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The Genie of West Garland Avenue

For a while, there were rumors that a man in our neighborhood could grant wishes. My family lived on the Northside, on a street of tiny, near-identical houses dwarfed by pine trees. Every yard had a chain-link fence and a dog. The people who lived near us were all right, not too nice but not too mean either, and mostly they looked the same—tired adults and bored kids. It didn’t seem like the sort of place where anyone’s wishes were coming true.

But the rumors persisted. I was a senior in high school that year and I heard the gossip. A girl in my class claimed to have wished for a kitten and her parents got her one that same day. And a guy who went to school across town won a radio contest to see his favorite band. I didn’t doubt these were real event that had occurred. But I was suspicious any one man was the cause. More likely these kids’ wishes had come true because their wants in life were, like mine, small and uncomplicated—things that might very reasonably happen without supernatural intervention. If I could have had three wishes that year, I would have wished for bigger breasts, my own car, and for my best friend, Andrew, to finally start liking me as more than a friend. Not so unrealistic I thought at the time.

But, of course, the way it turned out, I only got one wish, and I managed to mess it up.

It was Andrew’s idea to go see the wish-granter. We were hanging out at my house after school.

“I know the address,” Andrew said. “The dude literally lives just down the street from you.”

I agreed to Andrew’s plan because I always agreed to whatever he suggested. We’d known each other since the first grade when we’d both been in the gifted class together. Andrew had since put his “nerd days,” as he called that time of our lives, behind him in favor of snowboarding and smoking pot. But he still hung out with me, which I took to mean our bond was a strong one. And maybe, one day, it could even be a romantic one. I couldn’t say exactly when my crush on Andrew started. But it had gown each year of high school until I was totally smitten. His shaggy hair, his glacial blue eyes, his easy confidence. To be like-liked by him was without a doubt my greatest desire.

“What are you going to wish for?” Andrew asked as we walked.

I lied and said I didn’t know.

The wish-granter did live on my street, but not as close as Andrew thought. We plodded east through the neighborhood until houses gave way to bars and thrift stores and then back to houses again.

“Here it is,” Andrew said, after a while. The home we stopped in front of was small and white with a dead lawn. There was a chain link fence, but no dog.

“Now what?” I asked. I felt a flash of excitement like on Halloween when we were kids and we’d dare one another to ring the doorbells of houses we thought to be haunted. But there was no daring this time. Andrew only shrugged, opened the gate and walked toward the front door, me trailing behind him, more like a pesky little sister than a potential girlfriend.

The man who greeted us told us he’d been expecting us. This gave me the creeps, but Andrew seemed unfazed and so I stood my ground and resisted the urge to tug on his sleeve and whisper in his ear Maybe we should go. Now, in hindsight, I know that if I had only been brave enough to chicken out, everything would be different.

The man told us his name was Hudson. He was tall, had a beard, and wore overalls with no shirt. He was young. Older than us, but not by so much. Maybe twenty-five. I had imagined an enfeebled and wizened man. Someone who spoke in limericks or riddles. Hudson spoke in the loping, stoner-y way of Andrew’s snowboarder friends. He called us both “bro.”

“Come on in, bros,” he said. And so we did.

Hudson ushered us toward a futon in a sparsely furnished living room. I sat close to Andrew and took the opportunity to make physical contact—one of my knees pressing against his. But he seemed not to notice.

“Do you charge a fee?” Andrew asked. “I’ve got twelve bucks.”

Hudson shrugged this question off, saying we could work out the details later. He positioned himself in a beanbag chair across from us. He asked if we wanted beers, but we declined.

Then he said, “Okay, so, like, what’s your one greatest wish for your life?”

I was taken aback by this question’s directness. So much so, I had to stifle a laugh. It all seemed incredibly odd, and totally fake. But Hudson wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to Andrew, looking purposefully at Andrew from the recesses of the beanbag chair.

When Andrew answered, his voice was small and earnest. All his cool calm gone.

“I want to go to the Olympics. For snowboarding. I want to be an Olympian snowboarder.”

This was a real thing that Andrew wanted. I was surprised he shared it so readily with Hudson, this weirdo stranger with no shirt. But then, it was my turn. Hudson turned his gaze toward me and I saw in his eyes something that made me want to be honest too.

“I want true love,” I said, “with the perfect man for me.”

“You got it,” Hudson said.

