There’s a knock at the door. Mom opens the door and who’s standing there? Why it’s world-class magician Doug Henning. Mom invites Doug inside. They stand in the kitchen. Doug says, Is Charlie home? Mom tells Doug that not only is Charlie not home, but that he hasn’t been home for years because he’s dead. Doug puts his hands on Mom’s shoulder and tells her how sorry he is. Then he reaches into his jacket and pulls out a chubby joint. He asks Mom if he can light it and Mom says yes. Doug pats himself down and then asks Mom if she has a lighter because he can’t find his. Mom says she doesn’t have a lighter. Doug says, No problem and produces a flame out of the tip of his thumb. Mom and Doug sit down at the kitchen table and talk about Charlie. Mom tells Doug that Charlie died in a motorcycle accident. Doug smokes the entire joint and pulls out another one. This time he lights it with his other thumb. He offers Mom’s kid a hit and Mom says she doesn’t want her kid smoking until he’s at least a teenager. While Doug and Mom are talking the kid turns on the television. On the sports channel a hockey player is being interviewed. The hockey player says that the reason he has decided to retire so young is because he’s met a woman and she doesn’t want him to play hockey anymore and he’d rather be with the woman than play hockey. The interviewer asks the hockey player what could possibly be the reason this woman would not want him to play hockey anymore, especially since he’s right in the middle of what could a historic season, what with him making a run at the consecutive games with a goal scored record, and the hockey player says he’s not at liberty to discuss the reason, that it’s between him and the woman he loves. The interviewer wishes the hockey the best of luck in all his future endeavors, and the hockey player gives the camera a look (the kid doesn’t understand what the look means, and he never will, because the kid has trouble reading not only other peoples’ facial expressions, but his own as well), a silent plea for help, as if the hockey player is a hostage and being forced to put on a happy face for the public, as if he wants someone to step him and help (without him having to ask), to stop him from making what he knows is going to be the biggest mistake of his life, but the look also makes it seem as if he knows no one can help him, that he’s on his own, and that’s what the look means, this sad, apologetic look he gives to the camera, which then mercilessly cuts away from the hockey player to highlights from a college football game. Mom tells the kid to turn down the television. She says it’s too loud, but it’s not too loud, it’s just that Doug is too soft-spoken. The kid decides to turn off the television instead, because if he can’t hear something then he doesn’t want to look at it either. Mom walks Doug to the front door, tells him it’s nice to see him again after all these years. Doug says he’s going to be starring in show, it’s called Merlin, it’s a musical with illusions, and he’ll leave some tickets for her and the kid if they want. Mom says, Thanks, Doug. Doug says, My pleasure, and the kid watches as Mom and Doug hug. Then he watches as Doug gets on the ground, sits in the lotus position, and slowly floats up, up, and away.
On the way home he had a vision. He had been doing his breathing exercises, focusing on nothing but his breath and the road, and then, in a moment of perfect clarity, he had a vision, and in the vision he was sitting in front of a slot machine, the Dolly Parton slot machine, and dropping in a quarter and watching as the sparkling butterflies lined up three in a row and then listening to the sirens go off and blinking at the swirling lights and flinching at the coins tumbling out in a glorious torrent of metal chatter. As soon as the vision was over he put on his blinker, changed lanes and switched freeways. His wife woke up and asked him where they were going. “We’re going to Vegas,” he told her. His wife protested, said something about how it was Sunday, how the kids – still asleep in the back – had school tomorrow and how he had work and they just couldn’t up and take a trip to Vegas. He said he couldn’t turn around, he had a vision, they were going to Vegas, and short of pushing him out of a the car – while it was moving – and taking control of the steering wheel – there was nothing she could do about it. He explained to his wife that he had had a vision and if someone was lucky, really lucky, they might have a vision like his once in their life. His wife said she didn’t care, and his kids, after they awoke, complained the whole way, but he didn’t care either, he simply blocked them out, focused on his breathing, and in what seemed like minutes – to him at least – they were in Vegas, walking briskly through a casino, and then standing in front of the very slot machine he had seen in his vision. He put in a quarter, hit the button, and watched the symbols spin. On his first turn they didn’t come up sparkling butterflies, as they didn’t on his third, tenth, twentieth, fiftieth, and one hundredth turns. By that time his family was ensconced in a booth at the hotel buffet. His wife absent-mindedly stabbed at an over-cooked piece of prime rib and his children poked at their hot fudge sundaes. He showed up two hours after he had promised and made a joke about how even though his vision had been incorrect this was going to be an experience they would all remember and laugh about in the future. When he said this he looked specifically at his kids, who, years later, would have no recall of this event, as they had formed no memories around it (they had most likely blacked it out, as they were want to do with events fitting snugly into the “bored beyond belief” category), and told their father as such every time he mentioned it, which was often, especially during the latter stages of senile dementia, when his family preferred to believe that everything he said was either a fabrication or a random nugget of meaningless coherence inside another word salad.
