ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Tangerine Genie," by Richard Leise

Twice, over time, a young man and a young woman discovered a genie in a bottle.  The genie, trapped inside a ewer older than Narmer, was a steal.  Set upon a shelf inside Endwell Antiques, the artifact, competing with pretty vases, attractive phials, strange flagons, and religions partitions from stained-glass windows, was marked at forty-eight dollars (but could be had, were you the least bit savvy, for forty).  The shop's keeper, a middle-aged man with wire-rimmed glasses, bushy eyebrows, and a thick moustache, had cleverly arranged the glass in front of a west-facing window (it being a well-known fact, at least in proprietary circles, that most married couples do their antiquing in the afternoon), and sunlight filled each bottle with something seemingly breathing, as if each vessel contained part of this given day.  The couple had just smoked a huge bong, and the thought of everything teetered upon the edge of terrifying and much more interesting. 

The young man noticed the young woman admiring the strange container, and he resolved to buy it for her.  "You want this thing," the young man said, reaching for the glass.  He smiled, "What is it, do you think?  A jug?" 

The young woman gasped.  Her husband was very clumsy, and the sign tacked above the shelf, in the shopkeeper's carefully drawn hand, clearly stated: 

You Break It, You Bought It. 

The young woman was a lawyer.  While not positive, she was fairly certain such language would not hold up in a court of law.  For one, she did not believe there was any such statute on the books.  Moreover, the sign could not constitute a contract.  In order for a contract to be a contract, there has to be an exchange of value.  This is what the court called 'consideration.'  And it was not very considerate of a store to state you bought an item simply because you had accidentally broken it.  If you really thought about it, the man could have written:

You Smell It, You Buy It

and, legally, the sign would mean the same exact thing. 

Still, Endwell was a progressive city.  For instance, its public library really was free (late materials did not incur fees), and, just down the street, there was a popular open-injection facility.  But the young woman's concern was not financial (although the bauble, while strange, and lovely—it was, precisely, her thing—was ridiculously priced at, and she took the bottle from her husband, and examined its price tag, forty-eight dollars).

Hypothetically, she had no problem paying for something her husband had broken.  Perhaps not a moral imperative, it was the right thing to do.  Her distress stemmed from her husband's behavior.  First, he would feel terrible.  He would experience a sort of public shame (one that he would equate with some horrifying opprobrium, like he had killed some mother's daughter while out drunk, driving.)  Then he would insist upon paying the shopkeeper "in full."  Lastly, he would promise, as if this were possible, let alone necessary, to "make it up to him."  The process would be exhausting.  Not to mention embarrassing.  She was about to ask for the bottle, only it was missing.  Why was her husband smiling?  What, exactly, was happening?  Then she saw, in her hands, the ewer.  Something in the pit of her stomach fell.  Her high hit like a little acid peak.  A cloud passed in front of the sun, and the shop darkened.  This was why she no longer smoked dope.  Especially not this stuff.  She wanted to leave.  And now. 

"What's wrong?" the young man said.  He smiled.  "You look like you've seen a ghost."  He blinked.  And then, stepping towards her, "Wait, you didn't actually, uh," and he looked towards the shopkeeper.  "You didn't actually see a ghost, did you?"  He paled.  This made his lips bright red.  "No, wait, don't say it, I can tell.  You did, didn't you?"   

He believed in ghosts.  Specifically, the young man believed in poltergeists, and considered them evil, unfriendly, malevolent, and, quite possibly, but not necessarily, dangerous.  He did not think their house was haunted, but he did not rule out the possibility.  A haunting was something that could happen.  Turning to look behind him, he knocked a brass candelabra and a stack of vintage comic books to the floor.  The shopkeeper frowned.  Standing behind the counter, his hands spread upon either side of an opened Endwell Standard, he seemed disappointed that nothing had broken. 

"Follow me," the young man said.  He motioned for his wife to pick up the comics and the candelabra.  "We've gotta get out of here."

Bugged out because her husband was bugging out, the young woman set the ewer upon the windowsill, crouched, and, quickly, organized the comics, lifted the candelabra, and, carefully, set the junk upon a giant barrel.  It was then that the sun broke through the cloud.  Light illuminated the window.  And the bottles began to glow. 

