Skip to content

Playing with the Wizard

Dawn Sperber


Sure, he was a charmed minstrel, a fine carpenter, a grunt laborer, and a timeless wizard, but what stands out to me as a heartbreakingly lovely quality is this: Matti told himself elaborate nightly bedtime stories. Deep inside that elven man’s mind, as he skirted quickly past you to complete some wonder or quick-fix, was a majestic, expansive world, ever-entertaining him. He was like an eight-year-old in a way, loving his private time, attentive to his curiosities, head bent to his work.

In his bedtime stories, he left the student ghetto in Albuquerque and its soundtrack of sirens and gunshots, and behind his eyelids, he explored the mountains of New Zealand, the forests of Germany, the rainforests in Brazil, the wilderness of outer space. He was always the hero, helping return the world to balance and magic, though sometimes he was a Viking, or a medieval wizard, or a Cyclops monster, or a rock-star spaceman saving the galaxy through the power of love and music. There were always beautiful women, strong and magical—sometimes warriors, sometimes faeries—and they always loved him. I featured in some of the stories, probably in more than I’d like to think about. (But he was such a gentle best friend, maintaining my careful boundaries. And I respected his.)

“Alright, Dawny, I think it’s about that time,” he’d say so softly, his voice lowering in volume with his tiredness till it was a faint mumble. That’s when I’d mime turning up the volume dial, and I’d lift my eyebrows pointedly, and he’d laugh and speak a touch louder, but still make me strain to hear. He was so obvious when he was turning toward his inner world, ready to get comfy just so in his bed and tell himself his stories. Often, he could slip from telling himself his stories to dreaming them. He always went to bed earlier than everyone else, usually by nine, and then he’d rise in the very early morning and have his private wake-up time, while he rendered his movies on his computer. That’s where he worked to bring his bedtime stories to life.

Matti could be trusted to invite anyone at all to act in his movie projects. He could make anyone into a star. At our apartment complex, a kind hippy with dreads and bare feet doing work-trade would enter one of Matti’s movies and appear as a muscular, dashing warrior, heading a rebel space army. The neighbor ladies became ethereal faeries in the forest with dragonfly wings superimposed over their backs, and their little children appeared as pixies and elves and a boy-king who pulled the sword from the stone. Matti didn’t own many possessions, yet he still had stockpiled an impressive wardrobe of clothes, wigs, and props to dress a crew of people in a spectrum of genre styles.

I played lead in countless Matti movie projects, donning a sword or a shimmery gown or intricate hawk wings, flying and dancing and vanquishing foes, with a big padded bust (like in the sci-fi movies, Matti explained, coaxing me to wear the preposterous tops), and I went along with it—we all did—because playing with him was so fun. I always felt safe with him, a novelty for a survivor with PTSD. He helped me heal old wounds, and feel safe being playful, and risk being seen. I watched him open doors in that way for many people.

I know the world was too ugly and unjust for him. But I just love what he created as he tried to build an alternative realm to live in. He excelled at telling himself stories to get through the hard times, until the stories turned against him, and then he got lost inside his majestic depths.

His sudden erasure from the rest of the stories altered everything, and my good health exited out the door after him, though I’m working on retrieving it. But when I record my poems, I’m remembering to imagine Matti behind the lens. “Smile, Dawny. Be in your magic,” he says, squinting through the camera and fluffing his long, tapered hair in an exaggerated way so I’ll do it too. And I shine for those moments, and in many other bright overlapping moments, when I feel so close to him again.


Dawn Sperber is the author of My Bones Are Love Gifts (Shanti Arts, 2022), an illustrated poetry collection, and Now, That’s a Trick (Finishing Line Press, 2022), a flash fiction chapbook. She is a writer, editor, and artist based in Texas and New Mexico. Her stories have been published in PANK, NANO Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. You can find her flash essay, “Home Is a Shape-Shifter,” in the current issue of Creation Magazine. (Check it out.) She helps with Plume: A Writer’s Community and the Plume podcast, supporting women and non-binary writers.


To learn more about submitting your work to Boudin or applying to McNeese State University’s Creative Writing MFA program, please visit Submissions for details.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook.