How to Fail

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2013

Henry Allan

Deep breath, deep breath. I look straight into the mirror. “Hello,” I say to the fake audience. “My name is Henry,” I sigh, shaking my head.

“Hello, my name is Henry and I am going to show you what would now be called a modern miracle.” About three hours every day are dedicated to magic practice.

I drop to the floor and pull open my magic drawer. The sides are lined with tons of decks of cards. In the middle to the right I keep all my sponge balls. Then on the wall closest to me rests my set of linking rings. I pick out two decks of cards and five sponge balls and place them in my inside jacket pocket, then I join my parents in the living room.

*          *          *

As we ride in the taxi I talk to my mom about my plans to perform tonight.

“I think I’m going to perform tonight,” I tell my mom.

“Really, for who?” she asks.

“Uncle Doug,” I say, looking at my feet. “Remember last time, when I failed every trick I did for him?”

She looks at me and I bring my head up.

“I know you’re going to be fine and he will like it whether the trick works or not,” she says. I nod my head slightly, but inside I am having my doubts.

*          *          *

As I step into my cousins’ apartment a waft of chicken, brisket, and mashed potatoes washes over me. I walk into the apartment and take off my shoes. My aunt starts walking towards us with a large smile on her face. She comes up and hugs me and I relax a little, but then when I see my uncle my hand tightens around my box of cards. I walk up to my uncle and give him a high five.

“H!” he says loudly. “How are you doin’?”

How to Fail playing card tricks with uncle

“Now please pick a card”

“OK,” I say, a little halfheartedly.

“How is school?”

“Pretty good, it’s a little hard in a new school, but I’m adjusting to the new standards.”

“Awesome! Walking between classes, right?”



“Definitely! I scored a hat trick in my last game and we won five to two!”

“Whoa!! You remember my story about my coaching years?”

We both laugh, remembering his crazy stories. I relax and wander back to my dad, who is talking with my cousin Scott.

We all move into the living room and everyone starts to chat. I see my chance to walk up to Doug and perform my trick, but then I falter. My past flashes in front of my eyes, seeing the cards drop and all the failures that have happened in the past. I tell myself that I will be fine, but my mind tells me different. Against my will I start walking towards him and I engage in conversation. Soon, before I know it, I’ve brought my deck of cards out and he is waiting. I snap out of it.

“Sorry,” I say, “now please pick a card.” As he pulls it out of the deck my hands start to tremble, but I force them to be steady. He looks at his card and I instruct him to put it back anywhere he desires.

“Now,” I say, beginning to recall the steps, “you had a free choice to pick any card you wanted.” He nods.

“Then you replaced it anywhere you desired.” He nods again. I breathe in and out. Out of the corner of my eye I see one of my cousins flick on a light. The orange bright light pierces my eyes, burning down on me as if putting me on the spot. I go on about how I need to find his card. I gasp and my uncle gives me a strange look. I force a smile and continue.

But it’s not the same. Now I’m feeling an overwhelming terror. There was a specific order of the cards that could not be disturbed, and I had missed one final step in the order. Now the cards sitting on the table are glaring at me as if another person lived inside them, telling me I was a failure. I shift my weight and continue with my patter until the first reveal. I throw the cards concealed in my hand onto the table. I point to the letter and suit on the two cards that match up to make his card and a look of surprise appears on his face.

I go through the rest and I wince when he lands on the card that should be his. I close my eyes, my face burning, and gather up my cards. I completely ignore my uncle. I imagine my him shaking his head, his expression annoyed. I imagine him asking what should’ve happened—a magician’s nightmare. I start to walk away when I hear him try to speak. I interrupt him.

“I know it was bad, I’m sorry I wasted your time.” A questioning look appears on his face.

“What are you talking about, that was great!” My eyes get wide with surprise. Tons of questions race through my head.

“What? But I messed up. Your card wasn’t the one I threw down.”

“It doesn’t matter if you messed up. I loved the performance, and it was pretty cool when you made those two cards appear that matched mine. How did you do that anyway?”

*          *          *

From then on I performed for my uncle countless times in a breeze. Now I can talk to him about anything calmly because I know that I don’t have to be perfect. Progress not perfection.

How to Fail Henry Allan

Henry Allan, 11
New York, New York

How to Fail Andrew Cao

Andrew Cao, 12
Freehold, New Jersey

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