Her bottle, which was the deep, bloody orange of her favorite sort of seashell, was touched by enough natural light to reveal its genie—utterly stereotypical, imagine Jambi or Barbara Eden, any djinn will do—floating, Indian-style, inside the glass.  But of course the woman did not believe in genies (she was having a hard enough time accepting the fact that the bottles, like struck tuning forks, were humming), and tossed the vision up to the weed.  Because most genies could not care less if they are discovered—after a couple thousand years of creating the same sets of problems for poor, desperate humans, it got old—he remained motionless, utterly apathetic.  It was hard to blame him.  He just got here.  Part of an estate sale, the genie had spent the last twenty years in the attic of a geriatric who had simply refused to die.  God knows, and he takes in the young woman's bust, he's had worse views.  If he never sees a grain of sand again it'll be too …. 

"I'll be back for that, uh," the young man said.  "Uh," and he gestured towards the ewer.  They walked past the counter.  "I just gotta grab my wallet," and he pushed and held open the door, just wide enough for the young woman to slip through.  "Left it in my car, like an idiot."  And, looking back, he smiled, he followed his wife into the security of the sunlight.

The shopkeeper listened to the bell above the door tinkle off and into silence, he shook his head.  He stepped from the counter and went to the window, where he eyed the woman.  The genie laughed at him.  The woman was hot.  No doubt about that.  How it was that so many clear-cut idiots managed to land such fleshpots?  Neither the genie nor the shopkeeper could understand this.  Not that either gave it much thought.  The shopkeeper was surprised when the young man, after speaking to his wife through her open window, turned, and, pulling his wallet from a back pocket, made for the door.


Within the couple's family and circle of friends there existed a spirited debate.  Half of those in the young man's life—and this included his wife—said that he looked like Paul McCartney.  The others—chief among them his mom—insisted that he looked like George Harrison.  If not expressly Beatle Paul, or Beatle George, the young man did resemble one of the Fab Four, circa 1970, windblown and chaffed, up there on that roof.  This was, in large part, because of his hair, and the dark circles under his eyes.  But the young man was not depressed.  He was, day in and day out, happy.  He taught ninth grade English at Endwell Collegiate.  Not once, during his decade with the school, had he been accused of not actually reading the essays and papers he assigned, collected, and graded.

The young woman was a junior partner at Shapiro, Dirksen, Marshall, and Kim, a not-for-profit that specialized in nothing.  Not 'nothing' in any sense Seinfeldian, it was just that one week she would be fighting discriminatory housing practices, and a year later she would be four hours north, eating dinner at an Applebee's, waking in the morning to defend a rape victim whose case, because the perp was a city alderman, required a change of venue.  She had a gentle, but forceful, voice.  Like the ocean booming to become surf.  Of course justice had far more to do with evidence than truth, and far more to do with cash than evidence, and the young woman, as consequence, lost many more cases than she won.  But no defendant ever got off easy.  She fought never to plea.  "If nothing else," she said, "let's let it play out in the court of public opinion."  She had friends record as much of the proceedings as legally possible.  She directed these friends to post as much of this content as was ethically permissible.  As for her physical appearance?  The young man maintained that she resembled no one.  She truly was that beautiful. 

Every morning the sun rose.  Sunlight crested Endwell's low-lying hillsides and came in through their bedroom window.  This light broke the pane, fell with a silent, fractured sort of force upon the hardwood floor, before, in time, retaining its form to climb the foot of their bed, moving slowly across toes, ankles, knees, and thighs to alight upon their closed eyes, bathing the couple in a cool, lemon-yellow glow, luminous as a halo, until, in time, one, or the other, woke.

The couple's family and friends believed they lived a charmed existence; it was difficult to disagree.  While the young man and the young woman understood that luck was illusory, that luck was as real as leprechauns, they appreciated how fortunate they were to have found one another.  Not everyone had it so easy.  As time passed, and many of their friends began divorcing one another (or worse) the couple went to the movies.  They went wine tasting.  Buzzed, they made love on pebbled shores, half-naked beneath the moon and stars.  In this way, their own lives, like a red carpet, unrolled before them.  They cared, but cautiously.  They enjoyed one another's company, and that was enough.  And then, to the young man's amazement, the couple found themselves pregnant. 


