Paper Magic

- by Kerry Truong -

5400 Words


“Don’t be nervous,” Sifu Huiliang said as Tanyu stood beside him fighting a wave of nausea.

A woman had come into the clinic with her son, who lay on one of the cots sobbing and clutching his arm. He’d been climbing a tree and cut himself on the way down. Blood covered his hand and arm. The woman’s clothes were stained dark where he’d clung to her.

“I’m not nervous,” Tanyu muttered, gritting his teeth to stop himself from fainting. He could feel his classmates’ eyes on him and was determined not to embarrass himself. Even the bravest of doctors weren’t expected to remain steadfast in the face of gruesome wounds, but it would be mortifying if he fainted after seeing a mere cut.

Undaunted by the blood or the boy’s wailing, Sifu Huiliang knelt by the side of the cot. He laid a hand on the boy’s forehead. “It’s going to be all right. Why don’t we get this blood cleaned up for you?” He looked at Tanyu and motioned to the basin of water beside him.

Tanyu knelt next to the cot obediently, but his hands trembled as he dipped a cloth into the water and started cleaning the boy’s wound. The blood was everywhere. It ran in fresh red lines down the boy’s arm and rusted the sleeves of his shirt. Tanyu felt the familiar nausea, but told himself that this was nothing. He had seen worse during the war.

His hand still trembled though, and the boy cried out when he rubbed too roughly. It grated on Tanyu’s already strained nerves. He was about to snap at the boy before he remembered himself and murmured half-hearted reassurances instead. He could hear Sifu Huiliang sigh beside him.

When the wound was clean, Tanyu was relieved to move aside and let Sifu Huiliang take over. He wanted to remove himself from the scene, wash his hands and run far away from the clinic, but Sifu Huiliang kept him in place by asking, “Tanyu, what dressing do you think is best for this type of wound?”

The question forced him to look at the wound again. It was less horrifying now that most of the blood was gone. Tanyu could see that the cut wasn’t as deep as he’d first thought.

“A honey dressing,” he said. The certainty of knowing calmed his nerves. “For a cut to heal, the skin must stick together. Honey will provide that stickiness and prevent the wound from becoming infected.”

“Are you sure? That’s not what our other doctors have done,” the woman said, wringing her hands.

Like most people, she didn’t seem to trust magic. Tanyu knew it wasn’t her fault: the ban on magic had only been lifted for a few years, and many still considered it an immoral practice. Unfortunately, if he began lecturing her about the myriad good that magic had brought to Huaguo, she would only become more distressed. He let Sifu Huiliang reassure her instead.

“We’re quite sure. We practice medicine on the same principles as other doctors. Our tools are just a little different. Tanyu, can you bring the dressing?”

Tanyu nodded and went to the medicine cabinet. He gathered the gauze and honey, then thought for a moment before bringing back a bottle of lavender water as well. Sifu Huiliang smiled when he saw it. “And what’s this for?” he asked.

“To calm the wound, Sifu.”

“Very good. You’ve studied your lessons well.”

Tanyu beamed at the praise. He was feeling less light headed and watched attentively as Sifu Huiliang soaked the gauze in lavender water. When he spread honey on the boy’s cut, the boy didn’t flinch. Tanyu felt a little guilty.

Once he’d finished wrapping the wound, Sifu Huiliang pressed his hand over the bandages. It was a simple gesture, but Tanyu knew that without the qi Sifu Huiliang was directing into it, the dressing was no more magic than a piece of paper. Sifu Huiliang let his hand rest on the boy’s arm for a moment, then lifted it.

“There we are,” he said as he peeled the bandages off. No trace of either the honey or the cut remained.

The woman touched the place where his cut had been. “But it was only honey.”

Sifu Huiliang smiled. “As I said, our tools are a little different than other doctors’.”

They had the boy drink some pomegranate juice to replace the blood he’d lost and then sent him on his way. His mother thanked them both profusely, although her manner with Tanyu was a little cooler. Tanyu knew it was warranted but couldn’t help feeling slighted. Sifu Huiliang saw his expression and laughed.

“You have to work on your bedside manner,” he said.

“I know,” Tanyu said, and sighed. “I try, but my impatience gets the better of me.”

Sifu Huiliang patted his arm. “You’re good at the medicine and magic. The rest will follow with practice. You seemed less nervous today, even with all that blood. Are you getting used to it?”

