Once, many years from now, a boy gazed out into the desert night at a huge hollow bowl-shaped plateau. The boy’s curiosity was stirred. After journeying to the top of the structure, the boy encountered an old man. When the boy asked the old man why the structure was shaped in such a way, the old man motioned for the boy to sit and at once began to tell his story.
“Many years ago there was a president in office, not very different from the president that we have now. The president had a wife with quite a reputation for tragically bad luck. In a moment of utmost despair and frustration the wife shook the walls of the White House with a bellow of “God damn it.” God did not take such a blasphemous outburst kindly and smote the first lady, leaving a pile of ash and jewelry on the carpet of the Oval Office. When the President returned, he found the charred remains of his wife and knew immediately who was responsible. The President vowed revenge. For months the President tried to get a declaration of war against God passed in Congress, but kept reaching a stalemate between the Senate and the House. The President realized that he needed to take matters into his own hands, so he called the CIA, who put together a crack team of mercenaries and launched an assault on Heaven. A ferocious battle began and lasted many years, ending finally with the CIA victorious. God was decapitated and fell from heaven. His body sank into a trench deep in the ocean and his head landed in the desert here, beneath me.”
When the boy heard the last of the old man’s story, he climbed down from the dilapidated mass and went off into the world. After many years, the boy came back, all grown up and leading a construction crew. The old man was there no longer and the boy put up a gate around the plateau. On, around, and amongst the plateau, the boy built an amusement park. People came from miles around to buy a ticket and wait in line for admittance to the park. In front of the park, the boy had a sign posted reading: Come Ride the ‘God’s Skull’ Cyclone!
The magician scuttled into town and began selling his potions. By nightfall, all the vials of transformation potions were sold. The magician, being old, began to doubt himself. He remembered the hope in the faces of those purchasing and his esteem shriveled up into his stomach. He scurried about the residential area dripping with anxiety and muttering to himself. Entering a neighborhood, he found a customer’s house.
“It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work,” babbled the magician as he levitated up to the window.
Inside, he saw an enormously obese man with one of the vials of transformation potion. The man swallowed the potion and nothing happened. The obese man began to curse the magician and weep.
“I’m a failure. I knew it wouldn’t work. I’m nothing,” whined the magician as he reluctantly aimed his finger, sending a beam of light from its tip to the obese man, making him thin and attractive.
The newly thin and attractive man, oblivious to his current state, continued to voice his hatred and his regret toward encountering the, as he stated, “worthless” magician.
“Bah!” screamed the magician, grieved by his failure, as he dropped down to the ground.
The magician proceeded to the next house that appeared to belong to a customer. He crept through the backyard, invisible to the guard dog, and peered in the back window.
“None of them worked. None of them, I know it. It’s all a waste,” spat the magician with frantic mania.
He watched the man, who was obviously illiterate, sit on the edge of his bed and drink the potion. Nothing happened. The man stood up and began to yell profanities about the magician and his credibility.
“Ah! Aggh! He is right. I’m a fool. An idiot. He is right; why do I bother?” groaned the magician to himself right before he blew a deep breath of twinkly dust onto the illiterate man.
The man continued to bash the magician and seemed to come to some realization about what to do about him as he sat down and started to write a letter to the Better Business Bureau. The once illiterate man was furious and sought to show the world what a “hack” the magician was.
“Scoff!” scoffed the magician, riddled with guilt and self-debasement as he staggered to the next customer’s house.
The shades were drawn on the bedroom window so the magician passed through the wall and hid behind a chair. In the room, a mannish woman sat at her makeup mirror and held the vial. She drank the potion and stared into the mirror as nothing happened. She cried and screamed about the “terrible, terrible” magician and her outrage for believing in such a fraud.
“Another one. Another loss. Another failure. That’s all I am—a failure. Why me, why me?” moaned the magician while recoiling and firing laser beams from his eyes which instantly upon striking the woman gave her facial hair and toned her upper-body into a more muscular build.
Dissatisfied with his purchase, the woman rose from the mirror, went into the bathroom, and urinated standing up. He came out of the bathroom grumbling about how if he ever saw that magician again he’d “kick his ass,” and then proceeded to remove his now very loose bra. He sat down and turned on ESPN and grumbled once more about what a “fuckin’ cheatin’ fraud” he thought the magician to be.
The magician passed back through the wall and into the street, unnoticed, frantic, and guilt-ridden. The magician’s lips trembled. His eyes were wild, red, and teary. He knew they were right; he was a failure. Out he scuttled into the night, bent and broken, knowing he had many more customers left to visit.
