Now You Don't

Originally published by Verdant Journal, Summer/Fall 2023

My dad left for a cruise as a normal seventy-five-year-old retiree who liked airshows, photography, and woodworking, and returned as a magician fanboy. When I used to visit, he wouldn't have all that much to say—we were very alike that way—but now he couldn’t wait to interrupt conversations and meals to show off a new card trick he figured out. When he finished with a flourish and a Ta da! we'd clap slowly, pretending the trick didn’t fail to impress, the whole time eagerly waiting for when we might be okay to continue eating our casserole.

Where it began was on that Alaskan cruise. While my mother sat with a couple from Napa Valley drinking Piña coladas, Dad was scheduling his days around attending these daily magic shows. He met the cruise ship’s magician afterwards. Not like a special backstage sort of thing, but the next morning at breakfast. He saw the magician across the dining hall eating a two-egg breakfast and a kale smoothie. My dad just went over and talked to him. Ordered his own kale smoothie, too, even though I’m pretty certain he’d not consumed vegetables since that carrot stick he had nineteen years before when mom served a Costco veggie platter at my 20th birthday.

“I had DVDs for sale at the show,” the magician said to my bewildered dad, but unfortunately he was currently out of them. Sold them all in record time, he said. So the magician—Shaun was his name—took my dad’s address and said he’d send him a copy. My dad talked about this incoming DVD for weeks after the cruise. He checked his mailbox two, three, four times a day. Finally, the copy arrived, and my dad locked himself in his woodshop to play it. He kept a TV in the woodshop, and it was hooked up to the old family DVD/VCR combo I’d thought he’d gotten rid of long ago. It didn’t even occur to him that the envelope wasn’t big enough to hold a DVD. Inside was a thick, weighty, novelty metal business card. He inspected it with some disappointment, but soon discovered it had a thumb drive that could slide out of it.

“Check this out,” he said, suddenly impressed by the technological advancements in business cards. “These things used to be made from flimsy cardboard way back when. Sometimes they were laminated, if you wanted to pay a little extra. Now look at what they can do!”

“Did you plug it into the computer yet, Dad?”

“Is that what I do with this thing?”

“It goes into a USB drive. Does your computer even have a USB drive?”

“A what now?”

“You know, you don’t have a clue what’s even on there. Have you heard about malware? Identity theft?”

“Identity theft? Like someone pretending they’re me?”


“Now that would be some trick, wouldn’t it?”

My dad ended up using a neighbor’s computer to open the thumb drive. Turned out it didn’t carry some international cybercriminal’s malicious virus, it really was just some off-kilter video footage of a bunch of card tricks and sleight of hand how-to instructions. For hours on end, Dad watched Shaun’s every move, pausing and rewinding the video until he could do the tricks perfectly. Dad emailed the magician, and soon received more video files in the mail. He mastered these tricks, too. He would invite some of the neighbors over and he performed in the living room. Dad seemed happier now. More vibrant. He drank a kale smoothie every morning with a two-egg breakfast. It was as if he’d found a new lease on life.

One day, when my mom was out for drinks with some other folks she’d met on the cruise who happened to be in town, my dad disappeared. No one had seen him going anywhere that afternoon. All of his outside shoes were still in the coat closet. His half-eaten banana was left on the coffee table. He vanished without a trace.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. No one knew where my dad had gone. I tried looking for Shaun’s contact info but couldn’t find it. I phoned and emailed the cruise ship company to get any information I could, but nobody I spoke with knew anything helpful. Mom didn’t try as hard as I did in digging around for an answer. The last time I asked, she mixed herself a Moscow Mule at the kitchen counter and said he’d been gone for a long time. She said everyone disappears eventually.