Tanyu had, in fact, become nauseated when he’d cleaned his hands and found blood under his fingernails. But he nodded and said, “It’s not as bad as before.”

“That’s good. I was worried about you, but if you’re used to it now you can start dressing wounds yourself. Maybe you can even try some stitches before your certification test.”

Tanyu cursed himself, trying not to let images of needles and punctured skin flood his mind. He’d been putting off thinking about the certification test and its practical surgery component. “Of course, Sifu. I . . . look forward to it.”

It was just his luck that the one time he’d been a convincing liar was the one time it would serve him least.

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The streets were crowded when Tanyu left the clinic. Although it was snowing, people had not shut themselves into the isolation of their homes. Groups of people walked together, laughing and talking. Trolleys—more common these days—wended their steady, predictable way through the streets. Everywhere there was light and movement, something Tanyu would not have dared hope for during the war that had ravaged Huaguo only ten years earlier and washed him up in the capital city with other refugees.

Tanyu avoided the trolleys, preferring not to squeeze himself into the overly warm crowds of people on them. Instead he walked. He didn’t have far to go and the brisk winter air was refreshing after long hours in the clinic. By the time he reached the night market, the food vendors had already set up their stalls. The royal palace utilized electricity, but Tanyu was only familiar with the gentle yellow glow of gas lanterns that transformed each food stall into a haven from the cold and dark.

Tanyu found Xiaofan at their favourite food stall, chatting amiably with the owner. She had bundled up in a thick, fur-trimmed winter coat, but Tanyu knew that underneath she hadn’t taken off her sweat-stained palace guard’s uniform. He sat down next to her and greeted the owner, who smiled at him.

“I’ve already started making your food. I knew I’d be seeing you soon. You and Xiaofan are never far behind each other.”

Xiaofan threw an arm around Tanyu. “Of course we’re not. I’m his bodyguard.”

“You are not,” Tanyu grumbled, letting her keep her arm around him. “You’re not even a real palace guard yet. You’re still in training.”

“Being your bodyguard is training, too. When I’m done training, I’m going to be Empress An’s bodyguard.”

Tanyu rolled his eyes. Xiaofan was the first friend he’d made after moving to the city, and for as long as he could remember she’d been talking about becoming Empress An’s bodyguard. Although Tanyu didn’t find that likely, he knew that Xiaofan was as diligent a student as he. It was a rare day when someone managed to injure her in one of the palace guards’ constant practice spars.

Today must have been one of those days, because she leaned in to show him a bruise on her cheekbone. It was a small one, as if the blow had only clipped her face. Tanyu was sure that her opponent had come off worse, but that didn’t stop Xiaofan from saying, “Oh, Sifu, it hurts. Please heal it for me.”

“It’s barely there. Put some ice on it and it’ll soon go away.”

“But I want it go to away now.”

Tanyu didn’t bother arguing further. He never won. Leaning down to a snowdrift, he scooped up a small handful. He packed it into a loose ball then pressed it against Xiaofan’s bruise, making her yelp. The snow vanished and Tanyu’s hand came away dry.

“That was cold,” Xiaofan complained, prodding at her unblemished cheek. “I like it better when you use mint and lavender.”

“Mint is the common correspondent for coldness, but I didn’t have any so I had to be a little more literal. You were the one who insisted that I heal it right away!”

Xiaofan laughed. “So I did. Thank you, Sifu.”

“I’m not a doctor yet,” Tanyu said. He looked down to his hands clasped on the counter. Doctor’s hands, his grandfather called them. Sifu Huiliang hadn’t said it in so many words, but he had told Tanyu that his hands were suited to medicine: they were strong and deft, and unless forced to deal with blood they never trembled. He stroked his thumb over his fingers, thinking about what Sifu had told him.

“Did something happen at the clinic today?” asked Xiaofan. She always knew when he was worried. Tanyu was grateful for that. Even after all these years, he had trouble coming to her first for help.

“A boy came in with a cut on his arm. I had to clean off all the blood.”

Xiaofan grimaced. “I’m sorry. Was there a lot?”

Tanyu nodded. “I didn’t faint though, so Sifu Huiliang thought that I’m used to blood now and said that we can start on stitches soon.”

“Oh, no. You didn’t tell him otherwise?”

“How can I? I need the experience for my certification exam. I can’t avoid blood forever.”

They fell into silence, the sounds of the street ebbing and flowing as people walked past. It was warm inside the stall, the air permeated with the smell of chicken broth. Tanyu’s stomach growled, reminding him that he’d been on his feet all day and hadn’t had a chance to eat anything more than a rice ball.

