“Want to see a magic trick?” he says, holding out a deck of cards. His eyes are gray and blue, translucent specks of mica. Bubby is close to tears, distracting himself with card tricks. I stop what I am doing and let him perform, watch as he reads my mind and announces, proudly, that I picked the ace of spades. He is never wrong.
My nine-year-old brother is bullied at school. A tall boy shoves him to the ground during recess and calls him stupid; another day he is punched in the stomach. He goes to school every day hoping that this time, someone will want to be his friend and brings home papers without a single missed question on them. At home, I can tell his mood from the direction he points his dimpled chin.
Bree is the middle child, stuck with me on one side and Bubby on the other. Bubby yells at her because she sings too much, but Bree can’t help herself, and she starts again after a minute and he starts yelling again. It is a never-ending cycle of noise. I’m just glad she has a voice that would put any auto-tuned pop diva to shame. Still, the two of them could be a sitcom; their arguments sound so rehearsed. He goes back to showing me how to do a Hindu shuffle and laughs when I drop the cards.
If I am home, I drive Bubby to school. He tells me to call him Braden and stops talking before I even pull into the parking lot, nervous about what might happen. On bad days when he has to be coerced into going to school at all, he snaps at me to turn off my radio and slams the door of my car shut without saying goodbye. His shoulders hunch under the weight of his Star Wars backpack. He doesn’t wave before he walks into the building.
One day, he brings home a new type of paper: he has missed every question, and tells Mom that his new friend helped him with the answers. I will never understand the cruelty of children. His teacher doesn’t count the grade against him. She knows what goes on when her back is turned for a second too long.
Bubby watches videos explaining sleight of hand. He shuts and locks his bedroom door to practice. We can hear him warming up, performing over and over again to an audience of LEGO before he comes out to show us what he’s learned. At home, he is a natural performer with a ringmaster’s appreciation for overblown gestures and a smile that could fleece Scrooge out of his last dime. When we go out to eat on the weekend, he flirts with the waitress and tells us she’s his girlfriend.
I want to tell him to walk up to the tall kid and pop him right in the nose during recess on Monday. I think they’ll leave him alone if he fights back. Instead he will stand there and let them push him around, wait for them to hit him or call him an idiot, and then he will offer to show them a magic trick.
Bailey Shoemaker Richards is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. She is also a feminist activist and a member of SPARK. She spends her free time writing, reading, playing video games and watching Doctor Who. She is passionate about grassroots activism, media critique and giving a voice to young women.