The Oxygen Kiss: A Magic Show

**People often talk about the holidays, the beauty, the family traditions, the sadness that can linger there underneath tinsel, and turkey dinners. Truthfully, I am not a big fan of any of the holidays, except of course Halloween. In order of spooky season, frights, fears, griefs, and guilts—I bring you all a short personal essay. **


The Oxygen Kiss: A Magic Show
by Jennifer Anne Gordon


The dark red velvet jacket brushes the floor with each step, a swish, swish, swish, swoosh like blood pumping in my veins. The silk lining is ripped a little at the back, the heel of my boot catches in it if I am not careful, it pulls it apart a little more with each careless step. Whatever is in between the silk lining and the velvet turns to dust, to ash.


It smells like cigarette smoke. 

The silk lining drags against the floor too, where it was ripped away. Its sound is almost silent, it is mostly hidden underneath the swish, swish, swish, swoosh…but it is there, and I have heard it before. 

It’s hard to place. It’s a familiar fear.

It’s not a heartbeat, it’s not blood, it’s a breath…but not a breath.

It’s the oxygen, pumped from a machine, an oxygen hiss, an oxygen kiss.

If I close my eyes, I can make this room disappear. I can turn it into a hospital. I can turn it into my childhood home, I can turn it into both at the same time. That is what it’s become.

He’s there now, my father. The real magician. He made his entire life disappear, he made a war disappear, he made a child disappear, he made three years kept in a cage disappear, and he made his sadness disappear. These were the illusions he was famous for.

I am only famous for this red velvet jacket, I am famous for the swoosh, the hiss, the oxygen kiss.

This magic show is written in dark calligraphy on my skin, not neon lights. My stage is not really mine. I am still playing second fiddle to someone else’s story.

This mansion is haunted. The audience is small but wealthy, they paid for this, for the red velvet, for the sound of my jacket on the floor.

The kiss

They don’t know it.

They don’t know me.

My job is simple at first, just be, just stand, just have the perfect lipstick and smokey eye makeup.

I sobbed six times today.

A blur of a bad boss tantrums and whispered phone calls to my mother.

“No your father hasn’t eaten; it’s been six days.”

I close my eyes as the audience comes in. 

I am not sure which thing I make disappear first. Is it them? It is my father? Is it me?

Yes. It’s me.

I pull out their chairs as if this is a dinner party, but they are here for something else, a serving of something that I know is a show and they believe is real.

A conversation.

A ghost.

A gift.

A kiss.

The Victorian style séance is an art, we have perfected it.

They are seated around the table, a man old enough to be my father but who is decidedly not my father is center stage. All eyes are on me as I walk the perimeter of the room, closing the blinds and the curtains. I am in charge of shutting out the world.  

Before the last window turns to a damask wall of blindness, I catch my reflection.

I am magic.

I have turned into another person.

The magician in chief has started the show, he started it the day before when we got to this mansion, to this private Halloween for the ‘old money rich’.

He started it years before when we met, he started the show when he asked me to work for him.

I am just a supporting player, until I am not.

My name is not my name. I am introduced, my pale skin and the blue veins on my neck shine and move in a flickering candlelight.

I am just the magician’s assistant, of course.

But to them, the faces in the dark room, the rich, the “let’s do something different for Halloween this year” guests, I am something else. I am the night. I am their fear. I— and his words come in breaking my reverie—

“She is the doorway, our conduit, she is here because this is how we can talk to the dead, she is the doorway, she can lead you to them…”

It’s quite an introduction.

I close my eyes. I tried to talk to the dead on the phone earlier in the afternoon but “he didn’t have the air for words today.”

I talk to the dead as much as I can, but I am not sure if the dead ever talks to me, not really.

Three years into active dying and he still doesn’t know what I went to college for.

It was theatre.

Three years into active dying and he cries, when tells me he wants me to be happy, but he doesn’t know if it’s in our blood.

I think of my red velvet jacket, I think of the swish, swish, swish, swoosh. The pumping sound of heavy fabric on the floor.

I ignore the hiss, the oxygen kiss.

I make the room I am in disappear, and now I make the rest of the world disappear.

I light one candle; I blow out another.

I am the one that talks to dead people.

The curtains on the opposite end of the room fall open. The world comes in for a minute. It sees us, our show.

The magician in chief glares at me. He bellows to the audience that it is a sign that “the dead are here; they want to talk to you.”

I have to scurry up, re-fasten the curtains.

The red velvet and the silk on the floor sound like panicked breath, this jacket sounds like the end.

After the curtain is drawn the crowd looks at me. 

An older woman with gray hair and a gray face who came to the party alone asks “what does it mean?”

And I start to cry, and I know this is my last show, that the season is over and maybe I am too.

I mumble something about “someone or something here has something to say, but they don’t know how.”

Three people at the table start to cry.

One person whispers “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. This room is filled with ghosts.

When I walk back to the table, I don’t hear the blood pump, I don’t hear the earthy velvet.

All I hear is the silk.

The hiss.

The oxygen kiss.

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