CHAPTER III – THE MAGICIAN/ BETTER THE DEVIL WE KNOW

One of Milk’s favorite method of Investigation was reading the tarot. He would generally use his battered deck of tarot de Marseilles. But in lack of a better option,  he would use anything he would be able to put his hand on, like band flyers, napkins, coasters, used train tickets.

Milk’s knowledge was always useful, but not necessarily in a way that would make you happy. Things being said that were the truth about oneself, hard, painful. They would hit you in the chest like a rubber ball. You just had to fucking deal with it, and if you couldn’t, then it was your own fault, and no one else’s.

We all are the fool,  we all are the magician.

The performer takes the stage. He is tired, his makeup runs down his face. Who cares. It is an alarmingly hot day, even for mid – August, nobody cares. The tourists are already drunk, or they are bored, or a combination of both. How many times has he had to do this show today? How many more times to go? He grabs the microphone and does his job. Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to be entertained? Are you ready to be shocked? Are you ready to fear for your lives? He is an automat with a smile. As long as the visitor has a ticket for the show, he will deliver. That’s who he is, an entertainer, that’s what he has to do. The scar on his body are there to prove it. And no matter how hard it is, because perhaps today he is hungover, or perhaps today he has had his heart broken. He introduces the next performer and dashes off to the street. Anything just as long as he doesn’t have to hear the noise of the theater. He sits on the pavement opposite the venue.  He would rather not look at his watch. Instead he opens his pack of cigarettes. He has one at each interval, and the packet is almost empty. His gaze follows the movements of the hips of a couple of girls. They don’t seem to notice him. He is a beautiful man, yet today he is almost transparent. It’s both too early and too late, just like time is eluding this day. It is Sunday for everybody except for the performing freaks of the Coney Island side show.

It’s time to go back in. The exotic dancer comes off the stage with an expression that requires no commentary. The audience is as sedated as the albino boa that she wears like a scarf. It doesn’t matter where we are: it could be Berlin,  it could be Coney Island. What only matters is that it is 2016, and the audience has already seen it all. No suspension of disbelief. They already suspect that the freaks are trying to con them, that it is all a trick.

As he climbs on stage once more, the lights come off. The music is loud, slow, sleazy. At this moment, he knows how immense his power is: gestures learnt from years of flirting with pain.  He brings the intimacy of sex to the forefront of the stage, he is, first and foremost, a seducer. Right at this moment, he knows exactly what he is doing. He knows the subtleties of his act. Something very true about who he is emerges for who knows how to look: it’s not nearly enough to be looked at, he wants to be seen.

We all are the magician,  we all are the fool.

Back in Berlin, Julie is crying. We are definitely the youngest members of the audience. It’s a very polite crowd, somehow my partners and I are becoming more and more suspicious that it might not be a real audience. The whole cosmic joke thing occurring again. An elderly gentleman taps on my shoulder and asks me ‘hast du ein Tempo?’. A tissue, for crying out loud. I gesture that I don’t. We have a natural catastrophe of our own to manage here: Julie’s tears cannot stop flowing from her eyelids. The flood ravages her whole body. She trembles like continents coming in contact. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark indeed. Chthonic movements that take her away.

Dazzle ships. Boats sailing on a sea of tears. In French, the word for sea and the word for mother sound exactly the same.

Julie cried all the tears her body held. I was puzzled, but kept silent. My whole method of Investigation relies on never asking a single question, for fear of being too brutal. Instead I observe and I keep silent, until the person in front of me is ready to deliver what they feel they want to confide in me. I let the clues come to me. I know it can pass for complete indifference, but it never is. It is mere shyness.

Eventually, when she was ready, she told me. It was her mother’s favorite band, and it became hers and her brother’s favorite band too. She had felt that by going all the way to Berlin to see them perform, she could finish her own initiation journey. Close a chapter of her life that was governed by grief and disappearance.

We were finally seeing things for what they were. We were seeing an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Moons

And moods

Which are almost the same

Come and go in cycles.

The night is through. The magician, the street performer, the drug addict, the crying infant, which are all wrapped up in the shape of the same man, which is invisible to the naked eye, is tired. He folds up his cape, the raggedy cloth that on the best of nights turns four battered milk crates into an altar, with its glow-in-the-dark stars, which look dimmer after each wash. Put away the whole constellations, the whole of creations, in the back pocket of his trousers, stashes away the tools of his trade. Wands, Pentacles, A little Cup for the ladies, A little Sword but not too much. Away, away with the night.

In the light of the bathroom, he doesn’t look so glamorous anymore: a glaring light that shows the exact, crude truth. He is not old at all, but his body carries marks that start to show that he’s no longer a young man. The coffee stains on his teeth. The dark, lush, curvy hair is thinning ever so slightly on the crown of the head. It doesn’t show yet, but he knows. The magician sighs. He’s no longer a magician, which he’s reminded when someone bangs on the bathroom door.

“Joe, man, you’re ok in there?”

“Hang on!”

Flushes, rinces his hands under the cold water tap, slicks his hair with his wet hands and finally unlocks the door.

All his colleagues are gathered around the bar. A shy blond girl has followed them after the last show, or perhaps she’s a friend of a friend of one of them. She drinks her beer straight from the bottle and laughs at the jokes that bounce from one freak to the other, without directly entering the exchange. As he walks towards them, he enters another well-known character. Anything, as long as we don’t have to be just ourselves for too long. Not in public. It’s too dangerous.
He says hi to the girl, looks her straight in the eyes and then orders a beer. A few feet away, not too close. The first moves are crucial, but he knows them by heart now. Doesn’t even really realise that he’s doing it. Sometimes, the game will start, and he will play his part to perfection, then catch himself in the process. Hang on, I see what I’m doing. When did it start? Has it become such a part of me that I can no longer control it? Was I ever in control of this?

But before the world spins with doubts and questions, the magician, the street performer, the seducer, the recovering drug addict, the crying infant, wrapped up in the shape of one single man, will have bedded the blond girl, and a few dozen others. Grabbing a fleeting sense of satisfaction, like hunger, like addiction, never fully conquered.  

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