to me, but it was maybe the most impressive — if a previously inanimate quilt now retreating to a corner of the room and assuming a stance that that could only be described as reproachful could be called impressive. Since I had forbidden Aunt Arthur to empty my memory out, these things had begun to happen more — or at least I had begun to remember them. She'd told me that some days I'd come home with a certain look in my eye, and she'd known immediately that I'd had a "bit of a fit" and would squeeze my mind like a sponge — or it was more like changing a baby's diaper to her. Clearly I'd been making things happen around me and trying to hide it myself, because no one was following me around cleaning up my messes all the time, were they? And anyway, when I'd asked her what that look was and she couldn't describe it with any accuracy, I began to think she was being perhaps a little over-generous with her mind-cleaning.
I sat up in the bed, keeping the blanket in the corner of my eye. I had not yet made sense of everything Arthur had said last night and was thus unconvinced that its emotive nature was a good thing. I'd gathered that there were communities of folk like us around the world, that they were most often separate from everyone else, and that our being in the middle of a big city was very unusual — sort of a protective measure. These strange abilities seemed to show up in children, but I was a late bloomer, and more so because of my chronic forgetfulness. Apparently I had a mother and father in England somewhere, who were unaware of my current state of existence, and my aunt had taken it upon herself to spirit me away from grave danger into forgetfulness. Worst of all, I think, was the thought that Arthur now seemed to be somewhat in doubt as to the actual level of threat to me, and that maybe…as she put it, "perhaps they were talking about someone else — it was rather loud in the pub at the time…"
I think what kept me from being too angry at her was the idea that I didn't really know what I was missing. If someone had cut my arm off, for instance, there would be the obvious loss-of use, and the stigma and the quick looks away. I might even feel it tingle sometimes, the not-arm, as my broken nerves tried to make sense of the discontinuity, like a map of Dresden after the bombing, with neighborhoods missing. But I had no reference point to feel real loss. I knew there were families with mothers and fathers, but I also knew that I was not of that, that was not for me. I had my diminutive, hirsute, skittish, tremulous and unequivocally, frustratingly lovable aunt, and there hardly seemed to be room for anyone else.
I edged around the blanket, which seemed equally anxious to avoid me, and wandered down the hall. Arthur was in the kitchen cooking breakfast when I shuffled in, fuzzy with too many thoughts too soon after waking. I'd never known her to make any noise making breakfast, so that morning's clanking and scraping was a bit of a surprise. She was hunched over the stove, elbows jutting out at odd angles, muttering and clutching a yellow plastic spatula in one hand and a fat black chopstick in the other. The sound of my dragging feet caught her attention and she jumped a little, looking slightly guilty, then relaxed and said, "Oh, well, dear, I suppose it would be no surprise at this point. I just wanted to try it the other way, for once. I'm a bit useless without…what is it, dear?"
She'd been pointing the chopstick at the pan she'd been using to burn eggs, and as she spoke the crusts of egg rose up and hovered in front of her for a moment before sailing into the bin.
I said, rather thickly, "You have a magic chopstick?"
She looked a little piqued. "Ebony and four-leaf-clover, ten inches. Good for charms," she recited with some pride.
I must have had a foolish look on my face.
"Merlin, boy, it's a bloody wand!"
Somehow, this appealed to my burgeoning sense of the absurd. I merely tilted my head in acceptance.
"You might want to throw some things in a suitcase," she said, still irritated, as though I had been teasing her, and utterly unlike someone who had hidden my entire life from me. "It's high time you see a little of where you came from."
"You're..." I had to shake my head. "You're taking me to meet my parents?"
"Don't you think they'd want to see you?" she snapped.
I felt increasingly like I was walking into a fog. "Are you saying they've known where I am all this time?"
"Of course not!" Something peaked, then diminished in her small frame. Her bitterness dissolved into shame, and she whispered, "They think you're dead."