When the twins turned eight the family's home, which the four loved, proved much too small.  There was no way around it.  The man took to standing during dinner, because the girls, all elbows and energy, between sips of milk and forkfuls of spaghetti, would, while revealing the day's gossip and unsolved mysteries—fraternal, the pair were far too close to be placed in the same class, and so, between both, their stories could go on and on, well past dessert—were certain, if he did not, to knock the vase of fresh-cut flowers, or the pitcher of sun-drunk iced tea, off the table and on to the floor.

Their new home was much larger and almost perfect; only the first-floor bathroom needed work.  The woman, who now worked part-time, hired a family friend, a contractor the couple knew since college.  The problem, they all agreed, was that the room's west wall had to come down.  Their friend gave the twins goggles, hammers, and said, "Go to town."  At first, the girls tentatively struck the plaster.  But not for long.  Laughing, their friend said that he would be back in the morning.

Later that night, the girls argued over who delivered the blow that somehow knocked the ewer from the shelf near the sofa.  A fall that broke the bottle.  A break that popped its cork.  A completed action that freed the genie.  True to pre-pubescent form, more important than the actual prospect of three wishes was being granted credit for producing the wishes to begin with.  There was some shouting, and a lot of crying, before the sisters, tired—it had been a long day—arrived at a sensible solution:  They had stuck the wall simultaneously.  After their mother made the family's first, and only wish, however, the status of who did what, in what order (or if at all) was never again part of a discussion.

In real time?  Obviously, the four had been alarmed.  The girls outright scared.  At first, the man thought they were dealing with a poltergeist.  He did not know what he was going to do, but part of him had been relieved.  It was like being Catholic, and then, despite everything, finding that people (even online, in forums) admired you, considered you a sort of sage.  The home was old; mysterious; and the man had long suspected that poltergeists, when not about the business of slamming doors, and banging pots and pans, resided within walls.  But the genie quickly explained himself. 

How to describe the genie?  This was all but ineffable.  Late that night, however, waiting for sleep, the man did his best to recall.  Separate from, and above what was, apparently, its head, two stems rose perfectly vertically, with eyeballs dotting each, a pair of lowercase 'i's.  Beneath these were two more lines, and these crossed to make an elongated 'x', with its centroid, wobbly like jelly, vibrating, more than opening and closing, when the genie spoke.  Like a sea urchin, only much, much softer, the genie was totally symmetrical, a number of spikes (or crests) descending from either side of each 'i' with a uniform prettiness to inform, in shape, something round.  From those furloughs, or troughs, near-transparent bands radiant like rainbows flashed, or pulsed, heavenward.  Five per side, these terminated, far from the djinn's center, in heart-shaped hands.  These hands served no observable purpose.  The genie did not have a bottom.  In this way, the genie was more a doodle, or a sketch.  Something unfinished.  More than anything, the genie was a color.  A smear, or a smudge, tangerine.    
After the girls had cooled, and the shock had abated, the man insisted that his wife, the lawyer, was the perfect person to make their first wish.

His wife nodded.  She said, "Yes, maybe, but isn't it the person who frees the genie? Am I right?  In the stories, it's the person, it's the, um, whoever.  It's the mortal who frees the genie who, ultimately, is awarded the three wishes.  I'm right about this, correct?" 

Love, that ancient intoxicant, warmed the man's bloodstream as his wife worked the genie.  His body buoyant, the tension in his shoulders lifting—a light, roping release—the man, as always, was awed more by his wife's presence in the face of the absurd than the face of absurdity itself (and a genie was pretty whacked, as far as that went).  With conscious concern he contained his composure as she elicited what she considered, in light of some fairly stereotypical evasiveness, not just a, but what she perceived to be the only acceptable response.

"But there's four of us," their oldest daughter said.

"And there's only three wishes," her sister added.

The genie floated before them.  If the man was not mistaken, the djinn had lost some of its luminosity.  A bit of its shine.  He smiled at his wife.  There was no sense upsetting the girls, but there was no way they would play a part in this story.  His wife was up for this.  Of this, the man was certain.  This, however, did not mean they had to hurry.  To hurry would be their undoing. 

"Just because the genie says that we've all freed him, and so we're all eligible to wish, this doesn't mean that we should," the man said.  "And whoever wishes, and I still maintain it's your mom, you have to be careful what you wish for.  There's a reason why certain aphorisms become popular sayings."

