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Three Wishes

Long ago and far away, a woman was stepping carelessly through the waters edge and glancing wistfully out across the rippling sea to the rising sun. Orange light twinkled on the dancing waves as they rushed and died upon the smooth shore and washed around something sticking out of the sand.

Stooping, the woman saw the neck of a brass bottle poking up. She had heard of bottles and genies and, hoping that this would be such a vessel, eagerly pulled it out and washed the sand from it in the shallow water. Indeed it was a fine bottle with a tight cork in its neck, which she quickly pulled out without further thought.

In a whoosh of blue smoke so fast that she did not even have time to drop the bottle, a man in ancient finery appeared as by magic before her.

"You have released me from a thousand years of imprisonment!" he cried, "For this I will grant you three wishes."

Hardly believing her luck, the woman thought long and hard as the genie stood with a thousand-year patience before her. Eventually, she spoke.

"My love was a sailor-boy who was wrecked long ago on foreign shores. I grieve daily for him. I would have him back here again, whole and as he was."

The genie waved his hand, and with a crack and flash he reached through time and the young sailor stood, bewildered, before them.

"My love!" cried the woman, reaching forward to embrace the lad.

"Hag! Get away!" shouted the sailor, pushing her away, horror and disgust in his eyes.

"It is me, your betrothed!" replied the woman. The sailor's expression fled through faint recognition to fear and dread as he turned and ran without ever looking back.

Through tears, the woman saw an old wisdom in the genie's gaze.

"You can never go back." was all he said as he shook his head, lost in a moment of deep personal sadness. But you do have now, he thought at her.

"I just want to find happiness!" sobbed the woman.

"Your wish is my command." said the genie and, with infinite tenderness and care, he reached down, took a single grain of sand and placed it in the woman's hand.

"That's not magic!" she said, suddenly annoyed. "I said happiness, not sand!"

"Happiness is where you find it." said the genie, looking sternly at the woman. "It is in a grain of sand every bit as much as the finest jewelry."

The woman looked at the grain of sand, and wondered. And then she looked at the whole beach and smiled.

"I still think you cheated." she said, but did not complain further.

"You still have a third wish." said the genie, breaking the reverie of the woman as she gazed around with new eyes.

The woman looked long and hard at the genie, who appeared perhaps a little alarmed that she seemed to have broken free of invisible ropes that had held her down for so long.

"I don't need it." she eventually said. "I give it to you. You can wish for something yourself."

And the genie was, for a long time, struck dumb. The woman, seeing that he was stuck, asked what the matter was. He looked at her in wonder and stared out to sea as if looking out through time.

"In five thousand years, I have been enslaved, enthralled and entreated, but have never been given such a gift." he said, turning back to the woman. "People have feared me and demanded great magics of me without knowing the deep cost. I do not know who created me but I have cursed them a thousand times and again. To be a genie is to walk alone through eternity. To have great power is to engender fear, envy and desire. To have everything is to have nothing. To have no need to strive is to have no need to live. I have wished for death but cannot die. Yet now I could choose that path. Yes, you have given me that choice. But I will not choose it. What I will choose is life, mortal life, where at last I can know pain and hence know peace, where I can know suffering and hence joy, and where, through the vast panoply of human existence, I can find meaning."

And before she could speak, he clapped his hands and lightning rent the heavens in shrieks of momentous change. And then he stood before her, a man.

"Can I walk with you a while?" he asked.

She looked down, looked up and smiled. "You can." she said.

And so two figures strolled in easing conversation along the beach and off into the rest of their lives.




~by David Straker~

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