The Genie in the Bottle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Two Rivers


What if something is true?

Submitted: January 24, 2018

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Submitted: January 24, 2018

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“What’s your name? a stylish and obviously rich, young lady with her six-person entourage was asking Jean Brown his name.

“She must be a movie starlet making a publicity promotion,” he thought.  Celebrities were not unusual in New York City.  Jean looked around, but he saw no cameras.  “Jean Brown,” he finally answered.

“Well, Jean Brown, you’re going to be my muse!”

“Is that right?”

“Yes and here is my card with my personal address and phone number,” she said with all the perkiness she possessed, and then turn on her heel and walked out of the coffee shop.  Her people followed seemly oblivious to what she doing or even cared.  But at the door suddenly she turned and came back to his table and grabbed both of his hands.  “Thank you!” she said and left. 

Jean watched as she walked to her limo with all the others moving to smaller vehicles to follow her.  He shrugged looked at the card and then shoved it into his pocket.  He was a struggling author, if anyone needed a muse it was him.  “A starving artist,” he thought and then wondered, “What exactly does a muse do anyway?” 

He finished his coffee, folded up his laptop computer and prepared to get home before his wife.  She was supporting him as he worked on his “great American novel.”  The least he could do was cook supper and maybe give her a foot massage later.  She was still waiting tables after six years of marriage. 

After they ate she asked, “Do you want me to drop your jacket off at the cleaners on my way to work tomorrow?”  Ebby was always good to make sure he had good hygiene, clean clothes and the like.  She searched his pockets, checking he didn’t leave his keys in the pockets, change, cell phone, or whatever. 

Jean was finishing cleaning up the kitchen when she walked back in.  “What’s this?” she asked.

“What?” he responded?

“This card?”

“Yeah, the weirdest thing happened today.  This young lady stopped in the coffee shop and gave me her card.”

She looked at him like she didn’t believe him.  “You mean to tell me, Camille Mercer, the hottest thing to hit Broadway, just walked into the coffee shop and gave you her card with her very personal address and telephone number on it?”

“Yes,” he kind of laughed because she didn’t believe him.

“Why?” Ebby asked, waiting for some outrageous answer.

“I don’t know.” She asked my name first, and then said I was going to be her muse.”

“Her muse!” Ebby shrieked.  “What, you go other to her place, and you entertain her while I work my butt off trying to keep a roof over our heads?”

“No,” Jean answered.  “I don’t even know what a muse does anyway.”

“Well, let me enlighten you,” she said, still exasperated.  “With someone like her, it isn’t good.  I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to go over there myself and tell her you are a married man.”

“Fine, I don’t care what you do,” he said, trying to smother the argument once and for all.

Ebby left the room and then returned.  “If that little hussy with all her mega-bucks thinks she can come in and steal my husband, well, she has another think a coming!”

“Okay?” he said, knowing there would be no peace in their little apartment tonight.

 

At the Swanson Building, where Camille Mercer’s card indicated she lived, Ebby entered the front brass and glass revolving doors.  It was a lofty, fifty-story building where Camille probably lived in her uptown penthouse apartment. 

“Hi, I’m Ebby Brown, here to see Camille Mercer,” Ebby said to the security guard at the counter directly across from the revolving door.  The lobby gave it away that it was not cheap to live there with the black and rose granite and stainless steel trim.

The guard looked at her with suspicion.  “Uh, is Ms. Mercer expecting you?” he asked in his most polite manner.

“I have her card,” Ebby produced the glossy, pink card, with black script lettering on it.

“Okay!” the guard exclaimed.  “This is better than a paid-up Master card.  She had only a dozen of these printed, and only her best people get one.  You must be very special!”

Ebby offered a faint smile.  He turned and called Camille.  Ebby heard him repeat her name into the phone.  Evidently, Ms. Camille Mercer finally made the connection in her mind.  “Yes, Ms. Mercer will see you,” he said to Ebby.  “Here let me use the key to operate the elevator up to the penthouse.”  He walked in front of Ebby to the elevator put his key into where a button should have been.  “She has a very beautiful apartment decorated all in pink silk!” he said.

“I sure,” Ebby said with little enthusiasm.

 

As Ebby rode up the elevator alone, she wondered what she was going to say and do when she finally confronted Camille.  After all she had never done anything like this, acted like the over-jealous wife.  She was intrigued by the fact that the elevator made no stops at any other floors, and that all the walls of the elevator were constructed of dark mirrors with streaks of gold.  “This must be Camille’s private elevator,” she thought.