Something seemed to flash, either from Hudson’s eyes or mouth or somewhere else on his face and in that flash I came to know that I was indeed about to receive my true love. I looked to Andrew, expecting him to be overcome, to embrace me and maybe even make love to me right there on Hudson’s skuzzy couch, but he just stared at me with his boring old dull blue eyes and I realized I no longer wanted his affection anyway.

I turned back to Hudson and there it was. My true love. No longer a shirtless weirdo, but instead a wild man-god, his exposed biceps bulging like some sort of Viking warrior. He was what I wanted and I knew he was mine.

I walked home with Andrew that afternoon, but I walked back the next day on my own.

Hudson was expecting me, of course. I’d meant to act cool, seem casual. But his face did its weird flashy thing again and I felt compelled to be direct. I wondered if Hudson wasn’t so much a genie as a human truth serum.

"Why did you make me fall in love with you?" I asked.

"Because it’s what you wanted," he said.

This didn’t seem correct, but I was so overcome in my longing for him that I didn’t argue. I wanted him now, so didn’t that mean I’d always wanted him? Even before I’d known him? Even when I thought I’d wanted Andrew? And I definitely did not want Andrew anymore. If I was certain of one thing, it was my love for Hudson. I felt it in the very core of my being. He’d made my wish come true.

After that, I mostly just hung around with Hudson at his house. I stopped going to school because he didn’t go to school and I didn’t like to be apart from him. I helped him with his wish-granting business—answering the door when customers came by, telling them we’d been expecting them, escorting them to the futon, etc. I even took my own initiative after a while and started making tea and baked goods to have on hand. I spruced up the living room so it was nicer for guests.

Hudson hadn’t taken Andrew’s money, but he did take most other people’s money when they came for wishes and what he made was enough to support us both. He said there was no need for me get a job of my own, so I never did.

My parents and my old friends from school were worried. When they came to visit, they leaned close, brows knit with concern, and asked was I okay? Was I happy? What had happened? I understood what they meant. I’m not an idiot. Older guy takes advantage of younger girl is a pretty common story. But it wasn’t our story, I didn’t think—because I was okay and I was happy. Every time I looked into Hudson’s face, I saw those same sparkling flashes from the first day. It was love, I decided; that brightness was love. It was in his eyes and all for me. I felt I could spend an eternity just looking into his face. Some nights, that was all I did and he looked back and seemed happy too. It was as Hudson had told me—it was exactly what I wanted.

And, ultimately, I got the other things I wanted too. Simply by virtue of age and maturity, my breasts got bigger. I’m twenty-five now, the age I assumed Hudson was when I was seventeen (though he appears not to have aged at all since). I’m no longer a skinny, dweeby girl, but instead what I guess is called a full-figured woman. And I got a car. My parents bought me one shortly after what would have been my high school graduation, I think in hopes that it would give me the freedom to do what I wanted in spite of Hudson. Though I never really went much of anywhere. Still don’t.

There are a lot of things about those first day, months, and even years with Hudson that I don’t remember though. Like, what did we talk about? We had almost nothing in common—him being a genie or whatever and me being a high school honors student. But I suppose I didn’t care, stricken as I was. Now I know what we talk about and it’s mostly boring: the same things as other couples who have fallen into a comfortable rut. We talk about our business and our home and our plans for the future (we’re taking a trip to Yellowstone in the spring). I can remember these things because over time Hudson’s brightness for me has faded. I mean this literally. The flash in his eyes has dulled. It’s there a little some days, but other not at all. And other days still, something else behind his eyes, an image, like snakes that have no heads or tails writhing around back there, behind his pupils. I don’t care for that. And, now that the brightness has gone, I can’t really say that I care for Hudson (beyond the comfort of familiarity) or our life together all that much either.

But I’m twenty-five with no high school degree and no job skills. I have no close friends who are not also Hudson’s friends. In short, I don’t know how to be in the world without him. And so I stay, bright flash or no. I wonder what he thinks about this. If the loss of the brightness is a surprise to him too. Or if it was his plan from the beginning, knowing he’d only need it for so long and after that it wouldn’t matter.

Once, in the throws of those early months with Hudson when his beautiful face and body and being were all I could think about, I asked him if we should get married. He told me we were already married. I didn’t know what he meant by this and said so. He told me we were already bound forever, inextricably. And that was as good as married—better than married, in fact. Wasn’t that what I meant by marriage anyway? Wasn’t that what I wanted? I’d smiled then and said yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Author of 'I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking'. Published in Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner, Hobart, and more. Short fiction aficionado.