Tag Archives: Edna McNamara

“Sudden Sight” – Fiction by Edna McNamara

Clairvoyance – Rene Magritte, 1936

The lives of a father-and-son clairvoyant act are turned upside-down by the arrival of a mysterious woman in “Sudden Sight,” Edna McNamara‘s seductive short story from our Summer 2017 issue.

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I WATCHED MY SON MAKE A FOOL OF HIMSELF IN THE WET HEAT of a June night somewhere outside of Lewes. Under the wings of a drooping tent, Billy larked about on the stage pretending to be talented. Pretending to be a first-class mind reader. Pretending to be me—though at 17, he’d set himself an impossible task. Unlike my performance, his routine lacked style and refinement, despite having followed me up and down the East Coast as the lesser half of The Clairvoyant William Asgard & Son. He’d been listening to my patter since his birth at the end of ‘14 but still hadn’t cottoned on. That evening I’d offered him a golden opportunity, yet there he was, the buffoon. People laughing in his face.

“La-Dees and Gen-Tel-Men.” In his spit-shined boots, Billy swayed, one tetchy foot to the other. He gawped, plucked at his third-hand suit. “I will now read the mind of a member of this audience. Someone come on up here next to me.” Like a bad waiter, he flapped at a chair on the stage while mumbles rolled through the crowd. “I promise it don’t hurt, folks.”

Maybe thirty or so lounged on their small-town backsides in the tent we’d rented from an evangelist with a sore throat. A good deal for a rainy night. Trapped under the canvas, I saw shadows quiver with bugs killing time, waiting for an opportunity. The Lord only knew what infections and fevers these folks’d carry home as souvenirs. Like the preacher man said, He moved in mysterious ways.

And there was Billy, working himself up. “You, sir?” He pointed to a man stuffed into a yellow shirt and red suspenders. “No? How about the pretty girl on the side there?” His hand swept the tent. “I guarantee you’ll be amazed.”

No one looked put out by his low-class tricks. We charged little, enough to cover room and board in a cut-rate hotel. Times were hard here along the Delaware coast. Hell, times were tough all over. Almost two years since the market crash in ‘29, folks were just trying to keep their families together. Feed them. Find jobs. Have a good time, laugh. And Billy pulled them in. My son’s a nice boy, easy on the eye. Shorter than most but no noticeable defects. Blond and blue-eyed, he took after his mother.

“Come on, folks,” Billy tried again. Like kids at Sunday school, the crowd giggled and poked each other, but no one volunteered. Sweat bowled down my spine as I bore the heat of the godforsaken tent, and even the yellowed grass below my feet had given up the Holy Ghost. The air oozed with the stench of farmers fresh from the barn. Housewives in dull cottons smelling as sharp and bitter as their dung-spattered men. Why in the hell had I chosen this place?

Still, no one moved. I pondered yelling fire until a woman stood up.

“Thank you, miss, step right up.” With a grin like he’d been saved, Billy slapped his palms together. “Let’s give this lovely lady a hand.”

My first glimpse of her, she was dainty. Skirt gathered in a gloved hand, she climbed to the stage with an eye-catching waggle. Older than Billy, maybe ten years younger than me, but within kissing distance of 30. Some might have thought her pretty with her satiny dress, her neat little hat and purse, but I was partial to a certain type. I decided to watch and see.

Billy stepped forward. “May I have your name?” A tough breeze hustled through the flapping tent and chewed up her words. To hear better, I strolled to the side of the stage where her perfume sugared me like a twirl of cotton candy. She cocked her head and repeated her name. “Miss Eliza Reynolds.” I swear she batted her painted eyes.

“Your hand, Miss Reynolds.” Billy led her to the chair in the center of the stage. “Now, close your eyes. I promise it won’t hurt.”

That’s when I saw him look at the woman. Look at her as if sudden sight’d galvanized a blind man. Like he’d realized that there, her hand clutching his, sat an honest-to-God real live woman. Despite my help, Billy’d always been a bit backward in picking things up. Or so I’d thought.

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