When the door of the elevator opened into a short hallway the only door opposite the elevator opened and there stood Camille Mercer in all her glory with a pink housecoat, pajamas and pink slippers to match.  She ran out of her apartment and hugged Ebby.  This was not the reception Ebby was expecting.  She stood there with her arms to her side, and then Camille stopped hugging her and moved back to shake Ebby’s hand.  “Hi, I’m Camille Mercer!” she said, “I’m so happy to meet you!”

Ebby offered her hand, but she didn’t know why except the woman standing in front of her was perfection in beauty.  Her skin glowed like white porcelain with blonde hair, and gray eyes.  “If I can see her beauty as a woman, no man could resist her,” Ebby thought.  All of a sudden she felt like a scrubwoman standing in front of this young perky, overconfident goddess.  Finally, Ebby uttered, “I’m Ebby Brown, Jean’s Brown’s wife?”

“Yes, come in and we can talk,” Camille said.  Ebby followed and was immediately awestruck by the place.  In the middle of an oversized living room was a pink, baby-grand piano, and the other furnishings matched just like the guard said, pink and indigo.  Ebby knew it must be her signature colors.  Camille waved to the entourage to leave.  They all gave Ebby a look of disdain upon leaving as if Ebby was intruding on their turf and their time with Camille.  Camille ignored them and then called out.  “Janet, get Ebby and me some coffee.” No answer was given but then Ebby heard activity in the kitchen.  They sat on two overstuffed pink couches facing each other a short distance from the piano. 

Ebby began, “I don’t like you coming on to my husband like that.”

Camille laughed right out loud.  “Is that what he told you, that I was coming on to him?”

Ebby felt embarrassed.  “No, he said you wanted him to be your muse.”

“And, from that, you thought I was coming on to him?” she asked.

“And you weren’t!” Ebby raised her voice to answer.  Just then Janet brought out the little, golden serving chart with coffee, and condiments, and gave Ebby a stare, as much as to say, “What an idiot!”  Camille leaned over to serve them coffee as Janet left the room. 

Camille handed Ebby a cup of black coffee, indicating cream and sugar on the cart.  Ebby took a sip.  “Oh my goodness, this is fine coffee!” she thought. 

“Have you ever read the book, The Genie is out of the Bottle?” Camille asked.

“No,” Ebby answered.

“You should,” Camille said, taking another sip of her coffee and then setting it down on the high gloss pink coffee table between them.  “Your husband wrote it.”

Ebby held her cup to her lips and looked over it at Camille.  She remembered the book that Jean spent over a year writing, the $3000 dollar advance the book publisher gave him, and he finally gave back when the book only sold less than a thousand copies.  She finally put her cup down and looked at Camille.  She had no clue what this had to do with Camille putting the make on her husband.

Camille continued.  “Do you know why your husband’s book didn’t sell?”  Ebby didn’t answer.  “It’s because the reading public doesn’t like to be lied to.  If you say your book is fiction, it better be fiction.  But, if you say it is fiction and it’s a true story, the readers will drop it and in a minute and tell all their friends the author is a liar and not to be trusted.”

“It was crap!” Ebby nearly screeched.  “The publisher said it had to be sold as fiction because no one would believe it anyway!”

“Really?” Camille asked.  “This is my copy, but I suggest that you go out and buy your own copy with your own money, and then tell me if it is fiction.” 

“And what does this book have to do with you coming on to my husband and asking him to be your muse?” Ebby asked.

“A muse is anything or anyone that can give you inspiration to be more creative, to be better than you can possibly be without it.  It can be a sunset, clouds, a rainbow, even a person.  Anything you think about the gives you that feeling of ultimate creativity.”

“So, just thinking about my husband, gives you that feeling?” Ebby asked.

“No, but thinking of the feeling I got when I reached down and grabbed his hands did, because, I knew he could grant all my wishes.”

Ebby got up to go.  “You better stay away from my husband!”  She noticed Camille’s entourage was standing by the kitchen entry waiting for her to leave.  “Leeches!” Ebby thought as she walked by them.  She walked out into the hallway, looking back at Camille still sitting on her pink couch with her copy of Jean’s hardcover book with its gray, clothe covering and no dust cover on it.  “No wonder the book never sold, it was dismal in appearance,” Ebby thought.  Camille smiled and winked at Ebby.

