Scott found the dove in his utensil drawer. He wasn’t startled to see it, and fortunately it didn’t seem very concerned, either. He opened the drawer and the dove stretched out its neck, turning its head to look at Scott. It didn’t fly out, so he assumed it had clipped wings.
When he approached the dove, it stood up, but nothing more. He picked it up with both hands, feeling the bird’s heart beating against its ribcage.
“How did you manage to end up in there?” Scott said. The bird didn’t react to him. Instead it looked down towards the drawer it came from. “I’m talking to you, buddy,” Scott said while pulling the dove closer to his face.
He realized it was probably his son’s dove, and if it were, the thing may have been in the drawer for at least four weeks. He wondered if birds could survive that long without food or water, if that even made sense biologically. He walked upstairs with the dove in his hands and opened Marcus’s room.
Marcus didn’t work with animals in his act—he didn’t even really have an act to begin with. He had some of the props that other amateur magicians used—the top hats and playing cards and gold coins. Scott knew he wanted to eventually move to animals but that he didn’t have the skill to handle something that wasn’t in on the trick.
He expected to find a cage at least, but saw only the same bed Marcus had had since middle school, and a desk covered in books and playing cards. Scott took a few steps into the room to make sure the cage wasn’t hiding in a closet, but there wasn’t one to be found. When he thought about it, he never remembered Marcus ever saying he had a bird.
“Well,” he said to himself. He stepped to Marcus’s bed and let the dove walk out of his hands on to the comforter. He left it there while he got birdseed from the feeder in the front yard and a bowl of water. He didn’t want the animal to die, but he also didn’t want to look after it while his son was wasting money in Munich. He’d let the dove stay in Marcus’s room and when Marcus came back he could take the punishment of having his stuff covered in dove shit. Scott couldn’t understand why Marcus didn’t tell him about the bird. Even if it was a practical joke, he shouldn’t have left it up to chance that Scott would discover it. That’d be something worth getting angry over—a dead bird in the utensil drawer.
He went back to the drawer and removed all the spatulas and forks and knives to put into the dishwasher. He didn’t see any messes from the bird, which confused him.
Scott expected a phone call from Marcus before he took off from Munich. He wasn’t allowed to use a phone or computer while in the program, but Scott assumed he’d at least get a message from his son telling him if and when he needed a ride back home from Newark. So when the phone rang late that night, he wasn’t surprised. It was later than he expected, maybe, but not so late it couldn’t be Marcus saying he missed his flight or just touched down—in which case he’d need to spend the night in Newark, as Scott wasn’t driving three hours to get him.
Just before picking up the phone, he decided to keep the dove a secret—to act like he hadn’t found it. Even if Marcus alluded to it, Scott would simply feign ignorance and see how well his son did keeping the concern out of his voice.
He answered the phone, and when the airline representative told him the plane was missing, Scott made a sound like a cough. The representative asked him what he said, so Scott said nothing.
“Nothing,” he said. Nothing, like the noise was an accident. Nothing, like the plane.
“It’s still very early,” the representative said.
Scott thought about how many people the representative called before dialing him. How many people wailed or shouted or made a sound like a cough. He thought about whether they called by last name or by seat number. Scott tried to think of anything but his son falling out of the sky on his way home.
“There is every reason to believe the flight will be found soon.”
“But right now it’s not found,” Scott said.
“That’s correct, Mr. Bell. Right now it’s lost. Missing, I mean to say.”
“I know what you meant. Okay. Okay then.”
The representative gave him a number to call and told him it was alright to watch the news, but to wait for the airline to call before doing anything. Anything, in this case, meaning to fall apart. Anything meaning to make arrangements for Marcus’s funeral.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Are you calling people alphabetically or by seat number?”
“Uh, well I don’t really know, sir. They gave me a list.”
“I really didn’t want to know. Thank you for calling me.”
Scott sat down on the living room floor because it felt like what he should do. He tried to remember the last thing he said to Marcus before he disappeared into the other travelers. He remembered the obnoxious amount of luggage Marcus had with him and the way the terminal drop-off echoed so loudly with the noise of cars and shouting that Scott needed to yell whatever he said to Marcus—but he couldn’t remember what he said. He started to cry, thinking of his son turning away and struggling with all his luggage while Scott got into his car and drove off, thankful for the month without a college-aged boy eating all of his food and creeping around his house late at night.
The next day, an envelope appeared in his mailbox. It was white and made of thick-stock paper, crisp and without anything on it except a German word written in thin black marker. The handwriting looked clearly like his son’s.
