by Bill Braunstein
Shelby has one habit that sets me off. Her diary. She keeps a journal. And it’s never far from her side. Like right now….
It’s just after 11 p.m., and the two of us are at my place watching the evening news. You’d think the lead story about an escaped felon would have my total attention, but no, I’m watching Shelby.
She’s sitting on my living room couch, a flannel blanket wrapped around her shoulders, busily scribbling away. No laptop for Shelby. She says her thoughts are too personal to enter into an impersonal contraption like a computer. So, it’s old school pen and paper for her.
That damned diary! It’s a pink notebook, about 7 inches tall and 5 inches wide… Lined pages, heavy stock, silver gilded edges… Oh, and a lock. A heart-shaped lock that holds the clasp in place.
“What are you writing about this time?” My mind imagines such diverse topics as my love-making skills, her ex-boyfriends; or worse, my love-making skills compared to her ex-boyfriends.
“I can’t tell you what I write about, Kyle. It’s private.”
“That book is filled with all kinds of things you don’t want me to know,” I said. “It’s not nice to keep secrets.”
“Kyle, everybody has secrets. Deal with it.”
As the news drones on in the background, I hear the weatherman giving the forecast. There are storm clouds approaching Los Angeles, but I couldn’t help feeling he was talking about me and my diary scribe girlfriend.
“Shelby, my life is an open book,” I said, “and you’re free to peruse any chapter.”
“Kyle, my life is an open book, too. But some chapters are not for public consumption.”
And with that, she placed her pen on the coffee table, closed the journal, took a key out of her robe, and locked the book tight.
“I’m going to bed.”
She headed down the hallway to the bedroom as I sat on the couch, staring at her diary. Oh, the stories it could tell. I picked up the book, eyeballed the lock, returned it to the table.
Whenever I’m frustrated or annoyed, I like to eat. This was a good time to head to the kitchen. There’s nothing like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich before heading to bed.
Now, sandwich in hand, I returned to the living room. Imagine my surprise when standing before me was a man wearing a black a jacket over a white shirt. I’d say he was about 5-foot-6, stocky build, with closely cropped, dark hair.
Normally, an unknown man mysteriously appearing in your apartment in the dead of night might be a cause for alarm. But with this Paranoiac Schizophrenic Disorder I’ve been diagnosed with, I’ve become accustomed to seeing strange people at strange times in strange places.
So, an interloper in my living room isn’t what has me nervous.
It’s the fact that he’s bound in handcuffs, and has shackles on his legs. My first thought was, I’m being paid a visit by Marley’s Ghost, the character from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But that’s a fictional character, so it can’t be real, right?
As I looked at the guy, my mind flashed back to the evening newscast. Wasn’t there something about an escaped convict? Best to be cool, I reason, and see if my mind is playing tricks on me again. On the other hand, maybe I should be scared shitless.
“You’re wearing some nice hardware,” I say to the guy, trying to remain calm.
“Smith & Wesson,” he replied. “Finest cuffs and leg irons known to man… But there hasn’t been a set made yet that can hold me.”
Okay, now I’m beginning to get a little worried. There’s a freakin’ felon in my living room.
Despite this guy’s false bravado, I knew I was safe. His hands and legs are shackled. To get out of those binds, it would take a modern day Houdini…
Holy crap! It is Houdini – right here in my home. Looks like my PSD has kicked in again.
I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I wasn’t about to become the lead story on tomorrow’s evening news: Electronics salesman bludgeoned with leg irons, bleeds to death while eating sandwich.
“Well, thanks for showing up,” I said. “I have to admit, those cuffs and chains are very, uh, kinky. If that’s a suggestion to help improve Shelby’s and my sex life…you’re too late. She’s already read ‘50 Shades of Grey.’”
Houdini turned from me for a second, then faced me; only now the handcuffs were now off his wrists.
“Sorry,” he said, “just showing off. I am a performer.”
Next, he removed from the couch the blanket Shelby left behind and held them over his legs. When he dropped the blanket to the ground, the shackles were off his feet, as if by magic. What am I saying? It was magic.
