Short Stories

Heartbeat

I held the pregnancy test stick in my hand and watched as a faint, pink line developed. The hormone signature of human life, HCG, was detectable even before a baby’s first heartbeat at six weeks. I should have been bursting with joy, but the positive result filled me with dread. My three-year-old daughter Sophia broke into the bathroom and startled me.
    “Mommy, what are you doing?” she asked. It was too late to hide the pregnancy test and I felt exposed, not ready to tell her that a baby brother or sister might be on the way.
     “Are you going pee-pee?” she asked. 
 After months of potty training, the bathroom was her new obsession.    
    “Mommy, you need a stamp,” she said.
She picked up the blue inkpad from the back of the toilet and dipped in the round smiley-face rubber stamp. As she fiddled with the ink pad lid, I discreetly slipped the test stick into the pocket of my robe.
     “Hold out your hand,” she commanded. She stamped my hand with a happy giggle. Her smile still took my breath away, a cherubic miracle with dark wavy curls like her father and my bright blue eyes.
     “Mommy, I’m hungry. When are you going to make my pop tart?” she asked.
     “In a minute sweetie,” I said.
Sophia ran out of the room and I heard the mechanical whirr and clicking of her motorized Thomas train. Our living room coffee table had been converted into a train table covered in wooden track, trestle bridges, and a volcano mountain with a train tunnel. Sophia spent hours connecting the red, green and blue magnetic trains and imagining new stories and adventures for Thomas, Percy, Henry, and Gordon.
    I slumped down on the bed and contemplated calling my husband Jason at work to tell him about the baby, but I felt drained. I closed my eyes and my visit to the obstetrician’s office last year replayed like a movie in my mind. Jason took a vacation day to attend my first ultrasound appointment and I cooked a special breakfast for us, fresh croissants from Upper Crust Bakery and crisp bacon. As we sat down to eat, he surprised me with a gift for the baby’s room. Nestled inside a light green gingham gift bag was an exquisitely crafted Noah’s ark snow globe. The base contained a wind-up music box that played “You Are My Sunshine.” We calculated the baby’s due date- almost Christmas and I made a list of baby names on my napkin: Christina, Noel, Holly, and Christopher.
     We arrived early for my ultrasound appointment, eager to see the first picture of our baby. The technician squirted warm gel on my stomach and recorded the images on the computer as she moved the probe. When Dr. Stanton entered our exam room a few minutes later, I knew something was wrong. She held the ultrasound picture in her hand and her solemn expression betrayed the bad news.
     “A blighted ovum,” she said.
     The pregnancy began normally producing my positive home pregnancy test, but the fertilized egg was not healthy and stopped developing. Jason squeezed my hand as I held back tears.
    Dr. Stanton was upbeat and reassuring. “Don’t worry,” she said. You will pass some tissue in a couple weeks and once your hormones have stabilized and your cycle is regular, you can try again.”
    The following week I was so busy caring for Sophia, I barely thought about the miscarriage. Jason left on Friday for a business trip to Germany, leaving me home alone with Sophia. As I tucked her into her crib that evening, I heard the distant rumble of a thunderstorm. Exhausted from a long day, I fell asleep quickly in my bed. A few hours later, I woke to the sound of pounding rain and bright flashes of lightning. I sat up in bed and felt the gushing sensation and wetness. A dull, metallic smell filled the air- my own blood. I fumbled for my glasses on the bedside nightstand and my fear turned to panic when I realized the sheets were already soaked. I thought about Sophia sleeping peacefully upstairs in her crib. She could not see me like this. Where was my cell phone? On the charger in the kitchen. I swung my feet to the side of the bed to stand up and a wave of violent vertigo followed. I was too dizzy to stand- I would have to crawl. 
    The kitchen seemed miles away and I left a trail of blood behind me on the floor as I inched slowly across the living room. My rising panic produced a rush of adrenaline and disconnected thoughts: Sophia, Jason and the absurd notion I was ruining our new white Berber carpet. Our family’s black Labrador Retriever, Max, woke from his dog bed and came to my side whining, acutely aware something was terribly wrong. My cell phone was finally within reach and I yanked it down from the countertop, not bothering to unplug the charging cord. I dialed 911, my hands shaking and heart racing. The dispatcher listened and then interrupted my frantic call. 
    “How far along is the pregnancy?” she asked.          
     I tried to explain the blighted ovum. My only thought was of Sophia sleeping upstairs, and I began to cry. The operator’s calm voice and another question followed. 
