Magic, Birds, and Broken Things

by Emer


Sometimes things really aren't what they seem. For instance, my cousin Delia seems like a normal girl; she enjoys shopping, she whispers about boys, and she worries about her hair. But Delia isn't a normal girl. In fact, she's not a girl at all-she's older than my great grandma Maude. She is, in actuality, my great aunt on my mother's side-but we've had to make her a cousin, or no one would believe us.

It's all that stupid magician's fault. I've only met the man once myself, but I can just tell how incompetent he is. He couldn't pull a rabbit out of a rabbit hutch, but he can go around making old ladies into little girls and little girls into old ladies. Honestly, a person like that aught not to be on the loose at all.

Luckily, Delia isn't any worse for the wear. She says that she always felt she deserved a second chance at it anyway. Dad says it's only fair with having to live on that farm until she was nineteen and getting married straight off it. But at least now she knows it isn't all fun and games for us modern girls either. Especially girls in our family, who are-to phrase it delicately-"special". That's how my mother puts it. I call it accident-prone. But then all my mother has to put up with is attracting good weather. When the garden needs some rain, she goes out driving for a day, and brings the sun with her.

Some girls get special powers-they can wiggle their noses and point their fingers and good things happen. Well, us Harisons got the short end of the stick. Everything I touch (and boy did I get gypped out of some gold) sort of breaks apart. If not immediately, then soon after. Thankfully, people hold up pretty well, though my mother swears I did the wrinkles around her eyes.

Now Delia, I actually feel sorry for her. On a farm it probably wasn't so bad, but here in the suburbs, it can be down right embarrassing. You see, birds-or anything with feathers really-seem to want to follow her around. There have been all kinds of problems: some involving expensive clothing and some involving the unfortunately high ceilings of shopping malls-the ones with sky lights.

But neither of us will ever complain after what happened last Saturday. We were both in high spirits because school was out for a week and because my father had finally agreed to give us a ride into the city where the best shopping centers are.

Delia firmly fastening her wide brimmed hat over her fair head and handed me mine. We believe one can't be to careful. When we first discovered her talent, I was reluctant to have her wear the great ugly hat out in public, but it caused quite a fad to start at school. Of course, the fact that our school now resembles a set in the movie "The Birds" might have had something to do with how well everyone took to their hats.

As for me, I own at least twenty pairs of gloves. Two would really be enough but I like things to match. I have a pair for every occasion and for every outfit I own. I pulled on my teal ones and we marched proudly, arm and arm, out to our car.

Our car is a source of pride and embarrassment to me. It's old enough to be an antique and I've broken it more times than I can count. Dad got it when they discovered my...quirk. It's a simple enough model so he can fix it himself. The boys at school regard it with awe, but it's not so much to look at in rush hour traffic. Or for that matter, negotiating the tricky traffic in the city. I'm not allowed to ride in the good car.

Delia opened the door for me like a footman-no sense in taking unnecessary chances. We talked excitedly about school, and that boy Brad who sits in front of me who we both agree is absolutely hot, while Dad sat in front, humming along to the radio.

Before we knew it we were driving along down 3rd street, trying to maneuver into those tight parking spots across from the bank. My father, normally a very calm person outside of traffic, was having one of his one-sided quarrels with the other drivers. His quest for ever more eloquent curses prevented him from noticing that we were right across from the bank. That's really where we needed to start. I had money there from my summer job. Delia and I gave each other a look as Dad made a rude gesture to the car that had just pulled into his parking space.

"Uh, dad? We'll meet you inside the bank." I slipped this in rapidly between curses.

"Right, alright...Inside." He waved us out absently, glaring daggers at the sleek-looking bar of soap that had just cut him off. We slid hastily out the door and dashed across the street.

The bank was one of those vast marble-clad places with high ceilings that make you want to speak in hushed voices as if you were at a funeral. Delia hates it. It was the whole pigeon episode that did that. Since then, she's gotten quite good at slipping into buildings quickly. She'd managed to allude the birds in our short dash.

Once inside, I took out my bank book and marched up to the line, holding my withdraw slip in one carefully ungloved hand. The line wasn't long by this bank's standards, but it was long enough. I stood jiggling impatiently, and making faces at Delia who was sitting in one of those very clean, uncomfortably firm chairs that they scatter around places like these.

It seemed to take forever. Then finally I found I was the first in line, only I was jostled rudely out of the way.

"Now wait a second!" I began. I felt something cold and metallic brush my bare, ungloved hand. Then I peered down at my chest where I felt a sudden pressure. My heart tripped a little and started to beat faster. The black metal barrel of a gun was poking me in the ribs. I slowly took one step away with my hands raised. The masked person holding the gun barely glanced at me.

" ON THE FLOOR!" He yelled roughly. Everyone obeyed. I saw Delia slither onto the floor from her chair. I looked back at the poor, frightened teller, who was stuffing handfuls of neat stacks of money into the proffered sack. The robber and his two accomplices were waiting impatiently and uneasily, glancing around at all of the people laying on the floor.