Ebby ignored her and went to the elevator and pushed the only button.  Elevator opened immediately.  “Oh, we mustn’t keep the pink goddess waiting,” Ebby thought, sarcastically.  And yet, just as the elevator doors closed, she thought, “It was a wonderworld, and how Jean would have enjoyed being here with her to see all this.”  She shook it off, “What was she thinking!”

 

On the street, she waited at the bus stop, but then noticed a small Barnes and Noble bookstore across the street.  She dashed across the street and found Jean’s book on the bargain table.  It had a marked down price to $9.99.  She checked her purse.  She had a ten dollar bill.  That was all the money she had until payday.  She’d have to walk to work, but it was eight miles back home.  Could she buy the book and still walk home.  It was getting dark.  She wished she had read Jean’s book when he got the complimentary copies, but he gave them all away.  Anyway, Camille said she had to spend her own money for the book.  At the same time, Ebby wondered why she ever worried about what Camille thought. 

She had a plan.  She’d move to one of the easy chairs and read as fast as she could, and hopefully, she could finish it before she left.  At closing time the manager came to her.  “Ma’am, we’re closing?” 

“Oh,” Ebby said, surprised at how the time had flown by.  She looked out the front window.  It was perfectly dark. 

“Do you want to purchase the book?” the manager asked.

“Uh, I don’t have the money,” Ebby said embarrassed.  She walked over to the bargain table to replace the book. 

The manager followed her and retrieved it.  “Here take it.  All these books go back to publisher tomorrow, to be turned into paper pulp.”

Ebby accepted the book, and then said, “My friend said I must buy the book with my own money.”  Ebby caught herself.  “Now she was speaking as if Camille was her friend?”

“Okay, as a bookstore manager, your friend is right,” he responded and they both laughed.  “Here give me a dollar!”

Ebby gave him the ten and then noticed the look he gave her.  “Oh, I was saving that for the bus.”

“Okay, let me make change for and you better hurry the last bus is at ten o’clock.”

She looked up to see she had only five minutes.  “Thank you so much!”

“So, who’s your friend?” he asked.

“What?”

“Who’s your friend, who recommended you spend your own money for your copy of the book.”

“Oh, uh, Camille Mercer,” Ebby answered.

“Thee Camille Mercer, the Broadway beauty?!” he asked in shock. 

“Yeah,” Ebby responded unenthusiastically.

“You know she lives right across the street, and I’ve never met her.  Some of the salespeople said she came in once.  Everyone was on cloud nine for days afterward.  Okay, here’s your change.”

“Thanks,” Ebby rushed to the bus stop, she didn’t want to miss the last bus.

 

She moved to the back of the bus where the lighting was good to finish reading as she rode home. 

“That is so much pure unadulterated B.S. I can’t believe anyone is even reading it,” a male voice said.  Ebby looked up to see what looked like a college guy sitting across the aisle from her.  “I hope you didn’t pay good money for that book.”

“Excuse me?” Ebby said, looking at him with curiosity.

“It’s crap that book you’re reading,” he said, pointing to the open book in her lap.

“Why do you say that?” Ebby asked intrigued. 

“Because the premise of the story is, what if a genie loses his bottle and gets married and his wife doesn’t know he’s a genie.  Come on they make mad, passionate love every night and she doesn’t know he’s a genie and can grant all her every wish?”

“It’s novel.  It’s fiction!” Ebby defended the book.

“Yes, it is fiction, but it has to follow the logic of ‘what if.’  The author violates that logic!”

“How would you change the story?” Ebby asked.  She couldn’t believe she was having a conversation with this guy.

“Okay, first off the wife finds out he’s genie and confronts her lazy, deadbeat husband.  He moves away from her.  She goes after him and the altercation becomes almost violent, and then she finally backs him into a corner, and he admits it.  She asked him for her first wish to be wealthy.  He grants it, but he’s gone when she returns from going to the bank and shopping.  Maybe he finds his bottle and it rolls into the sea.  I don’t know, but anything would be better than that thing, which is nothing more a narrative.” The college guy adds, “But then his wife remembers the good life they had when they were equal partners in everything.  She wishes things were the way it was before, but her genie is gone and all she has is money.”

Ebby looked at him amazed.  “Why is that better than the way it’s written?” she asks.

“Conflict and resolution!” he said trying to persuade her.  “That’s what makes a story!”