When the girls complained, insisting that, as usual, they had no idea what he was talking about; that they had never before heard the 'saying' (and that the only reason he had was because he taught English); the man told the genie that they needed a moment; he asked if he would not mind returning to his bottle until they, as a family, had reached an agreement.  Surprisingly, the genie agreed.  Back inside its bottle—the man repaired the crack with duct tape, and secured the cork in place (even though the genie insisted he would appear only when summoned)—and, after defining aphorism, the man, setting the ewer behind the sofa, told the girls a condensed, grossly exaggerated version of "The Monkey's Paw."

"I don't get it," his youngest said.  "The mom got what she wanted, her son back."

"But he was, like, a zombie," her sister said.

"Worse than that, even," the man said.  "Her son wasn't a zombie.  Even Zombie's have been romanticized.  At least somewhat.  And remember.  This was back before bodies were embalmed.  Were preserved.  That, or the family would have been too poor for that sort of burial.  You can't forget.  Their child had been mangled.  His guts were falling out.  They just dropped him in a box and lowered him into the ground.  Imagine what he looked like.  Just think what he smelled like two weeks later when, crawling from his coffin, he came knocking on their door."

Sufficiently creeped out, the twins agreed:  They would sleep on it.  The woman texted their contractor, said that something had come up, and could he come back some time next week?  The four then ordered Dominos Pizza, squeezed into the couple's bed, and watched Paranormal Survivor on Netflix. 

The twins were downstairs, sitting on the sofa, staring at the holes in the wall as though it were a Christmas tree, and they were waiting, impatiently, for their parents to come downstairs and open presents.  The man was in the master bathroom, standing next to an open window, the bong to his mouth.

"Do you really think you should be smoking?"

He lowered the glass, said, "Absolutely," and sparked the lighter.  The dope glowed gold and cherry as the flame raced towards the water, and he inhaled, freeing the slide before the chamber filled, solidly, with smoke.  The point, and he exhaled out the window—the weed was great, it tasted like strawberries and citrus—was to loosen up, not get stoned.  He had a bad feeling.  He hoped that smoking would enable him to have fun, to overcome his reservations.  He hid the bong in a cabinet behind a stack of towels (aside from a couple of camping trips, the woman had not smoked since the episode inside Endwell Antiques), and brushed his teeth.

Genies must exist to serve some greater purpose.  They had to.  (Or not.)  The man stepped on a wet blanket.  Was the universe trying to tell him something?  No.  He nodded.  He shook his head.  Just before dawn one of the girls had spilled a glass of water while climbing out of bed.  He folded the blanket, and tossed it down the laundry chute.  Because the man was consciously waiting to hear the sound of the blanket landing upon the pile of dirty laundry, the gentle thud arrived a couple beats too late.  He smiled.

Of course he knew that this was the Genie's Dilemma.  Everyone, and he followed the woman out of the bathroom, past their unmade bed, and down the steps, thought that they were special.  That they were immune to the Three Wishes and their curse.  In each of these stories there was someone eager to make the wish; in most, there was someone equally skeptical.  Part of his plan—which was, ultimately, to rewrite the narrative; he had no desire to document this, and instructed everyone to leave their phones upstairs—was working.  He was growing excited.  He could feel his uncertainty, like a headache, fading.  There was no version of this story which featured, as character, a lawyer.  Or—the man was pretty high and he could not be sure, maybe one of the modern versions did—no such account featured his wife.  There was no doubt about that.  No, she was not perfect.  But even when she lied she did so with a purpose, with an intensity that was close enough to integrity to atone for her dishonesty.  And she had an incredible memory.  She really thought things through.

"So," the woman retrieved the ewer, she took her place upon the sofa, "any ideas?"

The four were sitting upon the sofa.  The woman at one end.  The man upon the other.  She held up a hand, she waited for the girls to stop talking.  The curtains were not drawn.  The only light was natural, and entered the living room from those spaces that led out of it.

