Anne O’Leary, The First Cut

Butlins, 1979. I am eight. The velvety magician on the stage asks for a volunteer. He is going to cut someone in half. I would like to be cut in half, curious as to whether I will feel the ruh-ruh of the saw through my polyester waist. Maybe it will tickle, even hurt a little, like getting your ears pierced. I trust that he won’t hurt me badly because magicians aren’t allowed to kill children. If one had ever done so I would have heard about it in the school yard, like the story about clogs being banned because a child died when one flew off in a game of football and whacked them on the head. So I raise my hand, as does the blond pony-tailed girl in a cheesecloth sundress sitting in front of me.

The magician points in my direction.

“You, lovely lady,” he says.

I stand. The girl stands. The whole audience turns in my direction, the glow of a spotlight finds me.

“No, not you, young lady, the other young lady.”

His magical eyes twinkle, his moustache twitches like a cartoon villain’s.

I sit back down, the hot sting of a blade deep in my gut.

Anne O’Leary lives in Cork. She won this year’s Molly Keane Award and the From the Well Short Story Competition 2017; was runner-up in the UCC/Carried In Waves Short Story Competition 2015; was shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and highly commended in 2017; and was longlisted for the Greenbean Novel Fair 2016 at the Irish Writers’ Centre and the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2015. Her work has been published in Halo, Spontaneity and The Incubator, with stories forthcoming in The Nottingham Review and Jellyfish Review.

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