The second Snowball never liked me. That was why everything fell apart.
When I started working for Jim Croceford, a.k.a. The Amazing Manzini, my favorite part of the job was taking care of the animals that were used in some of his illusions. I’ve always had a weakness for soft, cuddly things, I guess. Plus, I found the doves’ burbling soothing.
“What’s her name?” I asked one day while I was changing the rabbit’s water bottle.
“Eh?” Jim looked up from where he was fastening something to the inside of his sleeve.
“Oh, the bunny? She hasn’t got a name.”
“Can I name her?”
Jim gave me an indifferent shrug. “Don’t see why not.”
The rabbit munched on a stalk of hay. Her nose twitched like she was about to sneeze. She stopped chewing the hay and gazed up at me as if waiting for my verdict.
Now that I’d secured the right to name her, I realized that I had no idea what name to pick.
Like all magicians’ rabbits, she was pure white, with the red eyes that often went along with that coloration. Crouched in front of her food chute, she resembled a furry snowball more than anything…
“Snowball,” I said. “I’m going to call her Snowball.”
Snowball was a great performer, always staying silent and still in her hidden compartment and looking around in confusion when Jim pulled her out, as if she’d been teleported straight from her hutch into his hand. She let me stroke her fur and feed her pieces of hay.
As I did my chores and learned simple illusions from Jim, her scarlet eyes followed me around the room.
One summer, when Jim came back from wherever he spent the rest of the year, I was helping him unpack his equipment when I noticed something missing. “Hey, where’s Snowball?”
Jim had been happy to see me, but now his face fell. He fidgeted for a few moments, a quarter appearing and disappearing in his hand. “Well, I had Snowball for quite a few years, you know; she was rather old…”
I let the artificial flowers I was holding drop to the table. “Oh.”
“Hey,” Jim said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t we go get some ice cream? And tomorrow, I’ll give you some money, and you can go down to the pet shop and pick out a new bunny.”
The next morning, I trudged to the pet store with a wad of bills in my pocket. I knew Jim would need a new rabbit for his act, but I didn’t have any enthusiasm for the task. He’d assured me that I could pick any rabbit I wanted, so long as it was white, but I couldn’t really bring myself to care about any of the animals that were eating, drinking, or playing in their communal hutch. Did I want an active animal or a quiet one? One with perky ears or floppy ears? It really didn’t matter. None of them were Snowball.
After a few minutes of staring listlessly into the hutch, I pointed to a white rabbit at random and told the associate, “That one.”
“Do you already have a name picked out for her?” she asked in a cheerful tone as she bundled the new rabbit into a carton and handed me a pamphlet detailing how to feed and care for it.
I shrugged. “Snowball, probably.” You might think it was strange for me to give this new rabbit the same name as the deceased one I’d liked so much, but I did it precisely because it’s such a generic name. I couldn’t bring myself to make the effort of picking something more unique.
The second Snowball might have had the same name as the first, but they were nothing alike. When I tried to offer the new Snowball a piece of hay, she fixed me with a baleful glare. When I was doing other chores or working with Jim, she ignored me. When I cleaned her hutch, she huddled into a little ball of resentment until I left her alone.
One night, after a show, Snowball kicked me when I tried to put her back into her hutch. We kept her nails trimmed, but it still startled me. I dropped her, and she promptly jumped off the table.
“Hey! Come back here!” The doves flapped, the breeze I created as I ran after Snowball blew papers off the tables, and I banged my shin on a chair. Looking back on it, I feel like the Benny Hill music should have been playing in the background. Finally, I managed to get my hands on her by doing a sort of running dive under an end table. To top the whole absurd adventure off, when I stood up, I knocked the end table over. The unseasonable cold had prompted Jim to light the fireplace, and his big top hat—the one he pulled Snowball out of—rolled right into it.
I offered to pay for a replacement hat, but Jim just waved his hand and said, “Accidents happen.” He gave me more money to buy a new one.
Like the second Snowball, the second hat didn’t work out as well as the first. Jim started to fumble his tricks, from the Scotch and Soda to the French Drop. Objects refused to vanish, he failed to identify the card an audience member had chosen, and paper flowers could be seen poking out from the end of his sleeve when he raised his arms. Most of these tricks didn’t involve the hat, of course, but the origin of Jim’s increasing troubles could be definitively traced to the first performance in which he used it.
The season ended on a disappointing note, with the theater only half full. I began to wonder whether the original hat had been the source of Jim’s magic—not literal magic, like in the old Frosty the Snowman movie, but a magic of daring, of confidence.
Whatever intangible thing Jim had lost along with the hat, he didn’t get it back the next season, or the one after that. Three summers after the fateful event, he failed to appear. I waited for him for a few weeks, then got a job at the ice cream parlor. I never saw Jim, the doves, or the rabbit that I’d come to think of as Fake Snowball, again.
Nina Shepardson is a biologist who lives in the northeastern US with her husband. She’s a staff reader at Spark: A Creative Anthology, and her writing has appeared in Allegory, Luna Station Quarterly, and Pidgeonholes. She also writes book reviews at ninashepardson.wordpress.com.