    “Help is on the way. Can I call a friend for you to stay with your daughter?”
     “Christy,” I said without a second thought and said a silent prayer. The dispatcher dialed her number and she was on the line in seconds. Christy arrived at my front door a few steps behind the firemen who responded first to the emergency call.
    “Kelly, I’m here,” she said. “The firemen are asking me to wait in the living room.”
    I had crawled back to the bathroom and sat on the toilet in an attempt to contain the blood flow. The ambulance arrived as a young burly fireman with a thick beard tried to take my pulse. Christy stood pale and frightened in the living room, still dressed in her pajamas, as the paramedics wheeled me out of the bedroom on a stretcher.
    “What happened?” she asked.
    “Kelly lost a lot of blood,” one of the paramedics explained.
    Christy touched my arm as I moved past her. “Don’t worry about Sophia,” she said. “I’ll be here when she wakes up.”
    In the ambulance, another paramedic took my pulse and tried to calm me down. I was close to hyperventilating.
    “I thought I was going to bleed to death,” I said.
    “You’re going to be fine,” he said. “You had a serious hemorrhage, but it’s slowing down.”
    By the time the ambulance pulled into the hospital, my status had changed from critical to stable. The attending ER doctor discharged me a few hours later and Christy’s husband Mike drove me home. Sophia met us at the front door and I scooped her up in my arms.
    “Mommy, Christy came over to play with me. She made me pancakes for breakfast.”
     I held her soft face close to mine and smelled her sweet hair, overwhelmed with relief and gratitude.
    The loud clicking sound of Sophia’s Thomas Train outside the bedroom door jolted me out of my day dream. I opened my eyes as she ran to the side of the bed and plopped the moving train on my stomach.
    “Mommy, you forgot my pop tart,” she said.
    “Do you know what happens when you tickle the tickle monster?” I sat up quickly and snatched her in my arms. She screamed happily as I turned her upside down on our way to the kitchen. 
    “You’re making me dizzy,” she said.
     I gently dropped Sophia on the floor and opened the cabinet next to our stove to look for the pop tarts.
     “What flavor do you want? I asked. “We have strawberry or blueberry.”
     “Chocolate frosted,” she said.
      I laughed. “We’re all out of those, Daddy ate the last one yesterday.”
      “I guess blueberry,” she said. 
      As I pushed down the lever on the toaster, I thought about the baby and said a silent prayer. Just give me a sign, God, that this baby will be healthy.
    Sophia waited expectantly by the toaster.
    “I see two pop tarts,” she said.
    “I’m having one too,” I said.
     I pulled out Sophia’s favorite plastic hedgehog plates from the cabinet and peeled a mandarin orange for her plate. We sat down at the kitchen table to eat and Sophia let out an excited cry
    “Mommy, look! There’s a bluebird on our feeder.”
     I looked up from my plate and saw the brilliant plumage of a blue parakeet.
     “It’s like the birds at PetSmart,” Sophia said.
    “You’re right, those are usually kept as pets,” I said.
    “Do you think he’s lost?” Sophia asked.
    “I don’t know sweetie, but it’s a beautiful bird. Some people believe birds are angels in disguise.”
    The parakeet flew off and the feeder swayed gently. I picked up my cell phone to call Jason. 
    “Honey, I have some good news,” I said with a smile. 
 
  
  
 
The Magician  
  
Douglas watched the old magician from the back of the theater as he set up the stage for his evening magic show at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London. Intricately carved pillars painted with jade-green water lilies, hieroglyphics, and topped with gold and royal blue King Tut masks lined the lavish theater that had once served as a museum-art gallery.  Full-color paintings depicting life in ancient Egypt hung between the ornate pillars. Rows of wooden chairs faced the elevated stage framed with red velvet curtains. 
    Edwin wore a black suit adorned with a red silk handkerchief and a long black velvet cape with gold brocade lapels and shark tooth buttons. His shoulder-length silver hair that matched his neatly trimmed beard and mustache was slicked back with a touch of pomade. A rectangular red wooden board for knife throwing stood next to a table with a revolver and a playing card stack. Edwin grunted as he hoisted a gold birdcage above the stage for one of his most famous illusions. His work was interrupted by a racking cough that echoed through the large theater. He caught sight of the boy out of the corner of his eye and turned to greet him. 
    “Douglas, I’m glad you’re here early. I have a favor to ask.” 
    Douglas nodded and ran from the back of the theater and jumped onto the stage from the orchestra pit, his black leather riding boots landing with a sharp smack.  
