ROSALIND MARGULIES

The Genie & Me

This piece came to life during a time when everything I wrote was a confessional, whether I intended it to be or not. It’s a reflection on relationships, romantic and otherwise; on intentions and ownership: on what exactly we’re allowed to want from other people and the lengths we go to get it; on what exactly we’re allowed to be sad about; and, of course, on genies.

I go to the garage sale because all the lamps moved out when my roommate did, and the apartment’s never been darker. An old woman with a face like a used tissue sells me the oil lamp for thirty-five cents, and it comes with me to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Seventh. I like Dunkin’ because they write my name on the cup. Most of the time, they spell it wrong, giving me y’s and e’s I haven’t earned, but sometimes they get it right, which is even worse.

I tell all this to the Genie, who takes occasional sips from the caramel Coolatta I bought him. He’s wearing a gray plaid vest and matching fedora that makes him look like a DJ from a Disney Channel original movie. His lamp, from which he emerged spectacularly about twenty minutes ago, sits between us, forming an avant-garde centerpiece with my empty cold-brew cup. Today, the barista spelled my name Kattrina, with two t’s instead of the correct one, so I don’t have anything to worry about.

“I’m nervous,” I say to the Genie. “I don’t really do this.”

I give the Genie a tour of my apartment and try to figure out if he seems impressed. When we get to my room, he scrunches up his nose. “It smells like latte in here,” he says. I open my closet door and show him the stack of empty coffee cups, the ones with my name smelled right.

“I can’t figure out what else to do with them,” I confess.

I show him to Angela’s old room and invite him to make himself comfortable, a suggestion he accepts with a mordant smile. He’s a small man, five-four if you’re being generous, with a pouf of hair nearly as big as the rest of his head that bobbles when he walks. 

“You can stay here while I think of my wishes,” I tell him. My eyes drift to the far wall, where a solitary Wicked poster still hangs. “It’s empty right now.” 

I make chicken roulade for dinner, and the Genie tells me the rules.

“I don’t kill anyone, firstly,” he says, examining his plate. I’ve taken my mother’s good china out of storage, and I’m not sure how effective the cursory rinse I gave each dish was. “Making people fall in love, no. Wishing for more wishes, God no, three is plenty.” He purses his lips. “Can’t change the past, either. And no world peace.”

I think for a long time, then wish to be three inches taller.

The Genie snaps his fingers and I feel three extra inches of leg sprout from beneath my knees. The Genie stands, sending his chair backward with a noise like a throat clearing. “This chicken,” he says with a flourish, “is dusty.”

I go to work for another week before I remember I have a Genie and wish to be a billionaire. Two minutes later, I get a fraud alert from Wells Fargo.

“I found a Genie,” I explain to the customer service representative over the phone. “So I wished for a billion dollars.”

“Ah, okay!” says the woman. “So I’ll just check off Genie, then.” She congratulates me on my good luck and asks if I want to upgrade to a platinum checking account.

Try as I might, I can’t come up with my third wish. I make lists of possibilities and cross them all out. I have no need for a beautiful singing voice; no interest in being smarter; no real desire to travel the world or the galaxy. I’m nearly set on the ability to fly until Google tells me how many people get sucked into jet engines every year. 

“That’s exaggerated,” the Genie tells me with an eye roll when I read him the statistic, but I decide to play it safe.

With the promise of free coffee, the Genie begins to accompany me to the Dunkin’ on Seventh every morning, where I order a caramel Coolatta for him and a cold brew with sweet foam for me. The baristas must be learning my name, which is bad news; I add five cups to my collection in as many days. 

“Things with your name on them are sacred,” I explain to the Genie on the walk home, empty Dunkin’ cup still clutched in my hand. “Great to have, but awful, awful luck to get rid of. I might as well walk home in the street with my eyes closed as throw out this cup.”

“I don’t know if that’s true,” says the Genie.

The Genie shorts the power by running his hair dryer and space heater at the same time. The Genie eats an 80-gram edible and orders two hundred dollars of Wendy’s. The Genie drops hints. 