“Are you a writer?” she asked.

“Not yet,” he hesitated.  “I’m a student at Columbia University.  But, I will be someday.”

“I believe you,” Ebby said.  “Good luck!  This is my stop.  Good-bye.”

“Bye,” he said.

 

As Ebby walked from the bus stop to their little apartment, she knew Jean would be worried.  She thought of the comments of Camille Mercer, the bookstore manager, and finally the student on the bus.  Each had given bad marks to the book she cherished it as she carried it in her hand.  Maybe it was because Jean wrote it, or maybe because it was about her. 

At the door, Jean was waiting.  He was anxious as she had expected.  “Where were you?!” he asked.

“I went to see Camille Mercer,” she answered casually as she could. 

He noticed the book.  “Where did you get the book?”

“I bought it,” she moved around him to put her purse on the coffee table.

“You bought it?” he said, following her.  “I could have given you one of the books, but you didn’t seem interested.

“I know.  I wasn’t then,” she said.  She headed towards the bedroom, leaving him standing the living room.  “I’m going to go read.”  He knew he wasn’t invited. 

Finally, he asked, “Do you want anything to eat?”

“No thank you.” He heard from the bedroom. 

“How about some coffee?”

“Okay.”

When he entered the bedroom, Ebby place the book on the night stand next to the bed, stood and took the coffee and placed it on the nightstand also.  She reached out to take his hands, but he moved away from her.  She finally sat on the edge of the bed and asked him to sit beside her.  He finally came over sat down.  He realized within the time it took him to make the coffee she had changed.  She wasn’t the same person. 

“Where’s the bottle?” she asked.

“What?”

She repeated herself and stared at him waiting for an answer.  “Ebby, it’s story!” he finally said.

“I know it’s a story, but is it a true story?” she said, turning and looking in his eyes.  She continued, “I know nothing about you even though we’ve been married for nearly six years.  You said your parents were killed in an automobile accident, and that you and no brother or sisters.”

He didn’t answer her.  He loved the life they had, and he didn’t want it to change. 

He looked away, and then he said, “I don’t know.”  A silent tear rolled down Ebby cheek.  All these years, she had lived with a man she never knew.  She remembered the long walks in Central Park, going to art exhibits on the street, and the long hours they spent in each other's arms in bed.  They would go to free concerts and anything else that didn’t cost money.  Her friends had advised her to leave him.  “He’s a deadbeat just living off you!”  But, her friends didn’t know the pleasure he gave her.

“Tell me the truth,” she was nearly begging him.

“The bottle was found washed up on the banks of the Washington River.  It was found by a man down on his luck.  He pried it open the bottle and we met.”  Jean cleared his throat.  He reached out to wipe a tear from Ebby’s cheek but withdrew, and then he continued.  “He made a rash wish that he wanted to be rich, and he became rich and then committed suicide.  But before he committed suicide, in a fit of anger and revenge, he got rid of the bottle.  The man felt he had been tricked.”

She just stared at him.  “What’s it like to live in a bottle?”

“There is no life.  It’s oblivion, no consciousness.  It’s like when you are asleep.”

She placed her hands on her knees with the palms up.  “Why won’t you take my hands?”

“Because you are the master now, and I don’t want you to make and rash wish you’ll regret.”

“What if I don’t make a wish?” she asked.

“Your heart's desire can be a wish,” he said.

“So, I’m the master?” she asked.  He nodded.  “Was Camille Mercer your master?”

He stiffened up.  “Yes, for a moment.”

“What was her wish,” Ebby asked. 

“Hers was the most unselfish wish I ever granted.  Her wish was to be the best she could be for her worshipping fans.  She wanted nothing for herself.”

“Why did you grant her wish?” Ebby was intrigued now.

“Because she believed in me with no evidence to back up her faith,” he said.

“So, if I was to take your hands like Camille did, you would grant my wish.  Is that how it works?”

“Yes,” he said, and then he cautioned her.  “It isn’t that simple.  You get one wish, not three like the myth would lead you to believe.  And, without forethought, you may wish for something that you’ll regret for the rest of your life because it may have unexpected consequences.”

She got up from the bed.  She laughed right out loud.  He looked at her shocked.  Then she turned.  “Is this some kind of joke?!  I mean, come on, I’m talking to my husband as if he is a real genie.  So, what we have no physical contact until I make a wish?”  He nodded.  “Okay, if that’s how you want to play it.  You sleep on the couch.”  He got up off the bed and grabbed his pillow and a blanket.Then she asked, “You’re serious aren’t you?”

