Womxn’s History Month Special Issue Fiction Runner Up: The Genie Asks For Too Much

The man’s first wish: a job where he could earn promotions without kissing up to his manager or navigating office politics. A job where he needed only hard work, perseverance, and a respectable amount of smarts to achieve society’s definition of success—a bonus, stock refresher, leadership role in cross-functional efforts where he got to stand in front of other men wearing suits and fancy watches. The genie, a jaded young woman who enjoyed watching old Disney films while eating hard-boiled eggs dipped in chili spice powder—whites first, then yolk—and scrolling through Instagram, granted his wish. The man found a job at an up-and-coming smart car company where he simulated driving environments to test the car’s artificial intelligence—an algorithm quality check without the overhead of a sensor-bolted car and traffic light-disobeying pedestrians skirting the edge of mortal peril.

Within five years, the man found himself the VP of his organization. The genie inhabited a bedroom in his luxury apartment, ate his snacks, showered in one of the guest bathrooms, occasionally fell asleep in front of the TV, and lived a comfortable life with him as she waited for him to make his second wish. He added her to his insurance plan because until he used up the three wishes so the magic of her lamp could system reset her body, she experienced all the same human physical pitfalls. Under his health and dental insurance, the genie had four dental cleanings a year, four reminders to floss, and an annual physical with a blood test to remind her of her vitamin D deficiency. More sun, the doctor advised. 

When they were not hiking or tasting wine or flying out for weekend getaways, the genie stared at her lamp locked in a glass display in the dining room. The lamp, made of metal and enamel, stood on a moss green piece of velvet. As her eyes traced the wrinkles in the fabric to the curves of the lamp, she recalled the silence of times her body dwelled inside the trinket.

She floated in a black hole-like purgatory, without a concept of time, only the progression of her thoughts, ricocheting around her metal bounds. Now too many sounds surrounded her: The rumble of planes taking off from the local airport, the pitter patter of rain against the windows and roof, the creaking of a spinning office chair, the contemplative wishes posed as hypothetical questions never to result in real wishes, because he wanted to keep her around a bit longer, wanted her to hold his head to her chest and stroke his hair as his labored exhales sent vibrations through her shoulders and her own breaths stilled, lungs paralyzed. 

The man’s second wish was to marry the genie. She warned him of the infeasibility of such a relationship: her centuries of granting wishes had desensitized her to people and their passions, tragedies, notions of justice. She didn’t need to marry him to continue sharing a couch while letting the next episode of Terrace House autoplay. She didn’t need to marry him to eat his Mapo tofu with too little salt, overcooked pork, and the wrong doubanjiang. She didn’t need to marry him to listen to his complaints about the Starbucks barista who added whipped cream even though he specifically asked for a Frappuccino without whipped cream and half the sugar. 

Still, the man insisted on this second wish, and they got engaged in July and married in October. He bought her an engagement ring with three stones: an oval center bordered by a double frame of rounded accent diamonds, flanked by two smaller ovular diamonds. The genie wore the ring and a veil and a classic white wedding dress. As she headed down the aisle, ring scintillating against skin, she softened her gait, barely lifting her feet and ensuring the sole stayed parallel to the floor. She glided rather than walked, her presence disjointed from gravity. The dress hem trailed on the ground, collecting dust and lingering promises of past brides, scattered remnants small enough to escape a Dyson vacuum cleaner. 

One year after their wedding, the genie became pregnant. Her husband celebrated by buying her a diamond necklace. He spent the next week purchasing baby supplies—a crib, outfits for a girl and a boy since he insisted on leaving the gender a surprise. He interjected whenever she motioned to pull out a slice of Wonder white bread and jar of Nutella, insistent on a low carb diet to lower the baby’s risk of diabetes. The genie, however, failed to recall these first few weeks. Often retreating from the kitchen empty-handed, she’d sit in the dining room, eyes on the lamp, one hand on her still flat stomach and another dangling by her side, wondering how could this be?

The baby came early. The surgeon made a small incision above her pubic bone and then cut through tissue, down down down, to the final barrier, the low-transverse uterine incision. The baby’s head seemed too large in comparison to its body covered by lanugo, its features too sharp, like a mutant creature she held to her chest thinking, this is my daughter. She listened to her own breaths synchronize with her baby’s labored ones. 

“Make her healthy,” her husband wished. Make whom healthy? The genie wondered before closing her eyes, unwilling to let the hospital’s white light further constrict her pupils. She sought out the dark oblivion of her lamp as she granted his wish. 

The genie knew, centuries ago, how small her heart was. She did not create wishes. She granted wishes in order to return to her confines, where no one asked anything of her and she knew of nothing to ask for. And every time, after she fulfilled three wishes, her body dissipated into the lamp to rest, where its quiet magic replenished her tissue until incisions became scars became nothing but smooth skin. She would be healthy again. 

About the author

Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Heavy Feather Review, TIMBER, Ghost Parachute, and elsewhere. She can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

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