A Birthday Surprise

“Remember, humans are not hummingbirds.”

I barely heard my dad’s warning as I ran out of his room with dreams of becoming a superhero. He had just given me a small disc that, when held properly, would allow me to freeze time. I fantasized about single-handedly capturing whole crime rings, or plucking an assassin’s bullet out of the air, saving the President’s life. But Dad was right.

Years later, I’m no superhero. I’m just a husband and a father. Today is my wife’s birthday, so I thought I’d surprise her with some magic. A few steps from the front door, I start exhaling hard, trying to take in more air with each breath. I’ll need every second. I wrap my hand around the disc, tuck flowers and her cake under my arm, and I reach for my keys with my other hand. I take one last, deep breath and squeeze the disc just so.

***

The disc didn’t really freeze time. It sped me up, but a body can’t sustain that speed for long. I had practiced using the disc in my room, scooping up spilled drinks in midair and playing a few rounds of catch with myself. Even when I filmed myself, I didn’t show up on tape.

The first time I used the disc in public was to cheat on a history test. I wasn’t planning on cheating, but I was never good at remembering dates. I was so mesmerized by the seemingly frozen students around me that I nearly passed out before releasing the disc. Flushed and gasping for air, I looked like I was having a panic attack. So much for being a teenage superhero. But I did get a good grade on the test.

The disc’s power was best used for little surprises: shoelaces would suddenly be tied together, pants would instantaneously drop to people’s ankles, and lunches would sometimes include surprise ingredients. Like my dad, I could make any small object disappear after blowing very hard on it.

I met my wife through magic. I bet her that if I could make her phone disappear, I could have her number. She laughed, saying it would be worthless if her phone was gone, but she agreed. She was impressed at first, even going so far as to pat me down for it. She called her phone using mine. She never expected her purse to start ringing. So I cheated a little. Maybe it wasn’t fair to her, but I got the girl.

Over time, my wife grew tired of my “little tricks” as she called them. She assumed it was some sleight of hand, so I never told her my magic was real. I doubt she would have believed me if I had told her, so I kept the disc secret from her.

We attended parties, and I would entertain my nieces and nephews. No one played hide and seek as well as me. And I could make their toys disappear so easily that I was afraid to play “got your nose” with them. She would pull me away, asking me to join the adults in conversation. Eventually I stopped performing for her, saving my magic for others, but surely she deserves a little magic on her birthday, right?

***

Even now, the effect still startled me. Every detail was so crisp that it felt like walking through a photograph. I opened the door, rushed down the hallway, and turned toward the kitchen. Standing there was my wife. And another man.

Frozen in mid-embrace, they were unable to stop or cover up. I could hear blood pounding in my ears, and my face flushed as I stared over his shoulder at her. I hadn’t seen her smile like that in a while. I felt a pain spreading throughout my chest as I looked at her leg wrapped around him, his hand on her thigh, his fingertips under the edge of her skirt.

Stunned, I couldn’t look away. I felt outraged, depressed, confused. I fell to my knees, overwhelmed. My vision started to tunnel. The last thing I saw were her eyes, staring into his. I collapsed.

I’m sure they were surprised to see me suddenly appear in the kitchen, sprawled across the floor, face down in a mess of flowers and cake, a small disc rolling from my hand.

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