     “At your service, sir,” he said. 
     “I have a doctor’s appointment at four. Can you take me?” Edwin asked. 
     “Are you sure, sir? Douglas asked, “it’s bucketing down out there.”
     “This cold is going to be the death of me,” Edwin complained, “if I don’t get some medicine.” 
    “We’d best be going then. Every wanger in London will be trying to get to the pubs for a bite.”
    Douglas parked Edwin’s stylish four-wheeled Victoria carriage, pulled by a handsome black Clydesdale, in front of the theater, and held an umbrella over Edwin as he loaded into the front seat. Douglas hoisted himself onto the coachman’s bench, resigned to getting soaking wet. The rain was falling in relentless sheets. The ride to the Doctors’ Commons was treacherous and slow. Slow-moving carriages clogged the cobblestone streets, trying to navigate the deep puddles and mud. Douglas slowed the carriage in front of the S.N. White Pharmacy which stood next door to the doctor’s office on Thames Street. 
    “Mum’s asked me to pick up a loaf of bread from the bakery,” he said. “I can fetch it before you’re done.”
    “Fine, pick up one for me, too,” Edwin replied.  
    Edwin shook the water from his overcoat before he entered the doctor’s office. Edwin’s physician, Dr. Brantley, was only a few years younger than him, but his boyish features, handlebar mustache, and mischievous disposition made him seem more youthful.
    “Not here with the clap again, are you?” he teased as Edwin took a seat on the examination table.  “I’ve heard rumors you’re seeing the lovely Louisa Amore.”
    Edwin scoffed. “Poppycock. She’s obsessed with magic and comes to all of my shows.”
    Dr. Brantley sniffed. “That’s too bad. I’d like to show her a trick or two. Unbutton your shirt, and let’s have a look at you.”  He placed the stethoscope in the center of Edwin’s chest, “Take a deep breath.”
    Edwin’s weak inhale ended in a racking wet cough. “That’s the problem, he explained, “I can’t shake this bloody cough.” 
    Dr. Brantley moved the stethoscope to Edwin’s back, “How long have you had it?” he asked. 
    “Three weeks.”
    “Bloody hell, man, why’d you wait so long? You’ve probably got pneumonia. You’re the third case I’ve had this week.”
     “What can I do for it? Edwin asked. “I can barely sleep at night.” 
     “Well, it’s a bit unconventional, but I’ve been advising sarsaparilla root and China tea.” 
     “Where the hell, am I going to get those?” Edwin said, his bushy eyebrows narrowing. 
    “A midwife by the name of Margaret Reams can help you. Her husband travels to India and brings back exotic plants and tea for her patients.” 
    Brantley scribbled an address onto his prescription pad. “You can stop by her house today. It’s not cheap, though, I’ll warn you. Bring at least five shillings.” 
    Edwin grumbled as he stepped down from the examination table and buttoned his shirt. “What if this witch’s brew doesn’t work?” he asked. 
    “I suppose we can give bleeding a go. Many of my patients have benefitted from a leech treatment.” 
    Edwin broke into another bought of coughing. “Oh, bloody hell, I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said.
    Brantley smiled as he handed Edwin his hat. “You’ll be fine. The tea should break up your cough in a few days. Give my regards to Miss Louise.” 
    Douglas had returned from the bakery and waited outside the doctor’s office in the cold pouring rain. Edwin loaded back into the carriage and handed Douglas Mrs. Ream’s address on Conduit Place. The carriage ride to the Caroline cottages was slow and bumpy. It was nearly dark when they arrived at the midwife’s house. Edwin sent Douglas to her door with the five shillings and a generous tip. Douglas returned with a porcelain Chinese tea caddy decorated with a delicate flower pattern and a red iron lid. Edwin fussed when Douglas handed it to him. “No wonder it cost five shillings. It’s in a bloody ceramic vase.” 
    “Mrs. Ream said the container keeps the tea fresh. She said to steep one teaspoon in a cup of hot water.” 
    “I’ll leave that to you when we return to the theater,” Edwin said. “We need to hurry. I’ve got just enough time to finish preparing for the show.” 
    The cold rain had kept people away from the theater. A small crowd filled the front seats for Edwin’s eight o’clock show. Douglas stepped from behind the curtains dressed in his best black dress suit and bow tie to warm up the crowd with a few visual card tricks. Burlesque dancers from the chorus of fairies that performed after Edwin’s magic show, filled the front row. Douglas was smitten with Minnie Marshall, whose cherubic face framed with dark curls made her look like an angel in a short white ruffled crinoline dress and black lace-up boots. Douglas invited her to the stage for his first card trick. He shuffled the deck of playing cards with a flourish, “Pick a card,” he said to Minnie with a smile. 