“Thank you. I’d like to think I’ve mastered my craft.”
Just then, I had a thought. I knew it was wrong. It was so wrong. But I couldn’t resist. I was going to hate myself but I couldn’t stop from doing what I did next. I walked to the coffee table where Shelby’s diary was, and picked it up.
“Mr. Houdini, can I ask you a favor? You see the lock on my book…” I handed him Shelby’s diary. “I, uh, had the key and I, uh, misplaced it… Do you think you could, uh, you know… Use your ability with locks to open that?”
“Of course. No locks are a match for the great Houdini.”
He turned away from me for an instant. When he faced me, one hand held the diary, the other held the lock. It had been magically separated from the book.
I took them from the magician and placed both lock and journal on the coffee table. Astounded, I looked at them, and then at Houdini.
“You know, I wasn’t born yesterday,” Houdini said. “That book looks to me like a diary. And if it belonged to you, you’d have the key.”
I was busted. So, I decided to come clean.
“The diary actually belongs to my girlfriend Shelby. I really adore her. But there are times when I think she’s too secretive. Whenever I say or do something she may not like, she writes in that book. It drives me crazy. I don’t think that couples should have secrets.”
Houdini threw back his head and laughed. “Where would I be without secrets?”
There are times when I’m not the brightest bulb in the hardware store, but at that moment, I did see the irony in arguing with a magician about keeping secrets.
“As a magician, secrets are my stock and trade,” the conjurer said. “They’re an enduring part of life’s wonderment. What good can come from having secrets revealed?”
“Oh, about 15 specials on Fox, all called ‘Secrets of the Greatest Magicians Revealed.’” Houdini’s puzzled look told me he had no idea what I was talking about. So, I just got to the point. “A couple can’t really be in love if they don’t know each other’s secrets.”
Houdini simply shook his head. “Love isn’t about secrets you keep from each other; it’s about magic you create together. I was with the love of my life, my wife Bess, for 32 years, until I left her.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “You left her?”
“My death, you dummy,” he said. “I promised my beloved Beth, that upon my passing, if there was any way possible, I would send her a message from the great beyond. Alas, as strong as our love was, I was unable to communicate with her.”
Geez, I didn’t have the heart to tell Houdini he’d have had better luck if Bess was whacked in the head like me. PSD can be amazing.
The great illusionist continued. “My world with Bess revolved around secrets. But in all of the years we spent together, we never once pried into each other’s private affairs. It’s because magic is a lot like love.”
I respect my elders, so advice coming from a guy who was nearly 140 years old was bound to be good. “How is magic like love?” I asked.
Houdini spoke deliberately. “A loving relationship,” he said, “is the greatest magic any of us can experience. And like any magic trick, it can be ruined if you delve too deeply into its secrets.”
I could see why he was master manipulator. Houdini made me feel pretty small. There was only one proper thing to do. And that was to put the lock back on Shelby’s diary. What’s in there is none of my business; it’s part of the mystery of Shelby.
Just then, I heard footsteps coming from down the hallway. It was Shelby! Now what?! I turned to Houdini… But he was gone. Just like a magician to disappear. I was wishing I could do the same.
“Hey Shelby,” I nervously said, standing in front of the coffee table, hoping to block her view of the diary. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“No, I could have sworn I heard you talking to someone out here.”
“Nah, it wasn’t me. You must have heard the television,” I shrugged, pointing to the squawk box. “I just turned it off.”
She looked past me, to the table, where her diary was. She stared at the book. And the lock. Then she looked at me. “Hmm… That’s odd. I could have sworn I placed the lock on my journal before I headed to bed.”
“Oh? I didn’t even notice.”
“You didn’t look inside, did you?”
“Of course not, Shelby. Every couple needs their secrets.”
She picked up the book, placed the lock in its clasp, walked over to me, and gave me the softest, most sensual kiss on the lips I’ve ever had. “I’m about to tell you one of my secrets,” she said. “I love you.”
Then she took my hand, and led me down the hallway to the bedroom. What occurred next was no illusion.
In fact, I’d say it was downright magical.