The little girl wanted a red tricycle for Christmas more than anything in the world. Every night before bed, she knelt down and said her prayers and for months leading up to Christmas she included a request for the red tricycle. The request was always polite and sweet, and with humble dignity, she would ask if God would see it fit in his grace and holiness to allow a red tricycle to be found under her Christmas tree Christmas morning. By the emergence of December, with its singing joy and its festive majesty, the possibility of a red tricycle for her, and her alone, seemed inevitable. It was as if it were already written in the book of life and death, or as if it was commanded by chisel into stone, like the tablets Moses carried in the little girl’s Sunday school play where she played his wife, Zipporah.
No one at her church would have denied the little girl’s merit in deserving a red tricycle. Nor would either of her parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. The most obvious reason for this was that none of them knew. The little girl told no one. Only God alone could have known, for it was to He whom she addressed in her nightly prayers. Not a saint or angel, or even Jesus would do. Integrity in her discipline and her silence held the little girl through her days and her tireless moments in the dark just before sleep, where her little eyes clenched so tight, her lips mumbled their noiseless mantra, and her mind wound itself down into oblivion.
She looked at pictures of Saint Theresa on her mother’s bedroom wall and thought of all the strength it took to live for God alone. That strength, she did not have, she knew, but the little girl held her secret desire as if it was her own cross. The month of December, with its blustery winds and dropping temperature, kept her inside with her vision. She could see Christmas morning, see it clearly before her. The stockings and the tree. The smell of her mother’s cinnamon and brown sugar crepes and pine. The crackle from her father’s small early morning fire. Though she had so few Christmases behind her, she could walk through it all in her mind, all of it down to the biggest box beneath the tree bearing her name. And the little girl could see herself sitting down to open that present in its box as big as she, and pulling out her very own red tricycle.
It was the eve of Christmas and the little girl’s mother had some last minute shopping to do. The mother brought the little girl to the mall along with her, to look at the snow-white decorations and hear the Yuletide carolers. In the center of the mall, outside the store into which the little girl’s mother ventured, was an adorned fountain. Giant snowflakes hung from the ceiling over its bursting shower. Drawn to the water, and how it played in the air, the little girl lingered outside the store into which her mother ventured. The little girl was captivated by the rhythmic bursts and the way they showered the surface and the marble down below. The falling spray twinkled in the mall’s track lighting and a sparkle on the nearest bench caught her eye. The golden sparkle was a shiny penny, in top quality although it bore the year of her birth. As her mother called the little girl to join her in the store, the little girl made her one great heart-felt wish for a red tricycle on that shiny penny and tossed it into the shimmering ripple of the mall fountain.
Christmas morning, the little girl woke with a start from a sleep that took so long to obtain and was heavy with deep watery dreams that trickled away like lost memories. She treaded lightly and swiftly down the stairs, met by the greetings of her parents and the welcome of the whole Christmas panorama. But smells and lights, and music, and a log fire, and the advances of her parents could not derail the little girl from her aim under the tree, where many wrapped gifts glimmered in the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. One stood out above and beyond the others bearing her name. For the sake of discipline, decorum, and holiday togetherness, the little girl’s parents made her open each gift in an orderly manner giving them a chance to exchange their own. Biding her time so as not to seem rude and over-anxious, the little girl put the largest present off until the end.
With poise and restrained fervor, the little girl stood up and pulled off the top of the box. All four decorated sides fell to the ground. Inside, on the bottom of the box, sat only a penny. When she picked up the penny, she saw it to be the very same penny from yesterday, all shiny and bearing her birth year, just like it was when she threw it into the mall fountain. Her father knelt down to her and put his arm around her.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said to her. “I looked all over town and all the red tricycles were sold out.”
Jordan A. Rothacker is a novelist, poet, and journalist who resides in Athens, Georgia where he is currently a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia (where he also received a M.A. in Religion). His book-length dissertation in progress is titled On Cultural Guerrilla Warfare: Art As Action. Rothacker’s journalism has graced the pages of magazines as diverse as Vegetarian Times and International Wristwatch and his fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such periodicals as The Exquisite Corpse, Mayday, Curbside Splendor, Red River Review, As It Ought To Be, Dark Matter, and Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag. Three of his favorite things to talk about are sandwiches, indigenous land rights, and his cat, Whiskey. For more, see jordanrothacker.com