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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Taken from the novel 'Eidolon', this is the story of a man who is granted three wishes, told by a man to a girl in a diner.

Submitted: September 07, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 07, 2019



Jumeau looked at the girl with the seriousness of one who held the secret to life itself. ‘There was this fella went to one of those church sales. He wandered around for a while looking at all the junk people had brought in to sell, wondering what the hell people would want with second-hand watering cans and tatty pullovers, when his eye fell upon this old lamp for sale on a table. Now, it wasn’t like one of those hurricane lamps or the kind of lamps you see in Humphrey Bogart movies, you know the kind?’

Holly nodded. ‘Go on.’

‘Centuries ago, in the time of Caesar and Cleopatra, they were like these small pots, tapered at each end, with a handle to hold it at one end and a thin, elegant spout at the other and between the spout and the handle was a reservoir of oil.’

‘How do you know this kind of stuff?’

‘I’m an artist. Artists know stuff.’ Jumeau took a bite of burger. ‘Anyway, what they did was put a wick into the spout, which soaked up the oil, lit it and gradually the wick burned away.’ He started on the fries that the waitress had put in front of him. ‘Whatever, he took a shine to this lamp and asked the lady selling it how much she wanted for it. Two dollars, she said. Well, back then two dollars was worth all of two dollars, it was a good amount. He only had three dollars in the entire world, but he liked that lamp so much that he handed over his two bucks before he had too much time to think himself out of it.’

Jumeau picked up a French fry, ate it, then pushed the plate aside, drank some wine, wiped his mouth and lit himself a Chesterfield. The best Chesterfield in the world, in the history of the world, was the one smoked after a good meal. It was worth eating just for the cigarette that came after. Holly picked up his plate and put it through the hatch for washing.

‘This old lamp,’ he continued, ‘was dusty as hell. It looked like all the previous centuries had found somewhere to rest in this one place, so he set it down on a table, got out a cloth and began to clean it. However, as he did so, smoke started billowing from it. His first thought was that somehow the friction of cleaning it after all this time had somehow ignited a residue of oil in the lamp and started a small fire within. Well, he put that lamp down and took three steps back, thinking that anything left in there that was combustible was so tiny that it would burn itself out in a second.’

The diner was quiet, so Holly came round the counter and sat upon a stool next to Jumeau. She put a cloth over her shoulder and rested her elbow upon the counter, then rested her head upon her hand like a kid lying on a pillow and listening to a bedtime tale. Her ponytail fell to the side. Jumeau thought how absolutely, ordinarily, beautiful she looked.

‘Anyway, he was just getting ready to run for the door or a bucket of water, when through the smoke he could see a figure begin to appear. Who the hell, he said, are you?

The girl smiled at the way Jumeau told his tale.

