Like Magic

by Sue Mell

It seemed delightful at first, the magician making the rounds on the 6th floor of the rehabilitation center where my mom was recovering from a fall. Then it grew to be a bit much—his acting as though this were his own personal stage, and not a room shared by four elderly women on Medicare. He liked making a big fuss with the privacy curtains: whoosh, whoosh, alakazam, and all that. But Mrs. Uriga complained, claiming this stirred up the dust, despite the floor being waxed and polished, the surfaces wiped down with pungent cleansers, at inconvenient times nearly every day. Miss Cho was the one in need of a nebulizer for congestion in her lungs, and it didn’t bother her—though, like the rest of us, Mrs. Uriga’s loud and constant complaining did.

“Too bad he can’t make her disappear,” I muttered the hundredth time The Amazing Rodney, as he called himself, was pulling Ensure pudding cups out of a ratty—and seemingly bottomless—top hat. Rodney was his middle name, he confessed to me apropos of nothing, and when I next looked up Mrs. Uriga wasn’t there, just a slight dent in the cotton blanket where she’d lain. “Put her back,” I said, appalled. “And stay away from my mom, you little freak.”

“What’s that?” said my mom, stirring from the nap allotted by a dose of Percocet.

“Nothing,” I said, leaning forward slightly to block her view. “You just rest.” She closed her eyes and I widened mine, pointed across the room, and mouthed the words, Put. Her. Back.

With a suit-yourself shrug, The Amazing drew the curtain around Mrs. Uriga’s bed and a moment later her nasal carping resumed.

“This used to be a nice place—I was here years ago, visiting my friend—but now it’s all gone to shit, you know what I’m saying? Can you watch what you’re doing with that wand? Slowly—Jesus! You’ll stir up the dust.”

He swept the curtain aside and took a deep bow, one last pudding cup plopping from his hat to the floor.

“Aw, crap,” he said, as I gave him a waggish round of applause.

“What is that?” said Mrs. Uriga. “Is that mustard? Mustard on the floor?”

I tipped my chair back. “Butterscotch, I believe.”



She tugged at the tails of the magician’s tux. “What’d she say? She broke her watch?”

The Amazing did not look at either of us, though I thought I heard the smallest sigh as he used an unending string of colorful scarves to mop pudding from the floor.


Sue Mell holds an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and several of her stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Like Magic”?

Last January, my 88-year-old mom fell down the stairs in her home and spent 3 1/2 months in a skilled nursing facility recovering from multiple fractures. I spent 4-5 days a week there, keeping her company and boosting her often failing morale. In early Feb, I took a terrific online flash fiction workshop with Kathy Fish. After the workshop ended, I recycled the prompts to generate more new work. The one that led to “Like Magic” called for writing a less than 500-word piece in which you took a commonplace setting—a bar, a restaurant, a hospital room—and inserted an unexpected detail. At the time, my mom was fairly depressed and still in a lot of pain. When one of her 3 quiet roommates was sent back to the hospital, her bed was filled with a woman who was extremely hard of hearing but had no hearing aid and, because of what I now understand to be mid-stage dementia, was unbearably loud, repetitive, and crass—often to the point of lewdness. Sad for 200, as a social worker I know says. I wanted—I needed—to make something at least a little bit funny out of all of that.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


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