“You know,” Xiaofan said as Tanyu considered ordering dumplings, “I don’t want to ask you this, but have you ever thought about not taking the certification test?”

“What?” Tanyu said, all thoughts of dumplings knocked out of his head. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, it’s like you said. You can’t avoid blood forever if you’re going to be a doctor, and I don’t think you’re going to resolve your fear of it before the test.”

Tanyu’s temper flared. “Who says I can’t? It’s just a matter of practice.”

Xiaofan shook her head. “I don’t think it’s about practice, Tanyu. Some fears are meant to remain.”

If truth be told, Tanyu knew that he would never be able to conquer the nausea and trembling that came at the sight of blood. He would only think about the dead in his village, about his parents, so bloody they were almost unrecognizable. Even so, he’d persevered. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about failure, but now that Xiaofan had brought up the possibility, it seemed to hover right over his shoulder.

“I’ve been training to be a doctor for nearly half my life. What am I going to do if I quit?”

“What about the magic you studied when you visited other countries? Like the food magic in Han Nara. You liked it when we were there.”  

“I did. But that’s Han Nara’s magic. Huaguo’s magic is medical. It’s what saved our country during the war, and it’s important.” 

“What about what’s important to you?”

“Medical magic is important to me, too.” He’d said it so often that he didn’t need to think about it. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. You know that, Xiaofan.”

“I only know what you tell me,” she said.

They lapsed into silence again. Tanyu looked down at his hands, and Xiaofan watched him for a time before turning to talk with the vendor. When the bowls of noodle soup arrived, Xiaofan transferred several wontons from her bowl to Tanyu’s.

She said, “You’ll be a good doctor because you will be good at anything you choose to do. So just eat well for now. Worry about things when you have the energy.” 

Tanyu could feel all his weariness settling on him, dulling his irritation. He smiled at Xiaofan’s words. “Thank you,” he said, then bent over his bowl and ate one of the wontons. The burst of hot juice in his mouth revived him a little and he waved the vendor over.

“An order of dumplings, please,” he told her. “Make it enough for two.”

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Like other medical students in their final year, Tanyu no longer attended lessons. Instead, all the time that was not given over to clinic hours was spent studying. The day after he met with Xiaofan, he ate an early breakfast with his grandfather, then boarded a trolley to go to the Royal Library.

The trolley was nearly empty at that hour, occupied only by a few other medical students and night labourers returning from work. Tanyu recognized some of the students and nodded a greeting. With the prospect of books ahead of him instead of gory wounds, he felt less glum than he had the night before. Of course he could be nothing else but a doctor. He’d come too far to turn back now.

The library was crowded when Tanyu arrived, but he found a seat crammed between other students who were furiously trying to memorize their notes. A pair of students next to Tanyu were quizzing each other. Tanyu opened his own books, trying to become absorbed in them, but he couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.

“A patient has extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and frequent dizziness. What would you diagnose as the problem and what could you do to solve it?” one of the students asked.

Her study partner frowned in concentration. “It’s anemia,” he finally said. “I would prescribe pomegranate juice to improve her blood.”

Tanyu looked up from his notes. He had watched Sifu Huiliang preparing a bottle of pomegranate juice yesterday for the boy who had cut his arm, but that had been for blood loss. This was an entirely different case.

Tanyu leaned over and said, “Actually, beet juice would be better.”

Both students stared at him.

“Like creates like,” Tanyu said, repeating the first principle of magic. “Pomegranate juice does resemble blood, but it’s too thin. If you were just trying to replenish blood loss it would be adequate. But if you’re trying to strengthen blood, it makes sense to use something thicker, to thicken the blood itself.”

“But beet juice isn’t the common correspondent for blood,” said the student who’d answered. He looked annoyed. Tanyu didn’t let it deter him from arguing his point.

“They’re called common correspondents because they’re common, not because they’re exclusive. Pomegranate juice isn’t the only red liquid. There are hundreds of other possibilities.” He could see that the other students were losing interest, so he finished in a rush. “The point of doing magic is to discover those possibilities and choose the best one, not to memorize what’s already known.”

“That’s nice,” the student said, already dismissing Tanyu. “But why is it any of your business to tell us how to study? Don’t you have your own studying to do?” 

“I’ll do fine on the test, so I thought I’d help you.” 