Scott opened it to find only the corner of a playing card, a K in red. He put the piece back into the envelope and walked up the stairs to Marcus’s room.
The dove was on the floor, and walked a few steps away from the door when Scott opened it. He put the envelope under his son’s pillow to stop the dove from destroying it and also to stop himself from seeing it. He didn’t want the envelope out. He wanted it hidden away.
Scott threw more seed on the carpet for the dove and closed the room again. He knew he’d need to do something with the bird and the envelope and the room, but not yet.
Scott woke up to his phone, which he put to his ear before his eyes opened.
“Mr. Bell, we found the plane. There are no survivors. I’m so sorry.”
“Are you the same person who called me before? Is this a prank?”
“I’m from the airline, from Tranflight. I’ve spoken to you before.”
“What did you say? What did you find?”
Scott walked to his TV and clicked it on. He saw a shaky image of a plane’s tail just above what looked like a large lake.
“I said they—we—found the plane. It was located just east of Lisbon, in the Tagus River.”
“It looks like a lake. Like the ocean.”
“Yes, Mr. Bell.”
Scott watched as the cameraman’s boat circled around the wreck. It looked like the plane itself remained intact, though Scott knew the reporter wouldn’t be allowed close enough to really see. The image changed to a helicopter view, the plane looking like a pale, dead fish just starting to float to the top of the water.
“There are no survivors,” the representative said again.
“No, I guess there couldn’t be, not in all that water.”
“I’m watching CNN.”
“It’s all long shots. Outside of the plane. It looks like it’s together, unless this is only the tail. I thought I saw the rest of it when they were above it, though.”
“I haven’t seen the footage.”
“Do you think I’ll see my son?”
“I mean, or bodies at all. Would CNN show that?”
“I don’t know. Mr. Bell, I don’t know if you should watch the live coverage.”
“I don’t think it’s live.”
“What else is there to do?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Nope. You don’t.”
“Is there anything I can do for you before I let you go?”
“No, I just want to watch the news.”
“Okay. I’m so sorry again, Mr. Bell. I wish I had better news.”
“I don’t know how you could.”
Scott hung up as the video went back to the studio, where a reporter said they were not showing the next part of the tape out of respect for family members and the deceased. He didn’t realize he pushed over the TV until the sound of it crashing down filled his bedroom.
Later, after telling work he needed bereavement leave and calling relatives, he let the dove go.
He drove away from his neighborhood and to the disappearing farmlands of the countryside. Scott knew the dove wouldn’t make it—that a fox or a cat or anything would find the bird—but the thought of having the thing in his house was too much. Having the bird alive in his son’s room—in the room his son would never see covered in dove shit—he couldn’t think of how horrible it made him feel.
The spot he chose was only remarkable in that it was shielded from any houses by a row of trees. The field next to the trees was just starting to sprout. He couldn’t tell what.
Scott opened the shoebox he had stuffed the dove in and threw it out the window. He didn’t look as he did it, but he heard the dove flap its wings and land on the ground with a soft thud. He put the car into drive and took the long way home, listening to the periodic updates from NPR on the crash site. The two updates he heard explained how the black box was recovered, and how they wouldn’t know what was on it until investigators released the information.
Scott wondered if he’d know before the general public. If the airline gave him that sort of closure before the morning news gave it to him without any idea he was watching.
It was only when he got home that Scott realized he’d left his phone in Marcus’s room. He heard a final ring while he bounded up the steps even though he knew it was impossible to hear good news. He waited for the caller to leave a message, which he listened to immediately, even though he knew exactly who it was and who to call.
The phone rang once before someone picked up.
“Tranflight, how may I direct your call?”
“My son was in the crash.”
“Let me transfer you to your contact. What is the name of the passenger?”
The phone clicked to silence for a few seconds, and then Scott heard someone breathing and the noise of people talking in the background.
“So you stick with the same list the whole time?”
“I guess you’re not sleeping much.”
“It’s not important. Thank you for calling me back. I hope you are doing okay.”
“That’s good to hear. I called you because I need to arrange a time for you to meet with us. We need to make particular arrangements now that the plane has been found.”
“Do you have his body? Do you have my son’s body now?”
“No, Mr. Bell. It will take time to recover and identify all of the victims. We just want to make sure you are prepared when the time comes.”
“I’m not ready for any of this.”
“I understand, sir. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sorry you need to go through this.”
“I’m not ready to have this conversation.”
“I understand. May I call you back some other time?”
“Would tomorrow be alright?”