    Minnie pulled a card, the nine of clubs, and showed it to the audience before she returned it to the deck face down. Douglas reshuffled the cards. 
     “Can you cut the cards for me?” he asked Minnie with a wink.  He turned to the audience. “I will now make Miss Marshall’s card mysteriously rise from the deck. Are you ready?” 
    The small pit orchestra provided a dramatic drum roll. All eyes were on Douglas as he placed his index finger on top of the card deck and slowly pulled out Minnie’s nine of clubs. The card appeared to rise with just the touch of his finger. The audience responded with a murmur of wonder and a smatter of applause as Douglas kissed Miss Minnie’s hand and sent her back to her chair. 
     “You may wonder how I performed such an amazing feat. Only with a massive amount of static electricity. I challenge you to try it at home.”  
    The audience clapped again, and Douglas moved on to his next card trick. 
    “I made Miss Minnie’s card rise, but who of you thinks I can make it float and spin?” Douglas shuffled and cut the cards and selected Miss Minnie’s nine of clubs again.  He placed the card on a table on the stage and lifted his right hand away from his body. The card levitated, and Douglas dazzled the crowd as he set it in motion with a furious centrifugal spin.  Douglas finished his opening act with a quick bow and ran off the stage. The orchestra began playing a jaunty tune that signaled the start of Edwin’s show. Edwin stepped onto the stage and bowed to the small crowd. 
    “Some people say I’m getting old, and my act has gone to the dogs, but I say that’s for the birds.”  
    With the flip of his wrist, the gold gilded birdcage lowered from the ceiling and landed on the table sitting center stage. Edwin opened the birdcage door and moved his hand inside to prove the cage was empty.  He then produced a single white feather from his suit lapel pocket and a match from inside his coat. He set the feather afire, and right before the audience’s eyes, a white dove appeared, its wings flapping. Edwin placed the fluttering dove inside the cage to enthusiastic applause from the audience.  He then removed his red silk handkerchief from his lapel. As he shook it out, a red dove appeared in his right hand.  Edwin added this dove to the cage. He lit a second match and produced another white dove in his right hand and a small speckled brown egg in his left. He added the second white dove to the cage. Before the audience could clap again, another white dove appeared in his left hand as the broken eggshell fell to the floor.  The theater echoed with applause. Edwin removed his black velvet cape and draped it over the gilded birdcage. A violinist in the orchestra played a suspenseful trill, and with a flourish of his hands, Edwin removed the cape to reveal Douglas kneeling on the table, and dressed in a white suit with a red silk handkerchief in his lapel pocket. The audience roared with delight, followed by whistles and catcalls from the front row’s burlesque ladies. 
    Edwin closed his show with a disappearing act that was an audience favorite. Douglas rolled out an ornate carved wooden box with a dial and a floating needle on the front. 
    “And now I require one brave member from the audience, who would like to take a trip to a magical place, perhaps Paris to see the Eiffel Tower.” 
    Louisa Amore, the busty Italian burlesque beauty who would be swinging from a trapeze in the next show, raised her hand enthusiastically. Louisa was an exotic vision wrapped in a tight green satin petticoat and a matching hat adorned with blue and green peacock feathers. Edwin stepped off the stage to take her gloved hand and lead her up the stairs.  As Edwin stared into her kohl-lined green eyes, he asked her a question. 
     “Where would you like to go tonight, my darling?”  
Louise thought for a moment before she answered. “I’m dying to see the sun. Brighton beach would be perfect,” she said. 
    Edwin opened the box lined with blue velvet for Louisa, who stepped inside with a dazzling smile. Edwin closed the door and turned the dial on the front, two turns to the right and one turn to the left. With a dramatic flourish of his hand, he said, “Have a wonderful day at the beach!”  He then stopped the dial on center and opened the door. Louisa was gone. Douglas reappeared to stand inside the box and prove it was, indeed, empty. Edwin then closed the box and spun the dial again. When he opened it a second time, Louisa was inside barefoot and dressed in a red and white pinstripe sleeveless swim dress. Claps and whistles from the audience were replaced with gasps when a white seagull flew out of the box, sailing over the audience.  
    “How was your trip?” Edwin asked Louisa.  
