"Daddy, what's in the bag?"
"A box of dice and a bag of tricks, love," he would respond, sometimes pausing to kiss her forehead, sometimes stroking her cheek with a faraway look in his eyes. She loved the evenings after school. Her dad was always just waking up when she got home; he would help with her homework and then make dinner while she watched her favourite television shows. They would eat dinner while watching the news and wait until her mum came home. Her dad would take the bag from her mum and head out for the night.
"Mum, what's in the bag?" she would ask as her parents whispered to each other in the kitchen.
"Your future, my present, and more past than you need to know, Crystal," her mum would reply, handing the bag over to dad. They never really looked at the bag, her mum and dad, they just traded it like a relay baton when walking in and out of the small apartment. "Say goodbye to daddy, baby, it's time for bed."
"Goodnight, Daddy. I love you, will you show me a trick soon?"
"Maybe not these tricks, Krissy, honey," her dad would reply laughing, leaning down to pick up Crystal and give her a kiss. "I'd never fool you with these ones."
Crystal sat on the edge of her dad's bed, looking down at his fragile form. "A box of dice and a bag of tricks, Dad?"
"What else could I say, Krissy?" he croaked, hand reaching out to sit on Crystal's knee. "We never wanted you to know, we had a plan. You were never to know." He broke down into another fit of coughing. It sounded so much worse in the sterile emptiness of the hospital room, the machines beeping to accentuate the silence between each of his wracking breaths.
"So why?" Crystal rested her hand for a moment on her dad's limp fingers, and then pushed his arm away from her. "Why do I find out three days before I go to college, why do I find out at all? And why like this?"
"The money, baby. Not a lot, but enough, for you," his eyes were full of guilt, glistening with tears that could not have been far from falling. "Your mum decided that we had to stop using as soon as you were born, but we could still push, we still needed to push, for you, so you saw normal, so you saw us as normal. But your mum fell first, and when she did, I fell soon after. We still pushed, but we lost our way."
"Why didn't you stop when she died? I wouldn't have known, Dad, why would I have known?" Crystal turned her head to look at the doorway, trying her best not to sniff audibly or let her shoulders convulse. "She just disappeared, you let me think she just disappeared!"
"Krissy, I'm sorry. For what good it does, I am sor--" her dad broke into a violent episode of coughing. Crystal looked down at him, at the intravenous tube in his arm adding little to the pinhole damage already in existence, at the blood starting to show through the bandage around the gunshot wound in his chest, and she could feel the shaking in his legs from withdrawal. "I didn't know any other way. I still don't."
"A box of dice and a bag of tricks, Dad." she stood up and looked down at her dad's gaunt face. "Thank you for putting me first, but fuck you for how you did it!"
"It's always gambling and illusion, Krissy, always," his voice had died halfway through the sentence leaving Crystal to read the rest from his lips. She leaned down to kiss his forehead for what she knew was the last time, and left the room to the sound of his ever-weakening cough.
A box of dice and a bag of tricks, she thought. How much do I owe to chance and magic?