Gottfried Steinwhik loved his country. That’s why he joined. He saw that she was under attack from the deadliest form of human bacteria and it scared him. Because he didn’t want to lose her. Everything he was he was because of Germany. The problem, however, is that Gottfried’s fundamental nature did not lend itself to being part of a group. So from the very outset he was alienated from the other men in his regiment. Another problem he had was that he did not know how to communicate if he was not communicating with a woman. In his daily life Gottfried had always been the one giving orders, so to find himself in a position where he was the one taking orders made him very uncomfortable, and most likely exacerbated his reticence. But he did what he was told. No one can say that Gottfried didn’t jump right in and do his job. His job was to be a good soldier, and that’s what he was. No one bothered him and he bothered no one. He fought hard and only spoke occasionally, leading his fellow soldiers to believe that he did not care for them and was only fighting for himself. Towards the end of the war, though, when it appeared that he was going to survive, Gottfried started to feel guilty that he had not made any lasting relationships with his fellow soldiers. Death was abundant. Even the horses could sense the end. Buildings had burst open and cities had crumbled. These are usually the very circumstances under which men, despite their differences in class or religion, come together and make bonds which last a lifetime. Not Gottfried. He remained untethered, without any connection to those he fought alongside with, and it engendered in him a strong sense of remorse, which he vowed he would one day rectify given half a chance. As soon as Gottfried returned home he slipped back into his role as one of the most feared and powerful pimps in the city. The women who worked for him had waited, which alternately delighted Gottfried and filled him with disgust. And so he decided to alter his business plan. No longer would he deal in the procurement of women. Instead, he slowly and methodically built up a rather large stable of young men who were eager to work and provide their services to the shell-shocked and sex-starved denizens of the dark and decadent burg of Berlin. His demeanor, which was naturally taciturn to begin with, had been forged through battle into a pitch black mask of harshness. The boys were so frightened of Gottfried that they anticipated his every whim and soon he was making more money than he had before World War I, enough to buy off the already corrupt authorities and leave him to flourish in peace. It was no different once the Fuhrer came to power, as those closest to him availed themselves of Gottfried’s services on an almost weekly basis. A paranoid lot, they did not question Gottfried’s patriotism, and as soon as war broke out in 1939 Gottfried confirmed his loyalties by signing up for duty. It was with great humility that he accepted his own regiment of young men and lead them into battle. Were it not for the weakened resolve of his fellow Germans the war surely would have been won, and perhaps Gottfried would not have ended up bleeding to death in the Ardennes Forest, surrounded by his men, who, despite Gottfried’s exquisite conditioning and command, still did not understand that despite the circumstances, one must always look their best and affect the countenance of the indifferent. As Gottfried clutched his gut all he could focus on were the unholy amount of untucked shirts, dirty shoes and furrowed brows within his purview. Most unattractive, to say the least.