a short story published in The Margate Mercury (winter 2019)
The genie had lived in the teapot for a while. It wasn’t sure how long, exactly – it dealt in wishes, not minutes, after all. It sat on the back shelf in Paraphernalia Antiques, shoulder to shoulder with a Home Guard first aid kit and a Brownie camera in a cracked leather case. Margate hands had touched it, and London hands, and French, and Spanish, and Italian, and German, and Polish; and then it had sat silent and overlooked, untouched and unfulfilled by anyone.
But then it had been taken down from its shelf, bundled up in several sheets of newspaper, transferred from merchant to buyer, and now it was sitting on an aged kitchen table while its new owner unwrapped it. The genie felt a hand stroke the teapot’s side. The genie shivered, stretched, and unfurled into its purpose.
“Holy shit,” its new owner said.
“Greetings,” the genie replied, “I may grant you one wish. Choose wisely.”
Its new owner stared for a moment. “Anything?”
“Anything within reason,” the genie amended.
“Right.” Its new owner pondered. “Can I think about it?”
“Of course,” the genie said generously. “Take all the time you need.”
It was some time after – the genie wasn’t sure how much time, it being a creature of fancy and desire, not timekeeping – that its new owner awoke it once more.
“I’ve decided,” they said. “My wish is, I wish to be happy.”
The genie wriggled uncomfortably. “Within reason, I said.”
“Happiness is unreasonable?”
“I don’t make the rules,” the genie said unhappily. “It’s just how it is.”
“Who makes that rule, then? Who says happiness is unreasonable?”
“Well, no one, exactly. It just is. You can’t just wish to be happy.”
The genie shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe happiness is too vague to be wished for. Maybe happiness only has meaning if you make it yourself. Maybe happiness is just impossible.”
They were quiet for a while. Then, quietly, “I hope it isn’t impossible.”
The genie was struggling to articulate its thought. It hadn’t had a conversation since the third century, and was doing rather well, considering. “That’s not a bad thing. It just means that happiness – perpetual, infinite happiness – isn’t something you can ever reach because life just isn’t like that. Life is being happy and being sad. It’s flowers and it’s the dung heap. It’s both. You’re not going to be everlastingly happy. But you can happy sometimes. You can be happy in patches. But you can’t just be happy.”
“Right,” they said.
“I mean, I’m just theorising,” the genie said. “I could be completely wrong about all of this.”
“Yeah,” they said.
“You could wish for a new car,” the genie said hopefully.
“I take the bus everywhere,” they said. “It’s better for the environment.”
“What about a house?”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay, I could do that. House prices are impossible these days.”