    “Oh, it was just lovely,” she said as she leaned over and planted a kiss on Edwin’s cheek.  Edwin took a bow as Douglas lowered the red velvet curtain to more enthusiastic applause. Backstage the burlesque dancers gathered around Louisa, admiring her stylish swimsuit. Minnie gave her a quick hug. 
    “Did Edwin buy that for you in Paris?” she asked.  Louisa gave her a coy smile. 
    “A girl never kisses and tells,” she giggled. 
    Douglas found Edwin in his office doubled over in a coughing fit. “Sir, we need to get you home to rest. The carriage is ready,” he said as he helped Edwin to his feet.  Edwin didn’t argue and pulled out a silver flask from his pocket for a slug of whiskey once the carriage was in motion. The carriage ride to Edwin’s home in Huxley Estate on the northern side of London was faster now that the rain had ended, but the cold, damp night air settling in aggravated Edwin’s cough. A long uniform row of paired red brick houses with shared chimney stacks came into view.  Douglas parked the carriage and helped Edwin to his front door. 
    “Let me see you inside, sir,” he said, “I can make you a cup of your tea.”  
     Edwin grumbled and then relented, opening the door for both of them. 
     “Come in, leave your coat and boots in the passage. I don’t want mud tracked everywhere.” 
     Edwin hung up his soaked overcoat and top hat as Douglas removed his boots. Edwin lit the hall lantern with a match, illuminating a small parlor furnished with a couch and two chairs.  Douglas followed Edwin to his cozy kitchen with a small wooden table and four chairs. A copper tea kettle sat on top of the black iron kitchen range. Douglas found the coal scuttle and added a scoop to the oven below.  With a few puffs of the bellows, he had the fire burning brightly. The tea kettle was singing a few minutes later. Edwin returned from the scullery with two mugs, a wooden cutting board, a knife, and a jar of orange marmalade. Douglas poured hot water over a teaspoon of the sarsaparilla tea for Edwin and added black English tea to the other mug.
    “You want one piece or two?” Edwin asked as he sawed off thick slices of the bread. 
    “One’s fine, sir. You’ll need it for your breakfast tomorrow,” Douglas said. 
    Edwin closed his eyes for a moment and let the steam from his tea rise into his nose before he took a sip. “It’s helping,” he said. My throat feels better already.” 
    “Glad to hear it, sir,” Douglas said as he spread the sweet sticky marmalade onto his bread. 
    A framed picture of a beautiful woman with raven black hair, a narrow face, and pale blue eyes sat on the wooden mantle about the inset kitchen stove. 
    “Is that your wife?” Douglas asked with a gesture to the picture.  
    “That was my Beatrice,” Edwin said with a faint smile. “She was my assistant before you. She helped me build the time travel illusion box. I lost her and my baby boy on the same day.” 
    “I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”  
    “Beatrice’s father was a scientist at King’s College in London. He was a physicist interested in time travel.  He thought we lived many continuous lives, but we’re not aware of it.”
    Douglas nodded his head thoughtfully. “So, when you die, your spirit moves into a new body, but it’s still you?” 
    “Yes, but Beatrice and her father were working on a real time-travel machine. They believed the contents of your brain and your entire life experience could be converted into an electrical signal and transferred to your younger or older self. If you traveled back in time, you would bring memories of your future self. If you travel forward in time, you will bring vivid, detailed memories of your past.”
    “Good lord, this sounds like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Douglas said. 
    Edwin smiled, “So you’ve read it. It’s an excellent book.”
    “Last year, for my English literature class,” Douglas added. 
    “I’d say Miss Shelley is a very bright, forward-thinking young woman. There’s always a little truth in every fiction.” 
     Douglas stood up and picked up the picture of Beatrice on the mantel. “Do you still miss her?”
     “Every day. Have you ever been in love, Douglas?” Edwin asked. 
 Douglas looked down and blushed a bit. “I like Miss Minnie, but…” 
    “Of course, the cute dancer who helps with your card tricks.” Edwin slapped his thigh and a cackle filtered out of his mouth that quickly turned into another wet cough. 
     “Don’t wait too long, my boy, to make your intentions known to her.  You can give her a better life once you are a full-fledged magician.”  
    Douglas shook his head. “I don’t know, sir,” I’ve got a lot of responsibilities at my father’s farm. 
    “Poppycock,” you’re a born magician, Douglas insisted. “When I’m gone, the position will be yours. You can whisk Miss Minnie away for a romantic weekend in Paris.” 
    Douglas’ cheeks colored again. He picked up his mug and drained the last bit of tea. “I hope you’re right, sir,” he said. 
