Bruce McAllister

Magic Kingdom

Fairy Tale Castle by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

The crewcut engineering major from UCLA and I worked in Fantasyland II that summer. The summer of ’65, my second as a busboy. We’d stand below the Matterhorn and in our starched white uniforms and black bowties, our brooms and pans still for a moment, watch our supervisors look down at us with binoculars. A woman stood up in the big mountain and lost half her head that summer, but it didn’t get into the papers. Neither did the high school student who tried to get into the park by hanging under the monorail. The janitor union went on strike when they were told to clean it up. That was the summer Peter Pan and the Big Bad Wolf took acid and made us laugh.

My friend was the Kingdom’s main hash dealer. One night he and I headed to LA, to Sunset Boulevard and a tiny, artsy movie theatre with a name I should remember but can’t. I was dating a girl from Fantasyland II—a girl who smelled like fries and burgers—and I know we didn’t double date. I’m not sure he even had a girl. I don’t remember doing anything else with him—just that night.

I’d never seen a roach-clip as long as his. I stared at it as he drove, and it was perfect: He could leave his hands on the wheel but get the joint to his lips. He was a pro. I wanted to be that cool. Light from somewhere illuminated his face, and the joint looked like a worm about to squirm. Why a worm? I didn’t know.

There weren’t many people in the movie theatre, and that made it stranger. It was in black and white, and I don’t remember how it started. Finally an old man appeared in a black suit, like a mortician, and began to cut with a butcher’s knife at a boy’s naked chest. Then he pulled, pulled, at something. A heart appeared suddenly in his hand and started beating. The boy, still conscious on the table, accepted it. This wasn’t a “horror movie.” That would’ve have made it less horrible. The man was just doing it for no reason except art and because the music (really upbeat—a song I’d heard when I was little) told him to.

But there was magic somewhere in that film, I told myself. But where? Was it in the boy’s look—which was almost a smile even as the man cut into him—or in the music and the dancing flowers I remembered from childhood, a cricket singing about wishes and stars, and a fatherly man talking to us from the TV set when his wonderful show—the magic of it—came on?

But where?

Then we were driving home, my friend’s roach-clip jerking in the darkness. I checked my collar once, twice, to see if the little bowtie was there, to make sure it wasn’t crooked. How stupid. I wasn’t wearing it. This wasn’t the Kingdom.


About the writer:
Bruce McAllister’s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, national magazines and “year’s best” volumes (BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, others); and won or been shortlisted for awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, GLIMMER TRAIN, NARRATIVE, NEW LETTERS, and the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in southern California.

Image: Fairy Tale Castle by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875 1911). Tempera on cardboard. 49.6 x 67.1 cm. 1909. Public domain.