“Think Houdini ever reached a point where he started to escape unconsciously?” mused our bachelor brother, the only one of us to have made it out of his twenties free of lifelong commitments. This Thanksgiving, though, he was supposed to have brought the woman he had been with for almost a year. The seat next to him at our parents’ table was unexpectedly empty. So were our disappointed parents’ seats – now that they had excused themselves to play with their grandchildren. “That he just started picking locks like other people pick their teeth?”

With that, he touched index finger to canine and dislodged something dark. Suddenly, he pulled his hand out to stifle a cough. When he placed it, palm up, on the tablecloth, there was a bobby pin perched perpendicularly across his love line.

“We were relaxing in bed.” He nodded toward the chair, explaining its emptiness to his siblings. “If you had realized I was about to pull a Houdini, that this was a magic trick, you might have taken my spilling that glass of wine into the gap between the bed and the wall to be a bit of misdirection.

“Turned out, though, that it actually directed her attention toward the thing she wasn’t supposed to see. Because, when I pulled the bed away from the wall to spray stain remover on the carpet, there it was: this bobby pin.

“She touched the bobby pin with her right hand and her hair with her left hand. Then, without a word, she walked out.”

When he lifted his eyes from what he held in his hand, they looked lost. “When those shackles fell away, I didn’t feel free without their weight. I felt adrift, as if those chains had been attached to an anchor.”

“Pinned” was originally published by Flash Fiction Magazine in 2015.

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