“Yes, master.”

“Master?  I’ve been the brunt of this whole charade of our marriage for six years!  I work and pay the bills, while you hang out in coffee shops.”

He stopped at the door.  “I love our life together.  If I had a wish it would continue as it was.”

“Okay, go ahead, make a wish!” she said.

“I can’t; a genie has no wishes.  Your wish is my command.”

She stared at him as he left the bedroom.  After he shut the door she got up and spoke through the door.  “I loved our life too, even though all my friends said I was a fool.”  There was no reply.

 

The next morning Jean got up and prepared Ebby’s breakfast as usual as nothing had ever happened.He had his coffee and read his paper as she ate her scrambled eggs and dry toast.  She had spent a restless night thinking about the genie sleeping on her couch just outside her bedroom door.  It was as if she was in the apartment with a stranger, a very powerful stranger to be sure.

She took a sip of her orange juice and then said, “What? You have nothing to say?”

“Yes.” He put the paper down and looked at her.  “I love you!”  She nearly cried when he said it.  She rushed from the table and dressed ignoring him.  As she was leaving, she remembered her book and returned to retrieve it.  He still sat at the table looking out the window.  When she approached the door again, he said, “I just wanted you to know I love you, and will always love you, even though things may change between us.  I’ve always loved you.”

She just looked at him.  He was a deadbeat, living off her all these years, and yet he was so virtuous in every other way.  He was a perfect partner, her soul mate, how could she ever live without him. 

 

At work, her black friend, Voe, noticed she was reading Jean’s book.  “What a piece of trash!”

“Why do you say that?” Ebby asked.

“It is his excuse for why he has mooched off his wife for their whole marriage!”

“Jean wrote it,” Ebby said, trying to explain.

“I know who wrote it,” Zoe said.  “How did he talk you into reading it?”

“He didn’t. I bought it myself.”

“Of course you did,” Zoe responded.

“What if he is a genie?” Ebby asked.

“Girl he is playing you.  That’s what men do.  They play games with your head!” Zoe said and just stood there like it was hopeless.  She added, “He knew you’d read the book eventually, and when you did, he’d be off the hook for the rest of his life with you.  You’d work and he’d be free to live a life of leisure.”

“But, he is so good to me,” Ebby protested.

“Of course he had to be for a free ride.”

“What should I do?” Ebby asked.

“Okay, here’s what you do,” Zoe began.  “Go home grab his hands and make a wish, and I guarantee you nothing will happen.”

“Really?”

“Nothing, Nada!”

 

At home in the evening, Jean had supper for them.  She had thought about it all day.  She was going to take Zoe’s advice and take Jean’s hands and make a wish, but she was going to be very careful.  She was going to make a sacrificial wish, and hopefully a wish that didn’t change their life together.  She stood and took his hands.  He stiffened up.  “My wish has two parts,” she said.

He shook his head.  “No, one wish, and each wish has only one part to it.”

She hesitated.  “Okay, I wish you were a famous author.”

“Your wish is my command!” he said.

 

The next morning she arose, alone.  She didn't realize it now, but she had lived alone for the last six years.  She longed for someone in her life to give it meaning.  But something gnawed at her.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, it felt like it had been different once, that there had been someone in her life, who she loved and he loved her.  She boiled herself an egg, hurrying to get to work. 

On the way, she stopped at the coffee shop to get herself a latte.  There in the corner sat Jean Brown, the famous author.  She had just read his book.  She walked over to him.  “Hi, I’m Ebby.  I read your book!” 

“Hi, Ebby, sit down.  Did you like it?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah, especially when she realizes she loved him and would give herself to him and for his happiness.”  She gave a nervous laugh.  I’d love to have a genie in my life.”

“Well, today is your lucky day!” he said and smiled.  “Here’s my card.  They both laughed.  She left carrying her coffee and holding the card.  She looked back.  “Why did she feel she knew him?”

On the street, she saw a bus go by, and on the side of the bus was an ad promoting the new Broadway play featuring Camille Mercer the leading actress in all her pink garb.  The name of the play was in large, bold letters: THE MUSE!

She turned back around and looked into the coffee shop window to notice Jean Brown staring at her.  She waved at him and he waved back and smiled.  She thought, “I’d love to have Mr. Jean Brown as my muse!”

 


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