Four days later, I had yet to make a wish and Max had made himself at home. I found him sitting on the couch when I got up in the morning and when I returned from work at various times in the evening.
I started watching movies about genies in my room at night, writing down the wishes people made and the resulting consequences. Without exception, wishes made in movies or on television served the plot and not the character making them. Still, I thought I might find clues and create a solid list of wishes to avoid.
I was suffering from wish anxiety.
At least once a day, I would engage Max in manic interrogations that were fueled by my growing apprehension over the inability to make a wish. He was disciplined in his resistance but if he didn’t simply ignore me, he would occasionally reveal something new.
Throughout each day I would spot him, never too far from the set or wherever I was working, writing in his little red book, letting me know he was around just in case I wanted to make a wish.
I wondered if everyone could see him all the time as I could, so I asked Morey, my boss and a legendary set decorator.
“You mean the guy writing in the book, the guy with the suit?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s him,” I said. “Do you know him?”
“No. I have him figured as somebody’s agent, somebody old.”
Then, impulsively, I said, “That guy is a genie.”
As I said it Max, who was at least 200 feet away, looked up from his book and smiled. Morey stopped what he was doing and smiled at me too.
“What the hell do I care if he’s Italian? I’m Italian for Christ sake. What does being Italian have to do with anything?”
“I said he’s a genie.”
Morey raised his voice. “And I said what the fuck does where his parents were born have to do with anything?”
That night, as Max sat on my couch eating yet another chicken salad sandwich, which he had pulled wrapped in waxed paper from his coat pocket, I asked him if anyone had ever taken as long as I was taking to make a wish.
“I would rather not discuss that,” he said. “In any case, I am not on a schedule. It makes no difference to me how long it takes.”
“You seem to be getting a little impatient.”
“Do not mistake ennui for haste. There is no expiration date, as you say, on wishes.”
“Then it doesn’t matter if you tell me if I’m taking longer than average, does it?”
“You are taking longer than the statistical average,” he said, “which is seventeen hours, eleven minutes, twenty-five seconds. I have had clients take years, including one who took 30 years. This has not happened in some time.”
“You’re anxious to return to the bourbon bottle?”
Max looked up from the television where I Love Lucy seemed to be on whenever he watched it. “You speak of things you do not understand. The vessel, whatever it might be, is chosen randomly, something nearby, and it does not contain our essence it contains our intention. Our essence returns to the community.”
“I told you when we met that these things were beyond your comprehension and better left unspoken.”
“I think the truth is usually pretty simple.”
“There is nothing simple about the truth,” said Max, “beginning with the fact that it is always located left of center.”
“Okay, then what’s the shortest amount of time for all three wishes?”
“Just under five minutes, 287 seconds to be precise.”
“Wow, that means they didn’t even hear the whole song and dance. What did they wish for?”
“Sharing the wishes of others is a boundary I cannot cross.”
“You won’t give me any wish suggestions?”
“You know I cannot.”
“Obviously, health and wealth? That would cover two.”
“Would you like to be specific?”
“With enough wealth I could buy the health, right?”
“Mr. Tilton, perhaps in the morning…”
“If I only had some guidelines. You know, you should have some sort of orientation session or introduction that focuses more on the wishes. You could provide testimonials from previous clients, little video clips where they explain how they dealt with, well, how they approached their wishes, what mistakes they made, how they would handle it differently if they had the—“
“Is that a wish?”
“No. No, we are in a wish free zone right now, okay. I just think there should be a tutorial on wish management, like those books written about lottery winners, something to learn from.”
“Wish management, Mr. Tilton? I am confident I covered everything you need to know when we first met.”
“Okay, I know. But listen, what if I wished you would tell me the best three wishes you’ve ever heard. Is that a wish you could grant?”
Max looked up, his left eyebrow raised high, and reached quickly into his coat pocket where he kept his little red book. Then he vanished. He was gone and the television had changed to local news.
I stared at the empty space on the couch. Although I had been in the company of a genie for several days, his sudden appearance and floating in the air when we first met were the only visually startling things that had occurred until now.
The muzzle was a good trick, and making Morey hear the word “Italian” whenever I said “genie” was interesting. Everything else happened when I wasn’t around or incidentally, the chicken salad sandwiches, the never-ending I Love Lucy marathon, his method of moving from one place to another.
I waited. Then I sat down and waited some more. I expected him to reappear as suddenly as he had disappeared and continue our conversation as if nothing had happened, like when the digital signal on the television freezes for a moment. This was just some sort of genie systems glitch.
After thirty minutes, I felt a slight panic and tried, self-consciously, calling his name, Max at first, then Maxwell. I even tried pronouncing it like he did, with a slight pause as if it were two names, “Max Well.” I looked around the apartment, checked the closets. I looked inside the bourbon bottle, which I had washed and set in the windowsill over the kitchen sink. What does intention look like?