At gun point, the teller handed the bag of money over the counter with a look of dazed shock. A hand came down on my back and jerked me forward. I think I heard my new blouse tear, and suddenly I was indignant. This was my vacation! I was supposed to get a new pair of purple gloves today, and here was this masked brute, carrying away all the money. I started to yank myself away until I felt the hard cold metal graze my temple. I froze. I was to be a hostage then. The part of me that wasn't deeply frightened was very slightly amused. To think. Me. A hostage. Like in some movie.

I was being dragged toward the door, and it didn't help that I was scuffing the marble's finish with the soles of my shoes, trying not to be. Then I had an Idea. A wonderful Idea with a capital "I". A flash of brilliance even-though Delia says it was just my typical thoughts. I risked looking at Delia, and then I began to hum the tune to that song that starts out, "Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near." I could see understanding dawn in Delia's face. Then she looked appraisingly at the nearest robber and nodded at me very slightly.

I was nearly to the door when Delia made her move. She came walking slowly towards the door, looking for all the world like there wasn't a dangerous criminal with a gun just behind her. Most of the people were looking at me as if I was stark raving mad. I wasn't so sure I wasn't. The robber must have thought so himself because he hissed, "Shut UP!" in my ear. One of the masked men yelled at Delia to get away from the door. She looked around innocently, with the perfect amount of surprise as if she hadn't the faintest idea what was going on. I've told her she ought to be an actress.

I was hoping that the police were screaming toward us at that very second, and that this delay was helping. The robbers, however, were on the verge of firing shots. Their getaway car was conveniently parked in the space Dad had wanted, just across from the bank.

Our crossing of the street was a painfully slow affair-for the thieves, not Delia and I, because by then Delia's presence had gotten around to almost every bird in the neighborhood and they were lying in wait in the trees outside the bank.

When Delia set foot outside the door, they rose in a symphony of squawks and made straight for us. The robbers, already being quite edgy, were practically in hysterics. Several birds got knocked rudely around after trying to use them as a perch-and excited birds have accidents. Cars slammed on their breaks and honked at the spectacle of waving arms, flurries of feathers, bird droppings, and the terrified shouts of the Robbers. Suffice it to say that by the time we had been dragged across the street I was really wondering where the Police were.

Once at the car, the robbers seemed to realize they still had their hostages in death grips. One shoved Delia off down the street and got into the car. I, too, was pushed away, and I decided they had been rude enough to me for one day, so in my stumble, I deliberately aimed for the hood of the car were the engine resided. My ungloved hand caught me with a satisfying 'thunk' on the cool gray surface. I heard the engine turn over and hurriedly got up but I needn't have worried because the engine didn't catch. Again, the key was turned. This time the car coughed and sort of smoked, then refused to do even that much. Delia and I dashed back across the street, crowded under our hats and protected by birds, to watch.

I was just in time to see the robber with the money jump out of the driver's seat carrying his gun and the sack, and make off down the street. The other two straggled after him.

We watched as they nearly ran down a man wearing a top hat, a tuxedo, and white gloves. He had a perfectly curled mustache. He reached out and grabbed the lead robber. The other two kept running. The one he'd caught swung around and tried to fire his gun in the man's face. I smiled as I remembered how the gun had brushed my hand inside the bank. When nothing happened, the robber dropped his gun, and tried to yank away.

Then the magician rapped the robber on the head with his cane, said a few angry words that were drowned out by distance and car horns, and then he walked away looking righteously annoyed and brushing off his cloak in indignation.

We looked at the robber and watched him slowly shrink and sprout white feathers. After a minute or so a white, rather large goose waddled drunkenly down the street. I think the magician was inspired by the bird droppings and feathers decorating the former robber.

"That's a new one," I commented. Delia nodded.

"I'm glad the Magician wasn't angry at me when I met him," She added. I thought that that must have been the one justified piece of magic he had ever performed.

Dad shouted at us from further down the street. It seemed he'd finally found a parking spot, and that in his efforts, he had entirely missed the events.

"Where are we going first, girls?" he asked, once again in a good mood now that he was no longer part of the traffic battle. I heard police sirens approaching and hoped they wouldn't mind if we just left.

"Well," I said, "I've got to get a new pair of black leather gloves, and then I want that new Stephen King book." We set off down the street. As we turned the corner, I heard the police sirens stop outside the bank, and smiled. A sparrow perched on Delia's shoulder.

Breaking things turned out to be not such a useless gift after all. It isn't every day you get to participate in a bank robbery. And all told, Delia sort of likes birds. She's just discovered that she can talk with them, in fact. Now I find her out in the back yard carrying on whistled conversations with the blue jays and the crows. I told her she should act in a remake of "The Birds".

As for me, I've discovered that things I've made myself don't break when I touch them. Dad has set me to working on the computer and the car. When I'm finished with them, they'll never break again. I'm relieved because now I can learn to drive and Delia doesn't have to type my school papers.

After I've done the computer, maybe I'll invent something of my own.