Magic Hat
Eric Fershtman

Boy smells like alcohol so we stay away. Fat darkness sucks its gut in around him; light rings his ears, taps his nose. Hangs head loosely, heroically tragic. Something has touched him, you can tell. Whatever life is, a well of profundity, this boy’s at the bottom. Going through some serious stuff. We across the bar laugh and talk and watch. I won’t conjecture like the others—‘How old is he, do you think?’ Wait instead for ridicule to begin so I can leap on it. I’m feeling malicious; truthfully, I’m thinking: why’s the light gone his way? I myself am touched by tragedy too thick and exhaling, things that’d bloody your socks, lick your shoes with force. A sister, for example, gone missing for years; a mom who died trying to eat her own heart. I could be the boy who everybody says he’s too good for this, he deserves better. Uncorrupted but fading fast, that’s the phase I wish for again.

Watch that boy. He lifts his head, signals the tender. Could be ten, eleven years old, all I know. I’m edged now. I’m waiting for what I think’s the inevitable thing, the girl too beautiful and kind for words to flutter in and lift the boy up and hold him to her bosom (her magnificent breasts, I can say I never went in for that ass thing) and carry him off to the real light. He’s probably got a horse’s dick, in his innocence.

I’ll follow. Like the dark, I’ll follow the light, and decide against stepping into it, because of the responsibility. That kid’s torn by it; can’t get away even in thoughtful, destructive moments. My beer’s on tap here, anyway; on Wednesday afternoons it’s laughingly cheap.

Eric Fershtman is a writer and editor whose fiction and essays have been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Squawk Back, The Barnstormer, and elsewhere. He won the Summer Literary Seminars Emerging Writers Award in 2012. He lives in Orlando, FL, at the moment.