"Remember 'The Monkey's Paw,'" the man said.  And then, "Don't worry."  (The twins had rolled their eyes, simultaneously.)  "It's  Saturday.  You're not in school.  But remember what happened to the people in that story.  What you wish for.  You have to be prepared to accept all of it.  Everything that you ask for?  You're going to get.  Even—"

It was clear that the girls did not understand.  They did not get it.  They could wish for one billion dollars, and, whatever, the housing market would collapse; the woman's father, who happened to have made some strange (but sound) investments a year before she was born would be the only individual to benefit; he would die of a heart attack; and, en route to his funeral, the four would get into a horrible automobile accident, leaving the girls orphaned, but one billion dollars richer.  Something like that.  But if adults, and the man leaned back into the sofa, he considered the girls' ponytails ….  If adults understood something like that, then we wouldn't have all these cautionary …. 

"We have to think through the stories," the man said.  "We have to think what the others do exactly wrong, so that what we do is perfectly right."

His girls did not know he smoked dope.  The twins did not even know what weed was.  But still.  Sometimes, the way they looked at him?  It was as though they thought he was high.  Now that his wife had retrieved the bottle from the sofa, and they sat, hip to hip, considering its genie, he was optimistic.  If given both sides of a case his wife could take either, and win.  Perhaps they were not, but, and the man smiled, his wife?  She was up for this. 

"What's the theme of the story?  Of all the stories?"

His daughters did not know what theme meant.  The man was not disappointed.  He was worried, though.  Just a bit.  He was going to give them until sixth grade—the end—before he assessed their aptitude versus their effort.  This reverie was interrupted as his wife explained. 

Because the question, and the explanation, came from their mom, the girls did not groan.  Their oldest said, "Oh.  Like Dad said.  Last night.  Be careful what you wish for."

Her sister (who looked at her dad like he was high) said, "Be careful what you wish for, because you're actually going to get it?"

The man had been thinking this over for some time.  The thing with weed, though.  The thing with particularly good weed.  You thought.  But, if you were smart, you understood that you were under the influence of a psychotropic drug, and, as such, were not in a position to evaluate the merit of these thoughts.  This was where his wife came in.

"The problem," he said.  And he weighed his words before explaining. 

He must have taken too long, because he wife said, "The problem, hon.  Yes.  Please.  Go on.  We're listening."

"Oh.  Right.  Well the problem, or at least one of them," and the man ignored the bottle.  He tried to forget the genie's strange features.  He focused upon his wife's hands; her long, slender fingers.  Smoking interfered with his short-term memory.  The man would never argue otherwise.  Otherwise?  His memory was average. 

"What the people do wrong," he said, "is wish for something they want.  Something that exclusively rewards them.  Makes them feel better."

"What else would you wish for," the twins said, concurrently.  Exasperated, they did not even giggle.

"That's what your father is getting at," the woman said.  "Please listen."

"Right," the man said.  "If you think about it, and you should, it doesn't matter if we're dealing with a genie, a wizard, a witch, a fairy, a, uh, the King of the universe.  Whatever.  It doesn't matter if we're poor woodcutters or if we're fishermen.  The pattern is the same.  People realize they have three wishes, and so they don't put too much thought into the first.  Now this, presumably, is because these people aren't like us.  They don't have the advantage of knowing about the 'three wish' story pattern.  They don't know that they're not real.  That they're characters.  That they're foibles.  That they're in a story written so that real people can learn from them."  The man took a breath.  "So they rush into the first wish.  Even, in many cases, despite the genie's warning.  When they realize the result of the first wish is horrible, not what they expected, they use the second to undo the first.  This then leaves them with only one wish, which they're wary to use, given all that's happened.  But," and the man tapped the bottle, "who can turn down the prospect of using another wish?  In theory, this wish is just as powerful as the first.  Even more so, given that the people only have the one left, so the—"

"Mom," the youngest said.

"What do you think we should wish for?" said her sister.

"With the first wish."

The oldest said, "Mom knows what I mean."

"What we mean."

"Not 'we' if you're talking about Daddy," the oldest said.