The student bristled. “If pomegranate juice is the correct answer, then it’s the correct answer. Putting down beet juice won’t get me any more points.”

Tanyu hated hearing that the most. “Are points the only thing that matters?”

The boy’s partner had been studying Tanyu during this exchange. She said, “I know you. Aren’t you Yao Tanyu?”

Tanyu blinked. “Yes, that’s me. How do you know me?”

“Everyone knows you! You’re the one who can’t even look at a scratch without fainting.”

She and her partner sniggered. Tanyu flushed with embarrassment and anger. The number of magic students had grown, but it was still small enough for word to spread quickly. Of course the classmates who shared his clinic hours had been quick to tell everyone about his weakness. He closed his books and stood up. Tanyu was not tall, but with the other students remaining seated he managed to look down his nose at them.

“I don’t faint at blood anymore. Although that is hardly the most important thing to becoming a doctor.”

The students laughed again and Tanyu stalked off, his back stiff. But his temper cooled quickly as he wandered through the bookshelves trying to find another place to sit. There were no more open seats, and he began to curse his habit of poking his nose into other peoples’ business.

After three unsuccessful circuits around the library, Tanyu gave up and stomped out. He tried to console himself by thinking about how quiet it would be in his bedroom, where there were no other students whispering and rustling pages loudly.

Tanyu had told the other students that his aversion to blood wasn’t an impediment to becoming a doctor, but of course it was, and not just for the certification test. Blood was common to life. Even the most provincial of doctors had to stitch a few cuts now and then. What was Tanyu to do when he couldn’t even achieve that much?

Smoke and screams. Fire and giant, spider-like machines lurching along as they crushed homes and set fire to fields. That was what Tanyu remembered when he saw blood: the first magic that he had ever seen. It was only when he met Sifu Huiliang in a refugee camp that he began to see that magic could be used for more than making war. But what good was his magic when it withered away in the face of blood?

Tanyu was passing through the marketplace when he saw a large crowd. Most of the people were young children, but there were some adults as well, shopkeepers that Tanyu knew from shopping trips with his grandfather. They were gathered around a young man who was folding a large piece of paper. Curious, Tanyu stopped to join the crowd.

“What’s going on?” he asked Wen the butcher.

She shrugged her broad shoulders. “Just some delusional stranger who says he’ll show us magic.”

“With paper?”

“Like I said: delusional.”

Under the stranger’s hands, the paper took the shape of a tiger, and he set it on the ground. It was a detailed piece of work: every crease and fold was sharp, and the entire effect was so evocative that Tanyu half expected the tiger to roar. Then the young man bent down and whispered something, and it did.

The children screamed. Adults gasped and stumbled backwards. Tanyu stood transfixed, watching the tiger prowl and jump and snap its paper jaws. He had seen machines powered by nothing, honey sealing wounds, and flower cakes that brought beauty and riches to those who ate them, but he had never seen anything like this. The paper had come alive.

“How did you do it?” he blurted out.

The young man—the paper magician—winked at him. “A trade secret, I’m afraid.”

Tanyu blushed. He couldn’t help noticing that the other magician, with his long black hair and smooth, unblemished skin, was pretty. But it was his hands, long-fingered with nails well cared for, that Tanyu was most transfixed by as he watched him fold. They moved over the paper deftly, making figures blossom: birds that flew in graceful loops and arcs, orchids that bloomed from bud to flower and shrunk again, snowflakes that drifted to the ground and were cold to the touch. Every time, the magician bent down to whisper something to them, and every time they sprang to life.

Tanyu stayed until the very end, when the magician no longer had any paper. “Is it a word?” he asked as the magician dusted his hands and prepared to leave. “The correspondent, I mean.”

The magician smiled. “That’s right. You’re clever.”

Tanyu’s ears burned again, but he forged ahead, willing himself not to stumble over his words. “If like creates like, then it would make sense that a word could be the correspondent for the action it describes. It just seems too simple.”

“As hard as it may be to believe, some things in life truly are that simple,” the magician said. He ran off then, with another smile that made Tanyu’s palms break into sweat. Tanyu didn’t even have a chance to ask his name or where he lived.

He was left standing in the cold and snowy afternoon, wondering what, exactly, was ever that simple.

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For the next few days, Tanyu devoted himself to the study of paper magic. He studied for his certification exam in the morning, then gathered scraps of paper and folded them into tigers, cranes, and plum blossoms. It was difficult at first, but with the help of a book he borrowed from the library, he quickly became an expert in paper art. His steady hands and attention to detail served him well. In time, his paper creations looked as elegant as the paper magician’s.

