You may recall (though probably not) that, echoing a success rate I have documented for a few years now, I bombed out in round 1 of this year’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. I had written what I thought was a half-reasonable historical fiction story about a charismatic religious zealot who is fire-bombed by the local police department resulting in half the neighbourhood going up in flames (an actual historical event). The judges considered my contribution carefully before choosing to award me zero points out of a possible 15, putting me in equal last place (familiar territory). This meant that competing in part 2 of the first round would be, competitively speaking, utterly pointless, so in a typically mature response I threw down my pen and refused to further cooperate.
I friend suggested that such a response was childish (I knew that) and since I’d paid the entry fee then I might as well put something in anyway. I eventually agreed to take part as long as I was not assigned ‘fairy tale’, for such would be beneath my high literary sensibilities.
I was assigned ‘fairy tale’.
But look …. my ‘high literary sensibilities’ are not that high, as it turns out. I ended up quickly churning a story out and submitting it. I thought it was fairly dreadful.
But here it is …. the full requirement was fairytale/teapot/swimming pool ….
Conversations With A Genie
Roberto of Persepolis, The Royal Genie of Mesopotamia, came into my life about a week after I acquired the teapot. I had purchased it at a second-hand market nearby and, one rainy Tuesday evening, I tried to brew tea in it.
I’ve been sitting by a swimming pool here on a South Pacific Island ever since.
“It’s an antique, you idiot,” roared the genie as he emerged from the spout, hurriedly brushing the steaming leaves of Darjeeling from his clothes, “you’re not supposed to make tea in it.”
He was upset. I understand that now. But how was I to know? There’d been no mention of a resident genie when I bought it. “Sorry,” I said.
But he wouldn’t be placated. “I could have drowned in there. Never mind the third-degree burns.”
“The water was only tepid, at worst.”
Clearly, we’d got off to a bad start.
Right from the outset he looked wrong. He appeared in a puff of smoke (or was it steam?) wearing green board shorts, an orange tee-shirt, a red baseball cap and sunglasses. He stood about 5’9”. He smelled bad. “Have you got any beer?” he asked, “I’m parched.”
He’d emptied seven bottles, consumed three sandwiches, a bowl of fruit and a carton of ice-cream before he was willing to speak again. It was an unusual introduction, to say the least. “I’ve been locked up in there for almost half a century,” he offered, by way of explanation, pointing towards the teapot, “and you can’t even fart in that thing without risking self-asphyxiation,” whereupon he loudly demonstrated the noxious luxury of his recent freedom.
I was beginning to seriously doubt his qualifications. “Aren’t you supposed to be a giant wearing baggy silk pants and ostentatious earrings?”
“We try to be contemporary.”
“And why the teapot? Isn’t it supposed to be a lamp?”
“There’s a housing crisis.”
I asked him about the three wishes, of course. It was the obvious thing to do. “Is there any sort of specific protocol?” I enquired, “anything that’s off limits?”
“Is this going to be some weird sexual thing?”
“Then there’s no rules. Just the one disclaimer.”
“Be careful what you wish for.”
I know now, having spent endless days by the pool with him, that The Royal Genie of Mesopotamia never gives a straight answer. When I had asked him for an assurance that my wishes would come true, he had been typically evasive.
“They wouldn’t be wishes then, would they? Because if you knew they were going to come true then they’d be pre-emptive statements of fact, not wishes. The very nature of a wish is hoping it will come true. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
“So, I just hope? Isn’t that what I’m always doing anyway? Where do you fit in? I don’t want the cake. I just want to eat it.”
The genie had looked up and grinned. He was missing several front teeth. “Was that a wish?”
I suddenly panicked. “The cake? No! It didn’t count as a wish, did it?”
“Can you feel the soft texture of sponge in your mouth? The sweet smoothness of cream on your lips? The taste of strawberries on your tongue?”
“Then I guess you got away with it,” he gave me another horrible grin, “this time.”
I didn’t get away with it a second time.
And so, I feel particularly stupid, sitting here beside the pool, drinking endless margaritas, eating club sandwiches, and staring at unattainable, bikini clad beauties parading past day after day.
But when Bob (he’s insisted on everyone addressing him thus since our arrival) had casually asked me how I envisaged my life panning out, and I had told him that I hoped, one day, to live on an exotic island, by a pool, in the sun, with a special friend, for the rest of my life, I had meant it hypothetically.
But there’s no such thing as a hypothetical wish, as it turns out.
“You were very specific about it. Wish number one …. One day/The rest of your life. Wish number two … Swimming pool in the sun. Wish number three ….With a special friend,” he smirked, “and they don’t come much more special than me.”
“I said ‘hope’, not ‘wish’.”
“I think we’d agreed that the two terms were interchangeable.”
“I didn’t agree on anything,” I insisted.
A couple of girls swam by, and paused to smile sweetly at Bob. He had become very popular, poolside, and showed little interest in returning to life in a teapot. “Silly you,” he murmured.
It’s difficult to adequately convey how exasperating things can become spending day after day by a glorious sun-drenched swimming pool with an obnoxious escapee from a Brothers Grimm story, whose responses to even the simplest of questions turn into amateur philosophy lectures.
“So, there’ll be no happily ever after?”
“Happiness is defined by unhappiness. One cannot exist without the other. You were happy here for a while.”
“But isn’t it supposed to be just once upon a time? Not every fucking day?” My language was getting as bad as his.
“Even I can’t alter the basic nature of the universe. History repeats itself.”
“And there’s no more wishes? That’s it?”
In response to this question, he put down his beer and shrugged. “Who knows? I suppose you could try. You want to go for world peace this time?”
I knew it was another of his traps, so I gestured towards a woman across the pool. “No,” I hissed at him , “I just wish I could see more of her, and less of you.”
He leaped up and called out loudly to her, “Hey, sweetheart! My buddy wants to see your tits!”
She glared at me with undisguised hostility before raising a middle finger and turning away.
Roberto of Persepolis, The Royal Genie of Mesopotamia, shook his head and grinned once more. “No mate,” he said, “it looks like you’re all out of wishes.”
And here’s the mystery.
The judges awarded me 11 points for it.