Eventually I went to bed but I didn’t get to sleep until it occurred to me that I had no idea what Max did or where he went when I was sleeping. Wherever it was, he probably just went a little early. In any case, he had explained clearly that he was bound by some jinn law or something to grant me my wishes. He’d be back.
The next morning, he wasn’t in his spot on the couch. I stared at the television for minutes, waiting for something to happen, thinking about I Love Lucy and getting lost in odd thoughts about my father and Desilu Studios where he had worked as a set builder in the 1960’s.
As the morning wore on, I got more and more depressed and distracted at work. Reminding myself that Max had no choice but to grant my wishes wasn’t helping. I started thinking I should have made my stupid wishes and been done with it. I replayed our last conversation repeatedly in my head and convinced myself that my question about wishing to know the best three wishes he had ever heard had created some sort of paradoxical jinn wormhole and he had been sucked through it.
While I wasn’t quite ready to consider the idea that I was insane, I did find myself trying to remember the details of the mental health coverage offered by my insurance company.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blue woman.
The back lot was crowded with an unusual number of extras in period clothing from the prohibition era. I was walking down a fake city street eating a chicken salad sandwich when something blue and out of place caught my eye and I stopped.
Across the street, standing perfectly still among dozens of movie extras moving up the sidewalk was a woman with blue skin, completely naked, and staring at me.
If she had been wearing even a stitch of clothing, I would have dismissed her as a refugee from some movie set. As it occurred to me that she had no hair anywhere on her body, even her head, it also occurred to me that no one else was looking at her.
I dropped my sandwich and ran across the street, stopping just inches from her.
“Where the hell is Max, God dammit?”
On some level, I was aware that despite being bald and blue, she was magnificent and beautiful. The longer I stood there staring at her, the more important this fact became. Soon it was more important than what had happened to Max and more important than all the people standing around looking at me, the guy who had just shouted at empty space and was now staring at that same space longingly.
The blue lady said, “Deep Water is not at Council with Belial, I am certain, nor herding demons.”
She looked around at the extras, several of whom were now asking me if I was okay. “I am sorry,” she said. “This is incorrect.”
She touched my shoulder and we were suddenly in my kitchen, where I promptly threw up in the sink.
“I fear I have brought you this discomfort,” said the blue woman behind me as I ran the water and splashed my face. I was reluctant to turn around and lose myself again in her beauty, or her nakedness, or whatever it was that sent my head spinning.
“I rarely have open contact with humans,” she said. “I am not practiced. I think you can look at me now without distraction.”
I turned, half expecting her to be dressed as a belly dancer, but she was either wearing Max’s suit or an exact copy.
“Why are you wearing Max’s suit?” My voice was weak and I felt like I could sleep for days.
“This too is incorrect, I know. My distress is as yours and my thoughts are unclear. This clothing was the first to appear in my mind.”
The man’s suit helped lessen the impact of her sexuality, but my eyes kept returning to her breasts, which were clearly attempting to escape the confines of the buttoned suit jacket.
“Are you a genie too?”
Her face, which even on the street had held a steady expression of concern, broke now into a wide smile.
“I am from the community of jinn, it is true.”
“But not the same department as Max?”
She started to look around the apartment, though she did not move from where she was standing. “I understand,” she said. “The answer is, no one is as Deep Water.”
“You call him Max. There is some humor in his choice of a human name that he does not explain, but I know his eyes.”
“Yes, he’s not big on explaining things, your Max.”
She tilted her head and again smiled brightly. “Is it so apparent to you that he is mine?”
She was delighted by this and her joy hit me physically, like waves. I laughed and agreed that yes, it was obvious.
This brought on more waves, this time of sensuality, and rather than spontaneous laughter, I experienced spontaneous and full arousal. It felt like all the blood had drained from both my head and my feet. I noticed my breathing.
I walked away and found Max’s spot on the couch. She followed me, the concern returning to her face.
“Something unexpected has happened,” she said.
“I knew it.”
Her eyes widened. “You know where Max is?”
“No. You mean you don’t?”
“I do not. No one does. This is unexpected.”
“No one in… in the community knows where Max is? Does this happen a lot?”
“Never. It is impossible. It cannot be, and yet it is.”
“The universe is not a well-run kindergarten,” I said, remembering Max’s words, “and I am not a character from a children’s bedtime story.”
“Those are words from Deep Water, words from his… what he calls his contact protocol.”
I thought it might be a good idea to rest my head on the arm of the couch for bit, rest my eyes. I felt so tired.
“I don’t know your name blue lady.”
“The last time I had use for a name among humans I took the name Lakedema.”
“Don’t tell me,” I said, feeling sleep take me, “That was a long time ago, as I understand time.”
Copyright © 2016 by Mike Ferguson