This Is How Gerald Lost the Tip of His Finger
‘It’s all about misdirection,’ he told me, setting out the pieces of the trick in our living room. I was twelve. Gerald was our next door neighbour. Him and his partner, Leslie, an avid gardener, couldn’t have kids of their own, so mum sometimes loaned us out to them. I didn’t like Leslie, to be honest. She smelled funny. Faintly sweet and earthy, like compost.
‘The plants are her babies,’ my mother said once, handing me the cake bowl to lick.
I watched Gerald patiently, readying myself for the wow of magic. Even at that age I knew this was for Gerald and not for me. I would rather have been outside building my space ship, Escape.
‘With tricks this dangerous,’ Gerald was saying, ‘you have to be scrupulously prepared.’ I nodded dutifully. ‘Oh, wait, I nearly forgot. A magician needs to look the part.’ He took out a bow-tie from his jacket pocket and fixed its elastic around his neck. A quick fumble with a hidden switch and little l.e.d. lights on it started pulsing.
‘Wow.’ I said.
‘Now. Please inspect this blade. Be very careful. It’s razor sharp.’ He didn’t let go of the little plastic frame the blade was set in so I couldn’t really inspect it. I didn’t point this out though.
Gerald took a carrot from him pocket. It was knurly and had little off-shoots. I figured it must have been one of Leslie’s from her precious greenhouse. ‘Please watch carefully’.
He had assembled the plastic pieces into what looked like an elaborate cigar cutter. He place the carrot in a round hole and, with a violent slam, closed the contraption. The carrot became two clean halves and plopped onto the carpet.
My over-active imagination leapt back to earlier that morning to Gerald and Leslie’s kitchen. Next door, they had been at the sink, Leslie her hands in suds, Gerald next to her with the tea towel. They were watching the rain slip down the window. ‘Good for the garden,’ Gerald had said.
‘The rain. Good for the garden.’
‘Oh. Yes.’ Gerald had been laid off from him civil engineering job for the local council two months ago and had since been looking for work.
Leslie had taken on extra shifts at the garden centre.
‘I think I’m ready to show Tommy the finger trick.’
‘Tommy. The finger trick I’ve been working on?’
‘Oh yes darling.’ Leslie handed him a plate.
‘And now please pay close attention,’ Gerald said. ‘This is not for the feint hearted.’ He flourished the index finger of his left hand as if it was diamond-tipped. ‘I take my finger. I place my finger in the guillotine. Drumroll if you please!’ We had played this part of the game before so I dutifully started patting my knees in a furious timpani — a simulacrum of suspense. ‘On my count of three. When I say three, I would like you to push as hard as you can on the blade. One!…’ drumroll…. ‘Two!’….. drumroll…
I have often wondered, over the last thirty years, what happened to Gerald and Leslie. This was one of the sliding-doors moments when, if you thought about it, a number of events had conspired towards that fateful moment that September morning in our living room. If it hadn’t been for the rain, if it hadn’t been for losing his job at the local council, if it hadn’t been for him looking at her, Leslie, that time over a college friend’s dining table and smiling…
It was important for me to play my part in Gerald’s victory, to rescue him from his own mediocrity and the tyranny of Leslie’s plants
I slammed the plastic panels together with all my might. Gerald’s scream was a long loud howl of shock at an impossibly high and consistent pitch.
The tip of his finger lay on my mother’s coffee table. Blood spurted from the severed stump directly into my lap like a hot joke. Gerald was hysterical. For Gerald, everything had gone wrong. Gerald was alive.
‘Hahahahahaha,’ he went.
‘Wow,’ I said.