I awakened so abruptly, sucked in air so forcefully, I thought my lungs would burst. The years—perhaps decades, or more—of my immuration had left me brittle, fragile.
But I would not squander my chance because of weakness.
While I could, I shot out of my prison and re-substantiated in the form of a man.
And came face to face with a hideous creature who screamed at the sight of me.
I shrieked right back. She was repulsive.
She screamed a second time, and then we both stood staring at each other, panting from our exertions.
“What the hell are you?” she asked, wiping tears and other filth from her cheeks and nose with her coat sleeve.
“Dare I ask the same thing?” I answered, straightening my topcoat. Her hair was quite unkempt. The charcoal she’d used to darken her lashes streaked with the tears down her cheeks. With the swipe of her arm, she’d smeared the black worse. In spite of her wearing men’s clothing, her voluptuous shape could not be hidden. I knew she was a woman.
A woman perhaps, but not a lady.
“Someone’s in the suitcase? Shit! I’ve cracked up,” she squeaked, backing away across the grass, her steps crunching in the leaves. She sank to the ground, hugging her knees close to her breast. “I’ve lost it. Order the straightjacket people.”
Her complete despondency pulled at my sympathies, though her words confused me. “Pray tell, what has left you so distraught?”
“Great. Now I’m going to talk to my hallucination. But sure? Why not? Okay. Here you go. My ex, that’s what. I’ve been dumped. For some flirt from his office.”
She made little sense to me. “How did you come to open my prison?” I inquired, gesturing to the valise. “You’ve set me free.”
“Lucky you. I took the wrong suitcase. It was dark. Now I don’t even have a change of underwear.” The last word dissolved into sobs.
“Your circumstances are clearly vile. While mine, thanks to your actions, are vastly improved. For freeing me from my imprisonment, I will grant you favor. You may wish whatever you like from me.”
She laughed suddenly, an unnerving, mocking sound for my ears, which had been so long unaccustomed to noise. “Are you like a genie or something? I get three wishes?”
“I will attempt to provide for your desires. You have done me a great service.”
Her laughter stopped and she eyed me closely. “Are you for real?” She got up and poked her finger into my chest twice, three times, apparently testing my corporeality. “You’re really here, aren’t you? You some kind of wizard or what? You can do magic?”
I brushed my lapel, feeling somewhat besmirched by her soiled hand. “Certainly. I said I would. I honor my word.”
“This is so cool!” she exclaimed, completely transformed by her smile. “Three wishes! Okay, okay. What should I get? I should have you castrate my no-good, cheating ex, for starters.”
“I would prefer you choose things such as wealth or prestige than waste thought on vengeance. For humans, I’ve found that usually ends badly.”
“Right, right,” she muttered and she began walking in tight circles, kicking at the leaves, chewing her cuticle. “Now would be my chance. I’ve always wanted to be on Broadway. I’ve practiced since I was a kid. I want to sing with a voice everyone falls in love with. That would show him, if I became famous.”
“So be it.”
I took her with me to the city. We bought her clothes and necessities, secured our lodging. After a bit of inquiry, I became familiar with the times and provided my new protégé with her first wish. I secured her an audition for the next predicted theatre triumph.
With the exquisite last note from her angelic voice, the finale concluded and the theatre exploded with thunderous applause. The entire audience leapt as one to its feet, crying out Brava so loudly the roof shook. Roses flew onto the stage at her feet. The next day, in print and by word of mouth, all hailed her voice as like nothing before ever heard.
We sat in her new dwelling, an expensive domicile at the top of a very tall Manhattan structure called a “skyscraper.” I was enjoying her energy, her optimism. She had an approach to life that infused me with vitality. Her audiences were drawn to that, not just her unparalleled voice. Though her public was saddened, her show had completed its run. It was set to tour with an alternate cast, allowing her a rest after her Tony-winning performances.
“You know, I never bugged you about it. But who put that spell on you? Why were you in that old suitcase?” she asked, smearing cream cheese on her bagel.
“Never anger a witch” was all I said. I did not wish to get into my history with the spurned lover who’d entrapped me, hoping forever to prevent me from living, from love. Though I was cursed now to languish to an unavoidable death, at least I had until the next black moon to enjoy what short life was left to me after my release.
“I’m ready for my next wish,” she announced suddenly. “Before kicking me out, he said I was unclassy. Told me I shoulda gone to college. I want style. I want smarts. I’ll show him. Can you do that for me?”
“A marvelous idea,” I said.
Over the next two years, we traveled far and wide. Though I was losing strength, we saw the wonders of the world, the exotic and the unimaginable. She became adaptable to others’ customs and accomplished at diplomacy. I arranged for her to sing for royalty and dictators. When we returned, she was transformed.
“It’s good to be home,” she said, curling up with a glass of wine on the davenport near me. “Are you glad to be here?”
Where we were mattered little. That we were together was everything to me now. With experience and maturity, she’d blossomed into a treasure. My treasure.
“I still have one wish left,” she said, leaning the full length of her body along mine. Though educated now, she was still naïve. So innocent. She had no idea what pressing her body against mine did to me. “I want my ex to see me now. To fall head-over-heels in love with me.”
Her words were a stake driven through my heart. Nevertheless, I arranged the meeting. At a fund-raising soiree she could see that man, and I would allow fate to intrude.
When the dreaded night came, in the back of the limousine, she said, “I want to be loved more than anything. Can you make it happen? More than he loves my replacement, more than he loves himself?”
“It is as good as done. You are loved more than you can fathom.”
She smiled, and I felt that stake twist in my chest.
The object of her obsession greeted my treasure with his new wife on his arm. He was courteous but distracted. His wife, clearly with child, kept his full attention. After the hideous affair, in the car on the way home, she said, “That was nothing like I’d imagined. He looked right through me. And I didn’t really care. Seeing him was like an old faded dream. Whatever you did, that wish didn’t work.”
I could say nothing. I looked into her eyes, worrying she would find my deteriorating appearance repulsive. I tried to find words, to decide what I should say.
Her expression softened. She saw something in my eyes. My heart skipped. Could it be…?
“You look terrible. Are you sick? I didn’t notice before.”
The hope I’d tasted for one brief moment withered.
“I’m dying,” I admitted.
“No!” Her vehemence shocked me. “I need you!”
“You will be fine.”
“I won’t! Don’t say that.” She threw her arms around me, hugging me to her breast. Her sobs surrounded us.
“I must confess something. It will help, I think,” I said. “I used no magic. You didn’t need your wishes fulfilled with deviltry. You have accomplished all you have by your own capability.”
She composed herself, and dabbed at her tears with the handkerchief from my tuxedo breast pocket. She looked up and locked her eyes on mine.
“I realized something tonight. I am loved. And I didn’t even see it.” She pulled me again into her embrace. “If only I had a real wish left. I would give it to you.”
When she released me and looked again into my face, I was no longer the wasted apparition I’d become. Her unused, relinquished wish had transformed me to the man of flesh I’d once been in the prime of my mortal life. And she kissed me with a passion I’d only dreamed of.
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