Where the Magic Is
Maggie and I had done plenty of kinky things over the years, but we’d stayed away from eating rare magical animals.
Maggie walked in with something wrapped in butcher’s paper and she placed it on the table with a flourish. “Unicorn,” she said.
“Is that a new pet name for me?” I asked.
“It’s what’s for dinner.”
Maggie and I had done plenty of kinky things over the years, almost always at her request, but we’d stayed away from eating rare magical animals. Besides, I’d already warmed a slice of pizza in the microwave and had just sat down to eat. I’d even used a paper plate because I wasn’t expecting her home so early. Maggie came down hard on creating unnecessary waste, but sometimes I wanted to throw something away and get on with my night.
“You think it’s true what they say about eating unicorn?” she asked. “I think so, but maybe it’s stupid.” She lowered her eyes, embarrassed, as if we were just meeting for the first time. But then she couldn’t help herself. “I’m sorry. Where did you get a paper plate?”
“I have a stash,” I said. Which was true. I kept them in my sock drawer.
Her lips curved down to reveal the dimple at the top of her right cheek. No aphrodisiac or bedroom accouterments would ever turn me on more than that dimple. “So what do you think?” she asked.
“I think it would be easier to keep the paper plates in the kitchen,” I said.
“I’m talking about the unicorn.”
I looked at the butcher’s paper on the table between us, a purple stain spreading along the bottom. I’d seen parts of unicorn used before. After my parents divorced, my dad had begun mixing ground unicorn horn into his coffee to make him more virile. My mom had taken to wearing a lock of unicorn mane around her wrist to boost her confidence. When we were teenagers, my sister had even boiled a unicorn hoof and drunk the murky water to get some guy in her biology class to notice her.
But none of those things were as macabre as this hunk of meat practically throbbing on the table. I wanted to scoop Maggie into my arms like when we’d first started dating, like I could never be persuaded to let go, and tell her that we didn’t need to eat unicorn meat to rekindle what we’d once had.
“How do you know it’s actually unicorn?”
She rested her hands on the table. “How do we know that anything we buy is what it claims to be? That steak you like at the meat counter could be dog.”
“If it is, it’s good as hell.”
Maggie plowed forward, anxious to get to the point. “I feel confident this is the real deal. The guy had horns for sale too. And hooves.”
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“As if it bothers you. I don’t think you want it to be real.”
“I’m sorry, Maggie. It just doesn’t look very appetizing.” Blood had seeped through the paper and was pooling on the table. A tendril of it was working its way toward my plate.
“It’s not supposed to be appetizing.”
“A rousing endorsement.”
She suddenly looked sad, and I knew what she wanted me to say: that I was ready to eat unicorn meat with her. That I believed it would bind us together forever. What I wanted to say: that no one in a strong relationship bought unicorn meat. Her choice of dinner said more than the last six months of us drifting apart.
“Do the hair thing,” I said.
She reached behind her and pulled her hair out of its ponytail. It fell onto her shoulders like the curtain at the end of a performance. She grinned at me with genuine affection and my pulse quickened at the sight. “You ready to go on this adventure with me?” she asked.
The blood had reached the paper plate where my pizza sat shriveled and helpless. “That thing is really leaking,” I said.
“It’s not about eating the meat. It’s about the blood. The blood is where the magic is. I got the bloodiest piece he had.”
I’d never heard Maggie talk that way, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. There was something pleading and unashamedly vulnerable in her tone. She leaned toward the wall and dimmed the light.
“We don't even have to cook it,” she said. “We can eat it raw. Right out of the paper.” She fixed her gaze on me. “We need this.”
Maggie was breathing heavily, her chest heaving, waiting for me to respond. Through the window behind her I saw a faint white glow. “What is that?” I asked.
She turned and saw it too. We moved to the window in unison and looked out into our unkempt yard. Standing between the mailbox and the driveway was a unicorn. Its mane blew in a slight breeze, its horn glowing from where it protruded from its forehead. I’d never seen one in person before. It looked much more like a horse than I expected.
“I’ve heard of this happening,” Maggie said, her voice hushed. She reached for my hand but settled for my sleeve. “It can smell the blood of its fallen comrade. It’s mourning.”
As we watched, another unicorn joined the first. Maggie squeezed my forearm with both hands. “They’re beautiful.”
Without even noticing their arrival, I suddenly saw six more dispersed around our yard. Under the basketball hoop I never used anymore. Next to Maggie’s bird bath. Pacing in front of the garage. And they were all glaring through the window at us.
“I can’t do this,” I said.
She pulled me away from the window. “Yes you can.”
By now, the blood had completely saturated the paper plate and the edges drooped to the table. A faint glow came from inside the butcher paper, pulsing slightly, as if it were breathing too. Maggie reached over and began unwrapping it.
If I ate a piece of this unicorn with her, I’d be sending a message. And I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Maggie was wonderful, but I wasn’t sure she was my kind of wonderful anymore. I liked pizza. I liked paper plates.
“What about the unicorns outside?” I asked.
“Forget about them.” She’d finished unwrapping the meat and the glow filled the kitchen.
Glass shattered behind us and it sounded exactly like a horn striking a window.
“We have to hurry,” Maggie said. “Before they take it from us.”
The sound of more breaking glass came from the back of the house. Hooves on the tile in the bathroom. A whinny from our bedroom. We were surrounded.
“This doesn't seem right,” I said.
“The dangerous things are the only things worth doing.” She put her fingers into the meat and pulled off a bloody piece.
I could feel the unicorns watching me now, but I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to live in that moment forever. Waiting for the feel of a horn through my shoulder blades. Maggie reaching out to me, blood dripping on the table. I felt more alive than I had in months.
That was how mistakes were made.
Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, Cutbank, Wigleaf, Split Lip, and Black Clock, among others. His collection NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. In addition to constructing elaborate Lego sets with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.