‘Well, the figure sort of drifted out of the smoke, all muscles, his thick arms crossed, turban on his head with a great big pink jewel in the middle of it, those baggy pants the Arabs wear on his legs and a beautiful purple silk waistcoat across his brown chest, and it turns out that he’s a genie, with the top half of an Arab and those baggy pants sort of tailing off into a wisp of smoke, like a small tornado, which tethered him to the lamp, through the spout. You see?’ Holly nodded enthusiastically. I, said the genie in this deep, fruity Middle Eastern accent, am the genie of the lamp and I grant you three wishes. Well, the guy was naturally pretty surprised by all this but, convinced that he was neither sleeping nor mad, decided that he would, for the moment, go with it. Okay, he said.  I want a purse that never runs out of money. That is my first wish. The genie says okay and waves his hands and wiggles his fingers and on the table in front of them appears this fat purse stuffed to the hilt with bank notes; tens, twenties, fifties, you name it. The man picked it up and weighed it in his hands, just to make sure it was real. Then he took a note out and, as if by magic, another one appeared in its place. He couldn’t help himself, he started picking the money out of the purse and started to stuff it in his pockets. No need, said the genie. It is yours, forever. Sew up your pockets, close your bank account, you will have no need of either ever again. Well, all he can think about is what car he’s going to buy, what neighbourhood he’s going to live in, the sharp new suits and the boats and the women. Oh, the women.’ Holly laughed at the way Jumeau’s eyes widened with the excitement of the story. That’s amazing! he said to the genie. I still have two more wishes? The genie nodded and ran his fingers across his little triangle of beard. The man thought for a moment. He was aware that this was a once in a lifetime find, that he should be cautious and not waste his wishes. But, alas, he was also an impulsive fellow who, when given the opportunity, was not the type of man to squander such a chance. I wish for my ideal woman, he said. So, the genie, already knowing this man’s mind, his likes and dislikes, out of the mists made his perfect woman appear. He paused, tilted his head slightly and looked at Holly. ‘She had black hair tied back in a ponytail and hazelicious eyes and kisslips that would have made an angel sell his soul. Just like you.’ Holly looked down and ran a hand self-consciously across her ponytail. ‘She was everything that he wanted because the genie always knew exactly what was in a man’s heart. Without hesitation, the woman came over to him, slid her arms around his neck and kissed him; it was the softest, most perfect kiss a man could ever wish for. I love you, she said in a voice that hit every note in every accent, at just the right pitch. She was all that he had ever loved, all that he had ever imagined he could love and even the love that he didn’t yet know. She was all. He turned to the genie, almost unable to tear his eyes away from this goddess, but drawn by greed to the bearer of these gifts. I still have one more wish? he asked. The genie nodded. I wish, said the man, to live forever. Now, just for a fraction of a second, the genie hesitated, but he could see the impatience in the man’s eyes and knew that, in his heart, this man was set upon an unchangeable course. The genie wiggled his fingers and waved his hands and closed his eyes and the mists swirled about them. You have your wishes, said the genie and all at once, in a funnel of smoke that was lit from within by orange fire and white lightening, he disappeared back into the lamp.

Jumeau lit another cigarette and finished his wine. He was enjoying this. It had been so long since he had talked so much to such a woman; to anyone.

‘What happened?’ asked Holly.

Jumeau blew a long slow plume of blue smoke across the bar and watched it head like a willo-the-wisp towards the lights. ‘Well, it was fine to start off with. He was ecstatically happy with his new wife and she was, of course, ecstatically happy with him. They both had a never-ending supply of money and everything they could ever need. Great cars, great house, they even bought a boat and hob-nobbed with boat society. He had a trophy wife, a trophy boat, a trophy car, a trophy house and a trophy life.’

‘Ah,’ said Holly. ‘That’s so sweet. A happy ending.’

Jumeau held up a finger. ‘You would think so, but one day, that beautiful wish of a woman was out shopping and stepped out into the road right into the path of a big Mack truck.’ He made a squishing sound and brought his hand down on the counter with a slap. Holly’s eyes widened. ‘Well, you can imagine, the poor guy was heartbroken, but it didn’t take him long to realise that, with that never-emptying purse of money, she could be replaced by a new model every few years so, heartbroken as he was, he still had his money and his eternal life.’

‘So, that’s it?’

‘No. All was fine, hunky-dory, A-Number-One for the guy. He was a pig in mud. Then, at the age of eighty-five, he got cancer of the pancreas. Well, he couldn’t die and he could not be cured, so he spent eternity in unbelievable, unrelieved pain and in a perpetual state of dying, while those around him took money from his purse to pay for his care and to pay for their pleasures. There was a queue of people outside his door waiting to dip their fingers into his purse and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it except lie there in pain and regret.’

Holly looked at him sadly. Jumeau thought he could actually see the beginnings of tears in her eyes. ‘That’s awful,’ she croaked. ‘What was the point of that?’

‘The point is,’ said Jumeau, ‘that you should be careful what you wish for. It might come true.’

‘So I shouldn’t wish for horses and cold sunny mornings in Marlboro country because it might all go wrong? That stinks!’

‘Like a low summer river,’ agreed Jumeau. ‘Like a low summer river.’


© Copyright 2019 Christopher Bradbury. All rights reserved.

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