Chapter 10

A Magic Trick

Illustration by Paloma Agüera

One day, a magician like those who pull rabbits out of their hat proposed a game to me.

– Take a coin – he told me – look at it several times. Turn it over, play with it. Check that there is no trap. That it is not bent, that it is perfectly round, without undulations. Do it conscientiously. Look under my sleeve, there’s nothing, right? 

The coin was normal, a dime, and, at first glance, it had nothing to highlight. No folds, clean. With its lifelong heads and tails. He had just taken it from the table, where he also kept other objects of a magician’s everyday life and show: a rope, a hat, some cards, dice. I didn’t see anything special during the short time I dedicated to it: it had rough edges, like all dimes, the map of Europe on one side and Cervantes’ face on the other.

– Take your time – he insisted when he saw that I was giving it back to him – make sure that everything is in order because this is and will be the most important coin of your life – he said looking now at the audience – even if it is worthless. Even if it ends up forgotten in a drawer, between the seats of a car, in a fountain in Italy. This coin will read your future. Hold it tight because it knows everything about you, it keeps your biggest secret and your worst fears. It has been with you since you were born. It is your amulet. Or your evil eye. 

It was the first time I saw that coin. That specific one, I mean, and, although I didn’t understand very well what the illusionist meant by all that, I played along for the sake of the show. I smiled, I’m not sure why, and nodded while he showed the audience two envelopes containing two letters from me to myself written thirty years from now. I looked at the coin. 

– Don’t let go, for the moment. I’m going to ask you a question that I can only answer to you: do you want to know your future? – I hesitated for a few minutes, but just before answering and seeing that among the audience hands were starting to raise, he raised his voice and concluded –  today it can’t be another one, and usually I can’t do this trick because someone specific is missing in the audience, most people are slaves of chance and are condemned to the casualty of chaos being their only certainty. Magic is an exact science, to be able to read your future, you must have a destiny and, I insist, here you are the only one who has it, you are special, do you want to know your future? 

– Yes – I ended up saying, in part due to the pressure of the fixed gaze of the audience, I did not want to spoil the performance, in the end it was just a trick – let’s go on – I ended up saying just before the applause started.

– Your life is already written on both sides of that coin – continued the magician, while he pointed at it and made a face as if he was trying to pierce it – On the heads side, there is a half-blank story, where you can still write, paint whatever you want, decide, apparently, about your own life, play at being your own God – he paused to smile and look at everyone, like someone who expects recognition when he finishes delivering big news. Before anyone reacted, the stage lights went out almost completely, the magician changed his face, the only one illuminated in the whole room and began to speak with a dark tone staring at me and with the intention of scaring me – However, tails side, the story is completely written, with no room for maneuver. Someone has already done the work of playing God for you and you will be locked in your body even if you don’t want to be. 

There were a few very intense seconds of silence, the performance was becoming something that bothered me personally and the accusing eyes of a morbid whole row of seats had intentions that went far beyond the game, they wanted to see me emotionally on the edge.

– Flip the coin, the die is cast. 

Like an automaton, without thinking very well that I was doing something I didn’t really want to do, I tossed the coin upwards and the time it took to fall became an eternity: I watched the spin and tried to make mental calculations based on nothing so that it would never be tails, so that an external force of nature, some God, something, would determine that it would have some possibility of landing on heads. When it began to bounce several times, I heard the sound of the chant like a whistle in my ear, it vibrated, just like the breathing of the spectators, of the magician with a Machiavellian laugh who waited to give me the definitive result. As if by survival, in an unpremeditated act, just as I had tossed the coin, I managed to step on it just before the last bounce, without seeing the result, I bent down with my eyes closed, put it in my pocket and spent several minutes turning it around inside my pants, while enduring the booing of the people and the shouts of the magician.

When I got home, I opened a drawer, closed my eyes again and put it away forever, along with the envelopes.

I chose not to know what had touched me, but the coin is still here, with me, with its truth already written. 

You, reader, free of my fears, can read my future: “Flip the coin, the die is cast.”

It was good luck, and we never wanted to play at any time. As you can see, some of us can take destiny more into account than chance, although I have always denied its existence, although I kept the coin in that drawer until it seems that we will no longer be touched because of age. I got rid, you got rid, of Tails. Lucky, there was nothing we could do about it. A 50% of an atomic chance of chromosomes that come together one night, one morning, in an act of love. All this would not have happened if you had not been born, your existence has been your condemnation, the weight of uncertainty, the “what if?”. 