     Edwin’s head drooped to his chest, and he looked almost lifeless. “I’m knackered,” he said. “I’ve got to get into bed. Can you help me up the stairs?”
    “Of course, sir.”
    The old magician stood up with Douglas’ help, and they headed for the steep wooden staircase that led to the bedroom. 
    Douglas did not return to Edwin’s house until Tuesday afternoon. He found a note stuck to the front door that read, “Don’t knock, come inside.” 
    Edwin, his eyes rimmed with black circles and his face pale, sat in the parlor, dressed in his robe, a fire burning in the fireplace. His grey hair was wild and stuck to his sweaty forehead. He coughed loudly into a white handkerchief. Douglas could see the speckles of blood that remained. 
    “Sir, you’re not well. Let me take you back to the doctor.” 
    “Come, my boy, take a seat. We’ve business to discuss.” 
Douglas lowered himself into the chair next to the fire. Edwin picked up a sealed envelope and handed it to him. “You’ll find my will inside with instructions for the disposition of my estate. I’m leaving everything to you. I’ve spoken to the owner of the Egyptian Hall and informed him that you would be taking over the show.”
    Douglas’s eyes widened. “But sir, I’m not ready. Surely the doctor can help you…”
    “Nonsense. I’m dying, Douglas, and there’s nothing to be done about it. You’re ready. You’ve watched me perform every trick and illusion a thousand times. Give yourself a few weeks to practice. You’ll need to find yourself an assistant.” Edwin managed a smile. “Perhaps Miss Minnie? Now, let’s talk about the plan for tonight’s show. It’s going to be a bit different. How do you feel about your knife throwing?” 
    “I’ve been practicing.” 
    “Good, we’ll put your skills to the test.”
Tuesday night shows at the Egyptian Theater were usually quiet, but the previous week of rain had ended, and it seemed as if the entire city had turned out for a stroll outside and a bit of entertainment.  Douglas peeked out of the curtains at the packed house, and his stomach rolled.  He spotted Minnie on the front row, and his nerves calmed a bit.  Edwin had prepared an extravagant set for his final show. He stepped onto the stage after Douglas’ turn with knife-throwing. 
    “My friends, tonight’s show is very special, because it is my last. Some of you may see this as a sad occasion, but for me, it is a night of celebration. I am proud to announce my brilliant assistant, Douglas Harris, will be the new head magician at the Egyptian Theater.” 
    Douglas, his heart pounding, ran onto the stage and bowed to the audience. Douglas embraced and steadied Edwin, who was almost too weak to stand, as he continued his farewell speech.  
    “I have always closed my show with a bit of time travel, with the help of a beautiful woman.”  Edwin winked at Louisa Amore on the front row whose eyes glistened with tears as she smiled back at him. Tonight, I will be the time traveler. I have worn my purple cape in honor of my beautiful wife, Beatrice, and my son Henry, who were taken from me too soon.”
    The red velvet curtains rose one last time and revealed the time travel illusion box. Minnie appeared from the side stage and handed a bouquet of white roses to Edwin, who tipped his hat at her.
    “Where would you like to go tonight, Edwin?” Douglas asked. 
    “Paris, my boy, where I proposed to my sweet Beatrice.”
    Douglas opened the door, and Edwin stepped inside, waving goodbye to the crowd in the theater. Minnie helped Douglas latch the heavy wooden door. Douglas turned the dial with the floating needle, three turns to the right and one to the left. The orchestra began playing a rendition of “Sweet Adeline” as the audience watched and waited. Douglas opened the cabinet to reveal it was empty. Minnie stepped inside and twirled before she stepped out. The orchestra switched to a drumroll.  Douglas placed his hand on the cabinet handle, his heart pounding, not sure of what he would find inside. Years later, he would swear the handle felt warm to the touch, and the dial with the floating needle was cracked. Inside the cabinet on the floor, a few white rose petals remained and a note. Douglas picked up the small piece of paper with trembling hands and read it to the audience. 
    “Our brains, our imaginations, and our souls are not fettered by the limitations of skin, blood, and bones. If you can dream it, you can create it, and you can set yourself free.” 
    The audience was on its feet, clapping and roaring with good cheer at Edwin’s last trick, but Douglas could barely breathe. His mind was spinning. He knew Edwin’s disappearance was no illusion. As his brain began to process what had happened, he smiled and hoped Edwin was walking the streets of Paris, hand-in-hand with his love, Beatrice, holding his baby boy, Henry, in his arms.