Scott hung up the phone before answering and breathed in the smell of bird and mustiness filling his son’s room.
“I’m not ready,” he said.
The man on the other end didn’t have a strong accent, and it made Scott doubt at first whether he dialed the correct number.
“Are you the one who runs the Magician Academy?”
“I am him, yes, though it is not only I who runs it. My wife helps, of course.”
The man whispered everything he said, which Scott thought was some way to make him sound mysterious, but then remembered the time difference.
“I can call back—I forgot that it must be late in Munich.”
“Very early,” the man said. “But I am happy to help with a small thing from a call so far away.”
“It’s about my son.”
“Does he wish to enroll?”
“He already did. Marcus Bell.”
“Ah, Marcus, yes. He just finished a few weeks ago. You are his father I think?”
“He will be returning I think; he did quite well in the summer.”
“He was on the flight that went down in Portugal.”
“No. My God. Herr Bell, I am shocked to learn this. I didn’t know. I knew he was going but didn’t ask what flight. I am shocked.”
“Please—things have been happening.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Mr. Engs, things happened to me I don’t know how to explain, really.”
“An envelope was delivered to my mailbox a few days after I learned of the crash. It had German handwriting on it and looked like my son wrote it. It looked like Marcus’s handwriting.”
“He wrote to you?”
“No—there was no postage, and nothing inside but a piece of a playing card.”
“Did you teach him some trick—some illusion with playing cards and envelopes?”
“Yes, of course. Playing cards are used very much as a trick with early students.”
“Before that, I found a dove in a drawer of my kitchen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, Mr. Engs. It was a trained dove—it didn’t react to me when I opened the drawer. Do you work with doves, too?”
“I think you know what I’m getting at here.”
“I don’t know that I do.”
“The envelope. The dove. They are tricks you were teaching him. They were magic he was learning from your academy.”
“Herr Bell, I don’t know what you’re suggesting.”
“I’m suggesting that he actually did it. Is that possible?”
“No. No, it isn’t. I don’t know magic—magic isn’t real. What I teach is illusion—tricks of the hand and eye. I don’t teach magic.”
“But could he have learned it anyway?”
“Herr Bell, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not possible.”
Scott moved the phone to his other ear and walked into Marcus’s room. He reached under the pillow and felt the envelope.
“The envelope has a word on it. On the front of it.”
“That is a girl’s name. My wife’s name.”
“You see. Do you see what I’m saying. That proves it.”
“Sir, I think you are being tricked.”
“Who would know that name? Who has my son’s handwriting?”
“You have been through a loss. Please, I think you need some time. Some help,” the man said.
“Is it possible that he wasn’t on the plane?”
“I mean—if he was able to make the dove appear and the envelope appear—”
“You are not making sense. I am sorry for your grief but you are speaking nonsense. I hope you get help, Herr Bell.”
Scott heard the line go dead but held the phone to his ear anyway. He flipped open the flap of the envelope and looked at the red K inside.
“Gitte,” he said aloud. “Gitte, Gitte.” Like it was a magic word. Like it would bring the rest of the card back, too.
Three days later he got the phone call that they didn’t find his son—that the section of the plane his son was in was gone—broken off from the rest of the fuselage. The airline representative told him that they’d be searching the river for him and for the rest of the wreckage. Scott wanted to tell them not to bother. He wanted to tell them that they wouldn’t find anything, because his son wasn’t there.
When he drove out of his neighborhood to the disappearing farmlands, he tried to remember every early card trick he taught his son. He thought of each disappearing kerchief or magic coin. He thought of what he said to Marcus in the airport but it was gone, a puff of smoke. He drove to the spot where he dropped the dove in the shoebox. Scott expected to see it there, pecking at the ground and flapping its useless wings. When it wasn’t, he pulled the car off the road and got out to look for the shoebox.
He thought of when his son said he wanted to be a magician. He thought of how sure Marcus was about using his summer vacation to travel and learn from the academy in Munich. Scott recalled every cheap top hat his son had bought from eight to eighteen and all the little trinkets he hid inside of them.
The shoebox he found was sagging from the humidity and dampness of the air. It didn’t look like it was damaged in any way other than what the morning dew had managed to inflict. He kneeled beside it and put his hands over the top.
“Gitte,” he said, moving his hands around in a circle.
“Marcus,” he whispered as he gripped it from both sides and lifted it up.
And when he looked under the box, he knew his son would be found. That he’d be in the river and among some other wreckage away from the main fuselage.
Scott turned the shoebox back over the carcass and knew magic wasn’t real.
Photo By: Ken Douglas