“Most people,” the Genie says pointedly one sunny Saturday afternoon, “don’t take longer than a week to make all their wishes. Some people are done in an hour.” I tell him I want to be sure, then ask if he wants to come with me to the farmer’s market; the Genie thinks for a minute, sighs, then puts on his shoes. “We’re out of bok choy,” he tells me.

One night, the Genie comes home drunk and climbs into my bed.

“Ka-tri-na,” he purrs, chopping up my name like sashimi. “Katrina, girl. Girl, you are so fucking weird.” He falls asleep with his head on my shoulder and we don’t talk about it in the morning. 

The Genie borrows my lipstick for a date. He puts it on; takes it off; puts it on; takes it off; puts it on again. 

“Some guys get scared if you’re too femme,” he tells me.

“Fuck them, then,” I respond.

“Mm,” says the Genie. He takes the lipstick off and doesn’t get back from his date for a day and a half. 

My birthday rolls around and the Genie buys me a monogrammed necklace.

“Oh wow,” I say, holding it to my chest and tucking in my chin so I can see how it lays on my collarbone, “Oh wow, this is great, seriously.” The Genie smiles.

The Genie asks for his eggs without the yolk. The Genie asks if I can buy vegan egg substitute instead. The Genie invites me to go clubbing. I hem and haw for a day before saying yes. Friday night comes and I put on my sluttiest dress and a pair of shiny red shoes. 

I like the club. I like being part of the pulsing fog of movement that isn’t quite any of the people who make it up. We are music and sound and movement in a moment that lasts forever. We are every thump of the bass in “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon and DJ Snake. We are love, asking for ourselves in return. We are a seventeen-dollar Aperol spritz.

I jump up and down with the Genie for a while, and then he’s gone, and I jump up and down alone for a while, and then there’s a girl in front of me wearing a shiny leather dress, and she yells something at me that might be “you’re so pretty,” and I yell something back that might be “thank you,” and then we jump up and down together for a while until she leaves, too. Everyone leaves, I think to myself as I jump, and I am impressed by my own profundity. The Genie finds me again, and we do tequila shots, which sit nicely with the half-dozen tequila shots I’ve already done, and then we jump some more. 

There are only a few seconds between the realization that I’m nauseous and the realization that I’m about to vomit; I barely make it outside to throw up in the street. A passing Audi honks at me and I give it the finger. It must have rained while we were inside because the whole world has turned slick and shiny like vinyl. I drop into a crouch and rest my head on my knees, praying for the spinning in my head to stop, for me to be somewhere else, to be someone else. Right after Angela left, I’d catch myself staring at the peak of Mt. Rainier and wanting to be there because somehow I felt that would make everything better. It took me a long time to realize that what I actually wanted was to be away from myself, from my brain, just quiet consciousness completely separate from my existence. It took me even longer to realize that, unfortunately, I am wherever I go.

“Hey girl,” I hear the Genie say, and realize he’s followed me outside. “Are you good?”

“So good.” I move to stand, but that makes something in my stomach plunge like it’s fallen down a mineshaft, so I stay down. “Ough.”

Tonight, the Genie is wearing a silver scarf and patent leather pumps I think might be mine. His hair is gelled into an inverse tsunami. “How much did you drink?” he asks me.

I shrug. “Enough,” I say thickly. 

“Do you want to go back in?” he asks. I shake my head and rest it on my knees again, which helps for a second but then makes things much worse. 

“I miss Angela,” I say. 

“Oh, no, Kat. Come on, no you don’t.”

“I keep thinking she’s going to come back,” I tell him. “Every time I get a text I think it’s going to be her wanting to talk.” Angela hated clubs, but I made her come out with me once; I remember how she spent the whole night hovering by the bar and then apologized to me when we got home, and suddenly I hate myself so bad I can’t breathe. 

The Genie shakes his head. “Don’t shit where you eat,” he says. “I always say that.”

I shake my head. “I wish I hadn’t,” I say. My fingertips have gone numb and I feel like I’m going to throw up again. “I’m so fucking dumb.” 

