The River Card, Part II

A buddy of mine has a daughter, now about five. The first newborn I’d ever held, Audrey was.

Now, she is razor sharp, like her moms n’ pops. I visited them recently, impromptu pizza. Usually, we do magic together, a vanishing act where she materializes from the ether.

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“Do you want to do the magic trick?” Audrey whispers in my ear.

“You know, never show a trick twice,” I tell her. “They’ll figure it out.”

“Do you have more magic?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I respond. “Do you have cards?” A week ago, I never would have asked this of a five-year-old. But mom just told me that my nephew, Raphael, had learned cards. And, apparently, a victory pose when he holds the inside straight.

Audrey says she does, but they’re Disney cards, with princesses and ogres and elves and fairies. Even better, I say. I examine them, ask if she knows what the “K” card means.

“King,” she says. And I see mom was right; that is the age kids get the card concept. Audrey knows all the face cards, that a Queen trumps a Jack, any day. I show her a trick, which falls flat like weekend soda. There’s no hiding it in a kid’s face, that ‘uh-huh’ shrug.

“Know any others?” she asks. No way I win this room, I deduce.

“Why don’t I show you a card game?” I ask. “Do you know how to play War?” She comes up to table, for the basic instructions: one card each, bigger card wins both.

Then she asks something that makes me understand how kids magic is probably way too simple-minded, like its practitioners.

“What are the Aces worth?” she says. I suggest 11, the biggest card.

“Isn’t it sometimes a 1?” she presses, already skeptical after my failed illusion.

“It is,” I answer, surprised at the question. “We can make it either. Why don’t we say 11?”

“What about the Joker?”

I’m dumbfounded at the grasp being flexed in front of me. “Well, why don’t we make the Joker worth 1, since the Ace is worth 11?”

She agrees, and we begin the game. By the end of the first deck, she has the concept down. By the second, she takes over dealing. By the third, she is sneaking glances under the cards before deciding who gets which. I nearly spit soda through my nose in laughter as she strains, literally from the corner of her pond-sized eyes, to get an edge — particularly when she draws the useless goddamned Jokers, which always seem to land her side.

“Want another?” I ask, though I can sense her mounting boredom.

“No, you can take them,” she says. “But next time, let’s make the Jokers bigger than the Aces.”

Now that, I realized, is magic.

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