The woman's mother has cancer.  Soft tissue sarcoma.  A tumor the size of a grapefruit is deeply embedded within her chest and shoulder.  Untreatable, the cancer is slowly, incredibly slowly, spreading, not so much moving from organ to organ—although there was a bit of this going on—as strangling nerves and creating within her mom overwhelming pain.  Her left hand is the size of a newborn and so red as to seem black, as if her cells had suffered frostbite and her hand was about to fall off.  Wishing for her mom would be dangerous.  There were too many variables.  But where was the danger, and she adjusted the ewer, in wishing for a cure for cancer?  The world was always going to be a terrible place.  She did not know the number, and even if she did, she could not trust it.  But say something like ten million.  Ten million people died from cancer every year.  Even if the cure came from the rainforest ….  Well, these were going to be destroyed anyways.  Even if the cure caused some sort of war, or great financial calamity ….  Wars and great financial calamities were going to happen anways.  The world was already overpopulated (there was no stopping people from having babies).  The pharmaceutical companies could not get any greedier.  If she wished for a cure for cancer, those with the disease, depending upon its stage, depending upon the individual's religious beliefs, these people could do with the cure what they pleased.  But, she knew, just because the answer …

"I'm thinking," the woman said, the weight of the ewer suddenly uncomfortable, "that we wish for a cure for cancer."

The four sat silently.  And then the man reached for the bottle.  Surprised, his wife, deep in thought, aware only that her hold on the glass was loosening, unconsciously gripped the genie more tightly.  The man, registering resistance, pulled harder.  The bottle, already broken, split upon an existing fault line.  The woman, realizing that her husband wanted the bottle, let go.  Not expecting this, the man, because he was pulling with so much force, lost both his balance and his purchase.  The bottle fell, the cork popped, and the genie, like moisture on a bathroom mirror, appeared before them.  The twins shrieked, they tucked their knees beneath their bottoms, pointlessly pointing.  Consciously, the man considered wishing that he was not so clumsy.  In wasting a wish, he would be breaking the pattern.  Or, in making so rash a wish, would he actually participate in perpetuating the curse, ensuring that, in some distant time, in some distant place, his story would be recorded with the others, consumed by another generation of readers?

Fuck it.  He said, "Genie, we wish there was a—"


Even though it was her idea, if her husband—and impulsively, too, the dolt—was the one to voice the wish, only terrible would come true.  This, the woman knew.  But even from her.  A cure for cancer?  How lame.  As a wish (even in a story like this), it just wouldn't do.  Her mom had signed with hospice.  While violent—the woman would forever consider the decision a form of violence—wasn't it irrefutable that her mom had, as agent, made a sort of peace? 


While (apparently) just as irrefutably there were genies …  But here the woman stopped.  The woman sighed.  What was the point?  She didn't need to complete some tautology.  There was no need for her to don the virtue of logical form.  Yes.  The story of the genie and its bottle existed.  Getting the genie back in the bottle?  Simple.  Easy.  As ever, people had it wrong.  Or, more likely, their stories had been different, but were written for easier, if not better, consumption, edited not so much to impart a lesson, but for the purposes of publication.  It wasn't like genie stories were found in the Old Testament.  Her husband and his aphorisms.  She rubbed the side of her head.  Her smile lacked mirth.  Fairy tales were fine, or not fine, who was she to say?  What she did know, what the woman did believe, was that these stories did not protect, but, rather, they drugged us.  So why bother participating in the …  

The only possible way out was not so much a matter of evading, or escaping, but to avoid ever entering.  To create a means by which to protect her family, to ensure that their daughters – their children – were spared not from disease, or even experience, but, for lack of a better term, analysis.  She.  Her husband.  The girls.  They were people!  They weren't characters!  The woman was unsure how it would be answered, but she had the question.  After all, what was, definitively, the only singular feature each of the Three Wish stories had in common?  They were, or had become, stories. 

Had the woman, since discovering the genie, known it would come to this?  She wasn't sure.  And she didn't think it mattered.  Watching her husband, seeing her daughters grow so excited?  This time spent together, conspiring, truly conspiring, as a family?  This was something she would never forget.  Did living a life in this world offer anything better by way of magic?

"Ah," the genie said, floating before her.  Like a screensaver the djinn, pinging from side to side, and from up to down, occupied a rectangular field of invisibly defined air.  The genie was contained, but just barely.  Swirling with tangerine dimension, with streaks in crazed degrees of saturated color, the djinn looked ready to rupture.  And perhaps it had.  The room suddenly ripe with the smell of split citrus. 