I feel a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, girl,” says the Genie. I look up at him. The pumps combined with my low vantage point make him look unusually tall and sharp-jawed, and for a second I’m almost strangled by the urge to kiss him. I settle for vomiting again, this time all over my shiny red shoes. I close my eyes.

“Jesus Christ, girl,” I hear the Genie say from what sounds very far away. 

I wake up naked in my bed the next morning with little idea of how I’ve gotten there. There’s a vague memory of a taxi, or maybe that’s a microwave, and my mouth tastes like a rotten lemon. I discover that I’ve tried to message Angela, three texts consisting of eleven words and a blurry picture: I hate this place without you, then I have a genie now, then a flash of beige and black that might be me and might be the sidewalk. The texts haven’t gone through; I guess I forgot I’m blocked. I go back to sleep, and then I wake, and then I go back to sleep again, and when I can’t sleep anymore, I lie in bed feeling cold even though I’m under too many blankets.

Dusk has settled over the room like snow by the time the knock comes. I’ve called “come in” before I can even think to consider feigning sleep. The Genie opens the door carefully, like it might be rigged, and I push myself up onto my elbows.

“Hi,” I say.

The Genie steps into the room and quickly shuts the door behind him as if he thinks someone might be listening in. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him nervous. 

“Kat,” the Genie says. “You need to make your third wish.”

I settle back down. “I’m still thinking,” I say.

“You’ve been thinking for a month and a half.”

I shrug. My eyes are fixed on the ceiling. “It’s a big deal. We both know I’m not going to get this chance again.” I wait for the sound of the door, but it doesn’t come. 

“Katrina,” says the Genie. 

“Why?” I ask him. The ceiling is a slightly different shade of white than the walls, I realize. “Don’t you like it here?”

“That’s not what this is about,” he says. 

I lay my forearm over my eyes like a blindfold. “Maybe that’s my wish,” I say to him. “Maybe my wish is for you to stay.”

The Genie is silent for a moment before he answers. “You aren’t a bad person, Katrina,” he says, and then the door opens and closes and I am alone again.

I find the Genie sitting at the kitchen table, thumbing through a months-old Lululemon catalog I can’t throw out.

“Hey,” I say.

He looks up from a spread of leggings. “Hey,” he says. I take the seat next to him. For some reason it’s hard to look him in the eye.

“I get too close,” I tell my fingernails. “I get too close too fast. I tangle myself up in other people and when they go, they take parts of me with them.”

“Mm,” says the Genie.

“I’ve been thinking about my wish,” I tell him. “I feel like I have to make it count.”

“I could make you forget about her,” says the Genie, and I can’t find the words to tell him why that would be the worst thing, so I just say maybe. 

Three days later, I put the lamp up in the free section of Craigslist. A man named Bareth answers the ad. “I’ve always wanted a Genie,” he tells me excitedly over the phone. I give him my address and tell him to come at half past two. Bareth arrives in an old Grand Marquis that’s the exact same shade of beige he is. 

“This is a nice place you’ve got,” he says, looking around my apartment. “Smells like latte.”

“I think I’m going to be moving out soon,” I tell him. When I give him the lamp I don’t feel anything at all.

I do not watch the Genie go. I wait until I can’t hear Bareth’s car anymore and then I wait some more. I walk down to Dunkin’ Donuts on Seventh and order a caramel Coolatta. The barista spells my name right, but it doesn’t matter anymore; my last wish took care of that. I threw out all the cups in my closet. I won’t have to worry about any kind of luck ever again. 

I use my straw like a spoon and dab whipped cream on my tongue, and I think of Angela. I told her I loved her so I could hear her say it back and one day I will die so they carve my name on the tombstone. I tilt my cup to admire the strokes of the Sharpie and I smile, very small. I love having my name on things.

Rosalind Margulies is a writer and recent college graduate currently hanging out in Oregon. She has work published or upcoming in Epiphany, Hobart, StoryQuarterly, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @rothalind, or visit her website rosalindmargulies.com.

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