Long ago there was nothing but Moon and her old father, Sea. There was no land yet, just the ebb and flow of tides, and Moon lived below the water, not above. She was young, beautiful, and lonely. When Night came to court, Moon fell in love, became hand fasted in his dark robes, wrapped herself again and again in his dreads that were tangled with stars. It’s the need to love that can never be restrained. And that, my dear, is how the universe begins.
–excerpt from The Magician:
All the Secrets of the Known World
Eighteen-year-old Colby Keen showed the coin gracefully to the guests at the wedding. Laurel, his 19-year-old bride, sat on a stone bench in the shadows beside some forgotten honeysuckle, quietly rubbing the lace at her wrists of her grandmother’s gown covering scars she gave herself. She did not look at Colby; Laurel had seen tricks before.
So good was Colby at his sleight of hand that even Dorothy Ann Potts, who hadn’t even been invited to the wedding but came boldly anyway marveled, before she called him “some white heathen” under her breath. The young men in crooked ties stopped dancing to inch closer craftily trying to learn the secret, while the women and old ones were surprised and a little shaken or bemused by turns. Their favorite trick, the disappearing/reappearing coin was the one they most couldn’t figure out. Colby made coins appear beside ears, from guest pockets, from the left shirt pocket of his now father-in-law. When he stopped, they all clapped and cheered wanting more. All the guests went back to the reception smiling, all but his bride. So Colby sat down on the bench, pulled the coin, the silver dollar from behind Laurel’s cinnamon-colored ear, and leaned to her. He tipped up her chin with his index finger and he whispered as he handed the coin to her, “I could show you how to do it, if you like.”
On the first day of courting, Night gave Moon a thousand smooth shells. But Moon would not ascend. Daughter of Sea, she had all the shells she could hold.
But Laurel merely smiled and turned away, eyes empty and strange. She didn’t believe in magic.
“They’re supposed to watch the wrong thing, baby” Colby flipped the coin end over end, then took Laurel’s long brown fingers and put them to the back of his hand. Laurel felt the residue of something not quite glue, a little shiny in the moonlight. “Don’t be scared,” Colby said and Laurel knew he didn’t mean the coin or his trick for hiding it. He meant their life starting together. “This is how I do it.” He took her hands in his and held them.
On the tenth time of courting, Night— who was blind— opened his eyes before her, reflected her beauty in his own dark vulnerability, and he told her of his love in languages of worlds he had been to, but she had never known. But Moon, waterfall full and unsure, saw only her paleness and heard only a wave echoing confusion at the tongues he called from. Still, Moon would not ascend.
Folks left them alone, but thought it strange. Hours ago, folks gave up thinking the couple would leave for the honeymoon. Long after the toasts, long after the dancing in the cooling night air, Colby and Laurel were still there. By now, the wedding was pretty much over, and the music was waning, a couple of musicians smoking, then yawning, by the edge of a fence by the garden gate instead of playing. And still the husband and bride rested, didn’t start on their five-day trip to the neighboring town to stay in the Econo Lodge off 29 before she went back to college and he began his welding classes.
On the twenty-ninth time of courting, Night told her what held the stars to him, the secret of the universe and all it held. Their wedding was quiet, a roving push of water, the ceremony of Moon’s arms bound in seaweed, and coral, a wreath around her head. Night sang to Moon of the earth, of mountains and cliffs. And she wanted this new thing, and trembled in indecision.
Laurel thought there was no particular love that needed to be made tonight, nothing they couldn’t make tomorrow or the day after. They had as long a forever as time would give them. So when her husband didn’t rush her, and took off his jacket, put it over her shoulder, in a show of trust and kindness, Laurel leaned her head on his shoulder. And still they sat, quiet, beside the honeysuckle, while Colby showed her the mechanics of magic, the craft of illusion.
Long ago, on the last day of Night’s courting, Sea pulled back, and Night came closer than ever before, and Moon moved from Sea to the edge of light, and Moon remembered every secret Night had ever told. And it was Night’s tears that made a bridge of land for her to cross to him. Moon ascended halfway and turned to her lover, all hope and dreams.
“It’s time to go, Mrs. Keen,” Laurel’s father, Tim Knox, called to his child, careful not to intrude too close to the stone bench and the couple by the honeysuckle. And Laurel never understood how to do the trick herself, only his patient resolve that she try. It is the need to love that cannot be restrained. And that is how the universe begins and lives to tell the tale.