The twins reached for their phones (the man, despite the girls' promise that they would not attempt to picture, or record, the genie, knew better, and had taken the batteries from their devices).  When their phones failed the girls feared they had angered the genie, and, mouths open, dropped their phones upon their laps.

"We're not in Wonderland anymore, huh, Alice," the genie said.  He floated in front of the twins.

"Close your mouths, girls," the woman said.  The twins moved together, in time.  And then, "I don't want you to say a word.  No matter what this genie says, or does, not one word.  Understand?"  The girls nodded.  And then, "That goes for you, too, hon."

 The man gave his wife a thumbs up.

"So," the genie said, for a moment its form disrupted, as a cloud of smoke swirls when hit by a passing breeze.  A showy, unmistakable swagger, before, brighter than ever, the genie arranged itself before the woman.  "It's you.  It's me."

The woman shrugged. 

"I suppose you suppose that you have it figured out, right?  That you have your first wish?  There are rules, you know.  But I suspect you know this.  If not, I'm sure your husba—"              "Hush," the woman said.

The genie pulsed, the genie flashed.  But it did not speak. 

The woman raised the ewer, she pushed it through the genie.  Like holding an object beneath water, the vessel seemed to fill.  To both fill with, and to disperse that unto which it had been submerged.  In this way the genie seemed to assume greater dimension, to spill, towards, if not upon, the woman.  It was wonderful, this vision. 

She said, "I wish that, one week from today, this version of your story had never been published." 

Genies, by nature, are not evil, or calculating.  Cold as computers, genies are not cerebral.  They are programmed.  They are as intelligent only as that force which enslaved them.  Unlike PCs, however, genies are, given their status as entities, subject to evolution.  Of course for change to occur, genies would need to intermingle with other populations.  This is why the bottle, or vessel, is so important.  Were genies to roam free …

While genies may not appreciate time the way humans do, most understand, and are in some way inured by, or with, the human condition, and 'get,' if not quite accept, something like time's arrow.  This is part of the Genie's Curse.  Understanding all, genies are, in the human sense, pure genius.  This is because there is no truth.  There is only consciousness.  What, then, does this make the human genius?  If asked, a genie would say, "One who knows nothing, absolutely."

But this woman.  Of course the genie knows this woman.  She may have forgotten seeing him, so long ago.  But he has watched her.  He has listened to her for more than ten years.  The genie is many things, but he is not omniscient.  Still.  He knew that had she been the one to set him free she would, in her small, human way, make, more than anyone before her, a greater contribution.  But this?  Her wish?  While it was, of course, his command, the genie, for the first time ever, felt what the woman would label not so much afraid, as uncertain.    

For imagine, if you can, a world where spoken language never evolved.  No birdsongs.  No vocalizations.  A plane where feelings are felt, and nothing is implied.  Misconstrued.  Relationships, all relationships, reduced to base levels.  The ultimate sums of dis- and affection.  All there is but giving.  And taking.  Or giving and taking. 

The very worst of this world has at once been reduced to, and has been created by, language.  The most simple, the most contrived words.  Clauses.  Phrases.  Ruining everything.  All of it subordinate.  Words.  Artifice.  Syntax.  Vernacular.  And imagine what would pass through our minds if not the thoughts of the sounds of words!  In what form would thought assume?  What shape?  Imagine—if only you can—that simple, that quiet precision.  That wonder.  What beauty, this aborted geometry.  How wonderful this world would be. 

Through the course of any verbal account the woman saw the systematic fashioning, the intentional shaping of events, the scrupulous reframing of reality into some other reality.  In other words, she heard everyone lying.  When those around her spoke, she processed that margin between the newspaper column and poetic vision.  America really wasn't the sort of place where you expected sincerity, so this wasn't that big of a deal.  Ordinarily.  When the point dulls to the degree that nothing is beneath interest (and she ushered the genie back inside its bottle; she corked the djinn in place; and, later that afternoon, with her family by her side, she tossed, from a nearby bridge, the ewer into the Susquehanna River) the woman found that, underneath that which those around her insisted was interesting, there was, in fact, nothing.      



Richard recently accepted The Perry Morgan Fellowship in Creative Writing from Old Dominion University.  While completing a MFA, he has a novel out on submission, and is completing a collection of short stories; his work has been published in many publications 

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