Sunday, July 2, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Yeung
Name: Adelle Yeung
Genre: YA historical urban fantasy
Title: The House with Two Faces
Polino’s specialty was bringing his headless dove back to life.
Every afternoon in Union Square, during his magic finale, Polino reveled in the gasps and uncertain smiles of his audience. Some huddled to shield each other from the chill of the fog, or perhaps they needed the comfort after witnessing a teenage boy slice off his innocent bird’s head. Polino’s grin meant to assure them that everything was under control. Anyone could harm a helpless animal, but only a magnificent magician could reverse the damage.
Polino waved a red silk handkerchief over Merlin’s head and the wooden box containing the rest of the ring-necked dove. With one last dramatic flourish, Polino swept the handkerchief away and revealed the unharmed Merlin, his gray wings spread as if to say, “Ta-dah!”
The onlookers erupted into applause. Women in cloche hats sighed with relief and delight. Men in fedoras and bowlers nodded at Polino as they dropped spare change in the magician’s newsboy cap. Polino beamed and bowed as they passed, noticing again that the only one who didn’t clap or tip was the pretty woman in the periwinkle coat.
Every day for the past week, she had watched Polino’s act from beginning to end, wearing a perpetually pleasant smile. It wasn’t a condescending one, nor was it overly amused. It was knowing.
After all, she was the only one in the audience who knew Polino’s greatest illusion: he was actually a girl.
As the crowd trickled away, Paula’s smile faded as the woman approached her. She often caught the gaze of men in the crowd, with her heart-shaped alabaster face, rose-kissed cheeks, and striking blue eyes that matched her coat. Unlike many modern ladies, who wore their hair boyishly short and stuffed into berets or cloches, this woman’s sleek, long black hair flowed freely down her back. The last few times they spoke, Paula had noticed something uncanny about the way her head moved, as if the movement of her shoulders had a mind of their own.
The woman proved herself to be a pest, and Paula knew what she’d say before she parted her luscious lips.
“Master Mortison is holding auditions right now. You can still make it on time.” Her voice was melodic and syrupy sweet, and it would have worked magic on the men who stared at her, but Paula did not share their desires.
Maintaining her boyish tone, but straining politeness, Paula said, “Thank you for the reminder.”
She would have liked to say, “Beat it!” but Paula didn’t want to shoot her career in the foot. Talent agents might be scouting anywhere.
Paula secured Merlin into his brass traveling cage, packed her props, and stuffed the coins from her hat into her jacket pockets. She wiggled the newsboy cap over her dark hair and said, “Best of luck on your own auditions, Miss.” She clasped her trunk shut. Its wheels crunched against damp gravel as she left her post at the Dewey Monument.
“It is wasted potential, girlie.”
Paula turned around and forced a smile. She dropped her masculine voice; Polino had stepped away from his stage, and Paula needn’t prolong the act. “I appreciate your advice. I do. But I will not settle for a lesser position simply so I can perform in a ritzy theater.”
“Under Master Mortison’s employment, you won’t have to worry about scrounging enough coins to pay next month’s rent.”
“Go razz some other gal, why don’t you?” Shaking her head, Paula started down Geary.
For the past few days, the woman had notified Paula of Master Mortison’s open casting call for a new lovely assistant. Two blocks south of Union Square, on Ellis Street, the glamorous, glittering lights of the Cort Theater illuminated the weekly show posters of the handsome magician. The mere Polino would only become “The Great Polino” after performing in such an upstanding, inside venue. But Paula refused to audition as a nameless assistant. She had more pride than to stand on stage as living furniture.
Paula’s pockets jingled as she rolled her trunk down Geary. The weight of the coins stretched her jacket. It was more than she earned when she performed as a girl, and Paula knew she could pay December’s rent on time.
As Paula neared her apartment on the corner of Geary and Leavenworth, her shoulders sagged. She could already hear the croak of Mister O’Brien, her landlord. The old grump didn’t have the heart to evict her, despite his nagging to pay rent on time, and Paula ignored him until she could slip him enough loose change.
“Miss Mendez!” his voice graveled from beyond the shadows of the front desk. “Hard at work, I hear.” He meant the clinking of her pockets.
“I already paid you off last Tuesday,” Paula said.
“Well, good afternoon to you too.”
Paula rolled her trunk into the tiny, creaky elevator, recalling the prior. She had dressed as a girl that day. It was, after all, the first time women all over the country could vote, but Paula was three years away from the age of majority.
Still, on her eighteenth birthday, Paula had filed for emancipation from her foster mother, Margaret Sullivan. Paula bore no resentment for the woman who had raised her since she was four, but Mama Sully struggled with Paula’s nine foster siblings, and Paula figured that making any money at all—no matter how much she struggled—meant she could sign her own lease.
Paula didn’t consider the tiny, dim apartment a real home, but it was somewhere she could sleep, wash, and eat, and Merlin didn’t complain about the tight quarters or the lingering odor of laundry that had never dried properly. After locking her front door, Paula released Merlin from his traveling cage and spread seed for him over the kitchen’s folding table. She emptied her pockets into a ceramic container with the rest of her money and grinned at the small heap of tarnished, linty coins.
She started undressing before she even reached her bedroom, longing for the release of an unbound chest. The long strip of tight cloth unraveled from her flattened breasts, and Paula slouched forth with a sigh as the last inch curled into a roll.
In the shower, as hot water sprayed her face, Paula considered her closing act. Reattaching Merlin’s head was becoming her signature illusion, but Polino wasn’t a one-trick pony.
All Paula’s best acts included Merlin the dove as her assistant. Whenever he was visible, Paula ensured he had something to do, like pull a handkerchief from her pocket or choose an audience member from the crowd. He had no reason to complain he was a mere prop. He also couldn’t talk.
As she was drying off, Paula jumped at a crash, but thought little of it. Her next door neighbors were notoriously clumsy and had even knocked over a full bookcase once. Six months after repairing the floor, Mister O’Brien still hadn’t let them hear the end of it.
When Paula emerged from the steamy bathroom, she discovered it wasn’t the next door neighbors, after all, but an intruder. At Paula’s gasp, Merlin flew to her head.
Beneath dusty incandescent light, the woman in the periwinkle coat stood before the kitchen table. The splintered doorknob lay on the floor, and she had made a poor attempt at shutting the door. Although she whimpered, her porcelain face stared at Paula, with that eerie, pleasant smile.