The first wish was very predictable. She wished to be so rich that she never had to worry about money again. It was better phrased than some. Meant that even if she bought herself six houseboats and a pony, she wouldn’t be able to run out.
She didn’t buy even one houseboat, but she did buy a very nice, large condo downtown and a lot of fancy dinners. She stopped working, for a while, but she got bored. So she decided to give some money away, start a foundation. I liked that she did that.
There could have been a catch. Some djinns do that, but I don’t. I don’t see the point.
The next wish didn’t come for a while. She wanted to think about it. I spent two years on her desk, watching her try to give her life some kind of shape. She did a lot of good, I think, but she was very lonely. She asked me about limits and I told her; no wishing for happiness, no raising the dead or living forever, no more wishes, obviously. The sky’s the limit, but I can’t give you abstractions. Or keep things from ending.
Eventually, she made her second wish, also predictable, and wished to find her one true love. Smart, again, so careful in her speech. I can’t make someone love you, but I can find your perfect one. But let’s be realistic, the one of your perfect ones that speaks your language, that’s close to you in age, that lives close to where you do. Lots of pots have lots of lids, and it’s a mercy. Can you imagine if they didn’t?
And so a beautiful girl who was vegan, had pierced ears, and played the guitar bumped into her at a coffee shop. The girl spilled a latte on her new jacket, and offered to pay for the dry cleaning. Instead, she bought the girl a new latte and they fell in love. They looked happy enough, from where I then sat high on a shelf, half-covered by an embroidered scarf from a trip to India. They kissed on the way out the door in the morning, and the girl never asked about the money. Everyone assumed she inherited it, that she’d always had it. It could have been a sore point, but she gave it away left and right to good causes, so the girl forgave her for having everything.
Of course, nothing is perfect. The thing about secrets, even when they’re by and large harmless, is that they isolate you. The other thing about secrets is that sometimes, there’s no way to share them. People don’t believe you, or listen, or care. Some secrets are secrets because they are, not because anyone made them that way.
So she was still sad sometimes, and stood alone by the window looking out at the lake. I knew without needing to be told that she was wondering, what should be my last wish? What will fix this final flaw? I didn’t have the heart to tell her that nothing ever would.
Eventually she asked me, how much of this would I have had without you? How much of this is really my own? I couldn’t answer that, of course. Even djinn only get to see the end of one road. I told her it didn’t matter, that what mattered was what she had done with it, and she had done well.
Then she asked me, should I free you? Are you happy?
No, I told her. Neither.
Then what can I do for you, after everything you’ve done for me?
You can save your last wish, I told her. Let me sit on your shelf and watch your life unfold, and only when you feel your strength fading, wish me goodbye.
Alla Hoffman loves the strange, the intimate, and the mildly unnerving. They’ve invented at least one imaginary city, and never met a monster they didn’t want to grab a drink with. They live in the general vicinity of HP Lovecraft’s hometown.