The backpack loaded with the “loves me loves me not” when plucking a daisy, with fear and hope making a constantly present scale that, when you wanted to look beyond, to make plans, to fantasize about a future, ended up leaning towards tails, towards the disease, towards the other side of the coin. As if everything did not have another side. As if getting rid of this backpack that I am now stripping you of was going to save you from other ruins, from other uncertainties. There is no Heads without Tails, although in your case, mine, it seems that one is a peak and the other an abyss. I have freed us (me?) from the big backpack, but I have so many others. I had not planned it, I have done nothing to stay in this 50%, to save you (me?). 

Good luck without wanting to play. Winning the lottery without buying the ticket. Did you expect something else? Maybe you believed in me, you in thirty years, the saved one, Heads, an irradiant person free of damaged chromosomes. I’m glad I escaped, but existence keeps inventing future worries, obscene, defeatist fantasies, many of which are fulfilled. As much as I go to bed thinking that the next day will be something else, as much as I have the freedom to fantasize that I choose my existence, this is many more coins thrown into the air, to chance, no matter how much destiny we have been told we had written. The only thing left is to do, even if that doesn’t assure you anything. At least we are free, you and I, me, because aren’t we the same? to lay the first brick to build our house, even if it is crooked, even if not everything is as we had imagined. 

Don’t make too many plans, making them is the first step for them not to happen. The future is not the best place to keep your secrets, as soon as you tell it your fantasies, your purposes, your projects, it aligns itself to hinder them. You can write your story, you will be free of Tails, but do not do it on paper or in a fanciful mind before going to sleep, words are light. Write the five senses: a good plate of food, a sunset on the sea, the warm feet of a woman getting into bed, that song that makes the past very present, petrichor. Discovering the mechanics of the clock’s second hand. To think of the future is to approach death. Now is the only real thing you have.

Good luck, like almost everything else. In one sense or another, it would be bad not to accept what cannot be changed. We have come this far or from here we start something new. Somehow you will not stop being you, young, somewhat older, somewhat more damaged. I hope you still see something of yourself in me. The hair on your legs, I don’t know, an onomatopoeia that has been with you all your life, with me, with us, do you see a familiar belly button in me, do you recognize these eyes as yours? Now so lost, am I still you?, what is left of us beyond a few damaged chromosomes? An imperfect chain that one night of sex has decided to throw this coin that condemns you, does it save you? I am imprisoned in a body that no longer responds and a mind that has long been unable to express itself, if only I had that left, if only I had the possibility to think in an orderly way and be able to tell it. 

One ceases to be human when one cannot communicate, when one is governed exclusively by biological rhythms that understand neither conventionalisms nor the simplest protocol routines, the social norm is forgotten when you become an animal. I’m pissing my pants. I am an incompetent mammal destroying Darwin’s theories, where are the predators? Please come and save me. I want to die, I’ve wanted to die for a long time, but I’m not even free to do that, did you know that?, did you imagine wanting to die? I’m sure you don’t recognize yourself here, I’m you trying not to scare you, but I’m doing it, you got the side of the coin that nobody wanted, a historical coincidence, like everything, right? 50% is not so much, just half of something, how many times has that probability been totally indifferent to you? Our decisions are not eternal, neither our victories nor defeats, how many times were you able to change your destiny with your actions? I don’t even dream about it anymore, there is no hope or frustration, freedom is to have even a minimal possibility of changing the course of things, to go to bed thinking that perhaps the next day could be different. 

To stay alive is not to project? What is the meaning of life without being able to fantasize? The present is the space to be loaded with hopes. Even if they are short term, it is already here, with you, with me, even if you don’t believe we are the same, even if you look at yourself and deny it. Grandiloquent dreams, planning the other 50%, the dream of all men, religion, allowing time, as if at some point it will sit down with us to give it back to us, it was never ours, we make a zone defense. There is no conscience about the mathematics of death, about the accuracy of its existence, more death for life. It’s already here, with you, with me, even if you don’t believe we are the same, even if you look at yourself and deny it. Dreams, planning for 100%, what is approaching the next number on the clock, a simmered flavor, today, bargaining ambition, anxiety, with your skin, goose bumps for the present continuous, the verb to be, smells like wet earth, postpone, close your eyes keeping them wide open, cold feet, twilight at sea, excessive sweating, a chocolate bonbon, discovering the mechanics of the clock’s second hand.: tick, breathe, don’t run, there is beauty in every thousandth, tac.

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