Their liveliness, however, was a completely different matter. No matter how many times Tanyu tried, how many words he whispered and shouted, the paper figures remained still. The problem, he knew, was in how to direct his qi into the words. He was used to channelling it into material objects: beet juice and lavender water, mint leaves and cinnamon. He didn’t know how to bring it into something as immaterial as a word.

Too simple indeed. He needed something concrete to focus the qi on, but even thinking that seemed like admitting failure. This was not a practical magic like medicine or food. It was an ornamental one, meant only to entertain, and Tanyu wanted to stay true to that. He wanted to do the magic for magic’s sake. If the crane flew, if the tiger roared, then Tanyu would remember what it had felt like that moment in the refugee camp when he had first understood the power of magic to heal.

A week after meeting the paper magician, Tanyu sat in his room studying the paper sparrow that he had folded. He took a deep breath, finding and grasping the core of his qi. He drew it up carefully, past his lungs, past his heart, into his throat where it thrummed. Then he bent over the sparrow and whispered, “Fly,” letting the qi spill from his lips. His voice swelled to fill the room.

Almost imperceptibly, the wings fluttered. Tanyu watched with bated breath. The bird flapped its wings with more determination and hopped once, twice—before falling to the floor as gracelessly as a dead leaf. Tanyu groaned in frustration and scooped up the bird. Whatever qi had gone into it had slid right off. Crumpling the bird, Tanyu tossed it into the trash and scrubbed his hand over his face. Enough. He was not suited to this.

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The next morning, while Tanyu was riding the trolley to the clinic, he found paper in his pockets. He sighed and stuffed it back. He would have to check all his pockets and empty them when he got home. He stared out the window at the city scrolling by: shopkeepers opening their doors and arranging the day’s displays, vendors setting up their wares, children skipping and laughing as they walked to school. Tanyu wished he could match their enthusiasm.

He watched halfheartedly for the paper magician, but there was no sign of him. He had thoroughly vanished. Tanyu had asked Wen and the other shopkeepers if they had seen him, but they had lost interest in his miraculous feats and turned their attention to the festival that would soon be held in honour of Prince Sheng, Empress An’s younger brother. He had recently returned from his journeys abroad and would be turning eighteen in a few days. Tanyu had no interest in such things, but perhaps Xiaofan would want to go, for the food and for a chance to catch a glimpse of Empress An. 

When Tanyu arrived at the clinic, it was in a state of uproar. There were doctors and students rushing to and fro, grabbing things from drawers and rapidly assembling next to cots. In the middle of it all was Sifu Huiliang, calmly giving orders and directing the flow of people. He spotted Tanyu and called him over.

“There was a trolley crash, and a dozen people were injured,” he said. “Wash your hands, please, and come assist me with the patients.”

Tanyu rushed to do as he was told, focusing hard on the simple actions of washing his hands, drying them, and putting on his smock. There was no point in conjuring up wild images of what the injuries might look like; he would have to stay calm and face whatever was waiting for him.

Tanyu joined Sifu Huiliang at the cot where he was standing and immediately wished he’d run in the opposite direction instead. A young woman lay on the cot, her face white and pinched. It was apparent that it took all her strength to remain stoic: when Tanyu tried to ascertain what had happened, he saw that one of her hands had been mangled. Blood stained the sheets where she lay, and unlike the young boy who had come in before, it was as terrifying as it looked.

“Her hand was trapped in the wreckage,” Sifu Huiliang said. Even he looked pale, though his voice was steady.

Tanyu fought the urge to retch. This would take more than simple gauze and honey: the woman’s hand was so crushed that the nerves were most likely damaged—they would have to try and repair those, too.

Sifu Huiliang turned to him. “Tanyu, are you all right?”

Tanyu tried to nod, but he could feel bile rising in his throat. One of the other doctors was examining the extent of the damage, causing the woman to cry out in pain. Tanyu’s eyes were drawn to her hand again. This time, he could see more clearly how the skin was torn and the bones crushed. Slivers of white protruded from the bloody mess of her hand.

“Tanyu,” Sifu Huiliang repeated. “If you’re feeling unwell—”

Tanyu didn’t stay to hear the rest of his sentence. He bolted outside the clinic and just barely made it over the threshold before he retched. The bile burned his throat and left a disgusting taste in his mouth. Tanyu sobbed, wiping his mouth. He couldn’t go back into the clinic and face that scene again. Neither could he stay here, where Sifu Huiliang might come and try to give him meaningless reassurances. Tanyu stood up and began walking, not caring where he went so long as it took him away from the clinic.

