The other day, I created a small miracle.
Perhaps this will make more sense if you know a little about magic, but I think you’ll like it anyway.
I was at the Senate House library on UCL campus to give a talk on the use of deception and magic in psychology research. It was a bit of a strange situation – the conference was mostly English graduates, and I was one of two non-literary types giving a talk. The audience was small – I was the second last talk of the day, and I think half the audience was there to see if I would perform some magic. In fact, at least three people there had studied magic to some extent. So during the reception after the conference, after some prompting and a glass of wine, I set up a performance space and brought out a deck of cards. The audience was composed of the magicians who saw my talk earlier and some people who just heard the word “magic” and decided to see what was up.
I performed the trick I use in my research, and it went smoothly. I can talk about science I’m comfortable with, and then when I’ve built up enough interest I decide to do a quick three-phase set of the ambitious card. A girl (it’s always a girl, isn’t it) selects the ace of clubs. Perfect, iconic, easy to remember. I started off fairly strong, with an in-the-box card reversal. I actually screwed it up and had to take the cards out of the box myself, but I smoothed it over, nobody seemed to notice. The magicians probably figured I’m small potatoes – they aren’t wrong.
Phase two. I take her card back, chat, smile, dirty work, put it back in the middle of the deck – slowly, in full view. Does that look fair? Pop – the ace of clubs is on top. Grins all around – it’s been some time since I’ve performed and this feels good. So I decide to finish with something totally impossible. Little did I know…
Now, I was improvising, doing a bit of magic jazz. I know this deck, and instincts were kicking in and conscious effort about what to do when was flickering quietly somewhere out of the way. I wanted to do something where I didn’t touch the cards at all. I’ve set it up; I spread the cards on the table, and her chosen card is face down beside it.
“Please slide it into the deck.” She does, the audience is getting a little rowdy, a few half-jesting jeers that she should check to make sure it’s hers – but that means they’re hooked. “Now close it up – I don’t want to touch it at all.”
She does. But SHE CUTS THE DECK.
I feel a little vertigo. The magicians in the audience range from visibly disturbed to quietly smiling.
But I’d just come off a good talk, this audience was grooving – and I’d had a glass of wine or two
and I’d noticed something, half unconsciously, somewhere tingling in the back of my mind that might give me a glorious opportunity – an insurance policy that I must have worked in without thinking, without noticing. Already gears were turning to come up with a cover story, just in case, surely I’ll need it – but my mouth blurts out, “Good. Now, lightly – gingerly – cut the cards. Carefully!” She does. “And complete the cut.”
My brain must be calculating the odds implicitly; I figure I have about an 80% chance of this being okay. Somehow I’m confident and terrified in a way that I can’t tell them apart anymore. I’ve already prepared my statement – “that’s okay, it was so close…”
Time to play the audience like a fiddle.
“Now, I haven’t touched the cards this whole time. You put your card in anywhere you like. You closed it. You cut it. Now -”
Breathe in. The audience follows suit.
“Are you ready? I don’t want to kill anyone’s minds here, yeah?” I can hear my heart in my ears. “Okay. Turn over the top card.”
It’s the ace of clubs.
PANDEMONIUM. I nearly SHIT MYSELF. I’m nearly crying, people are yelling “WHAT?! WHAT?! HOW!?” The magicians in the audience must believe I am some sort of god.
I merely say, “Thank you very much. I think I’ll finish there,” and sit down, shaking.
It was one of those beautiful moments. A true sense of astonishment with complete clarity of mind. For a minute, there were no thoughts – just the pleasant fizzing of neurons firing.
It was lovely to have been a part of it.