His eyes always look so tired now. He seems too young to have eyes that weary; but then, I have no idea how old he really is.
He tells me tales of long ago, of his life among pharaohs and kings. If this is true, I ask, then how did he wind up here, telling his stories in an apartment on the Upper East Side? Sometimes he’ll say he doesn’t know; that his bottle changed hands too many times to count. Sometimes he’ll just sigh.
We met at a party at a loft in Chelsea. I didn’t know whose. He didn’t know either. I was impulsive, a closet radical with a job in banking. He was—still is—beautiful. We spent the weekend at my place, rolling around in bed until noon, floating out into a soft-focus world for coffee, ordering dinner in before plunging back into bed.
Weekends stretched into weeks. We would part ways in the morning, and he would come to my door almost every night with a flower or some small gift. He never mentioned where he went on the few nights I didn’t see him, and I didn’t ask. A current of mystery flowed around him. It lifted and whirled like a delicate veil winding around my shoulders, an elation that moved with me through our first months together.
At night he would stroke my hair and offer me three wishes.
Wish number one: love me, I’d say.
Granted, he’d answer. And your second wish?
I’ll wait, I would tell him. I’ll wish for something special.
He told me fantastic stories of his life: his childhood in Mesopotamia, the intrigues of the court at Versailles, passage across the Atlantic and, finally, meeting me. He said I was now part of his legend. The mysterious veil fluttered around me again, as light and soft as the wraps of renaissance angels.
I don’t remember what our first fight was about: the toothpaste cap, the dishes, something banal and inevitable. That first time, he was gone for a week, returning with flowers and apologies and promises never to leave again. He told me my genie had returned.
Every time the shadow of the everyday crept toward us, he stayed away longer—two weeks, three weeks, a month—coming back again as though nothing had happened. The last time he disappeared and returned, he told me to make a wish.
I wish you would take a shower, I said.
That’s not a real wish, he laughed. But I will comply.
As soon as I heard the water, I opened the messenger bag that never left his side. I’d had enough mystery. There, with his wallet and phone, I saw a pouch of purple velvet. Its weight surprised me as I lifted it out and loosened the drawstring. I pulled out a small, crude bottle, unevenly blown, with a stopper that only almost fit. The glass was thick and cloudy, stained brown with dirt and age. I jiggled the bottle—nothing. I slowly lifted out the stopper and peered inside—nothing. I turned the bottle around in my hand, wondering what it meant.
The shower went silent. I kept the stopper in my fist and put the rest back into his bag. I didn’t know what I wanted with it, what I thought it would do. I just wanted something to change. I wanted a normal life, where people didn’t act like genies and disappear for weeks at a time.
I put the stopper somewhere safe, then took it to work to be sure he wouldn’t find it. I stared at it every day.
He stayed. Days became weeks, studded with the petty indignities of daily life, and still he stayed.
I buried the stopper in the back of a desk drawer, but I couldn’t forget it was there.
Weeks became months, and still he stayed. And his bag never left his sight.
The stopper was a continual, invisible distraction. I could never admit I’d taken it, but hiding it was daily betrayal. One day I finally dug to the back of my drawer, hoping it had somehow disappeared. I wanted it to have burned a hole in my desk and melted through the floor, maybe found its way back to its bottle, no questions asked. But it was still there.
I took it out and examined it, waiting for it to vanish before my eyes. With my foot, I nudged the trash bin out from under my desk. I held my hand over the bin and looked away, giving the ancient piece of glass one last chance to disappear. I allowed a ringing phone to distract me; I let the stopper fall out of my hand.
And still he stayed. Months became seasons, piling up like dirty dishes. Years oozed on like toothpaste from a crumpled, capless tube. And as we reigned over an empire of laundry and bills, the next ten years crept by behind our backs.
Sometimes, now, I tell him I want to make a wish.
Wish number two, I’ll say, never leave me.
That was a wasted wish, he’ll say. You know I can’t go.
Sometimes, now, I wish for that mysterious, diaphanous veil; to feel its airy silk wrapped around me once again. But that’s the one thing he can’t conjure up anymore, and there’s really nothing else left to wish for.
Tara Campbell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Tara has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. Her work has appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books, Potomac Review blog, Hogglepot Journal, Lorelei Signal, Punchnel’s, GlassFire Magazine, the WiFiles, Silverthought Online, Toasted Cake Podcast, Litro Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and SciFi Romance Quarterly.