He passed storefronts and food stalls, not noticing the cold until he had walked a long way. His coat remained at the clinic, the last place he wanted to be. Shivering, Tanyu looked around, trying to orient himself. He panicked for a moment when he couldn’t recognize any of the buildings, then saw a food stall where he liked to buy potato croquettes. He was too far away to walk home in this weather, but there was a trolley nearby that went most of the distance. Tanyu rubbed his arms and hurried toward the stop.

When he was safe in the warm trolley, he groaned and buried his face in his hands. It was well and truly over now. Tanyu could go back to the clinic and try to face the sight of blood again. Sifu Huiliang would encourage him, too. But Tanyu didn’t want to. It didn’t matter whether he could eventually defeat his fear—only that, after years, he was too tired to try. Tanyu rubbed his face and tried not to let himself be overwhelmed by the hundred questions that rushed through his mind.

A small child boarded the trolley at the next stop and sat next to Tanyu, not even trying to hide her curious stare. Tanyu shifted on the bench, moving farther away from her, and something in his pocket crinkled. Reaching in, he pulled out a piece of paper. He smoothed out its crumpled edges, and then, without thinking, began to fold. The methodical motions calmed the tremors in his hands, and the rush of questions slowed down.

“What are you making?” the child asked after a while, leaning over to stare.

Usually, Tanyu would have shooed her away. He was impatient with children, a fact that made Xiaofan speculate that he had been born an old man. But he was tired, so he showed her the paper sparrow that now sat in his palm.

“It’s so pretty! What are you going to do with it?”

Tanyu stared down at the bird. It was pretty, its wings and beak more graceful than those of his first attempts. He had ruined a lot of paper to be able to make a bird like this, but none of it had felt like a waste. Smiling at the child, he said, “I’m going to make it fly.”

When they were younger, Xiaofan had liked to run into flocks of birds, to startle them into flight. Tanyu hadn’t liked it because real birds, with their dirty feathers and beady eyes, frightened him. But Xiaofan had convinced him to try it once, so he had linked hands with her and run into a flock of pigeons. They had taken flight with a rush of air, Tanyu shrieking as their wings beat against his face. He’d sworn never to listen to Xiaofan again, and even lasted a week before giving in to her next scheme.

An idea began to take shape in his mind. Before he could question it, he channelled qi into the paper itself. He folded it into the creases, smoothed it over the planes of its wings. He thought hard about what it had felt like to be surrounded by those birds: the swirling air, the echoing caws, the hard beating of wings against his face. He took the memory of those sensations and used it to anchor the qi to the bird. He didn’t fully understand what he was doing, for it was not founded on any principle of magic he had ever studied. But as Tanyu had told the student in the library: magic was about exploring all possibilities.

When Tanyu had finished, he bent his head over the paper bird and said, “Fly.” Then he blew the bird off his hand.

He almost expected the bird to fall to the ground, as lifeless as its predecessor. But instead, it began to flap its wings: weakly at first, and then, as it rose higher into the air, with more confidence. It lacked the colourful feathers of other birds, but its movements were as graceful and light as theirs. Tanyu laughed in delight as the bird flew around the trolley, startling the other passengers. The little girl laughed as well. She leaped up in her seat, reaching for the bird as it flew past her and squealing when its wings brushed the tips of her fingers.

Eyes alight, she asked Tanyu, “How did you do it? Oh, please teach me how to do it, too. Is it magic?”

Tanyu watched as the bird flew back and forth across the trolley, its beak open in a soundless caw. Doubts no longer swam in his mind. Instead, a desire crystallized. He wanted to make dozens of birds fly; he wanted to make snowflakes fall and flowers blossom; he wanted to watch paper turning into life.

Looking down at the child, he smiled. “Yes, it’s magic.”


© 2018 by Kerry Truong

Kerry Truong is a writer, aspiring chef, and lesbian dog dad. Their genres are diverse, but you can be certain that their fantasy will always have a little bit of romance and their romance a little bit of fantasy. They like watching food videos and daydreaming about what they’ll eat next, which is probably why their stories always feature delicious meals. If you like food, asking “but what if lesbians” every time you watch a TV show, and cute animals, you can follow their ramblings @ninetalesk.