by Christie Jeansonne
She tucked her dirty blonde hair into a messy ponytail as she flew like a banshee or perhaps a deranged witch child, her gray, patched dress streaming down the hallway, her bare feet slapping the worn concrete flooring that never got even the most threadbare carpet and her fingers brushing upholstery which had long since lost its glory. She could never go anywhere without touching everything, her dark blue eyes opened wide and her hand running along everything in her path as if she were taking in the texture of everything in the world at once. She rapidly devoured the feel of the peeling plaster walls down the hallway and the cold tile on her feet. She paused at the doorway to jam her feet into a pair of worn, ugly boots which looked much too small and possibly left over from childhood or picked up from an old lady at a bazaar. She slammed the door behind her, not looking back…
She walked as a blur of gangly limbs and dirty hair snapping through the air as she ran to her destination unknown. The foreign owners of the jewelry and spice carts, the weather-beaten seafaring men hawking fresh fish, and the fat butcher men watched her race by at all odd hours. They wondered about her, and that odd father of hers, and the strange noises that were sometimes heard issuing from their small, thatched-roof home: just like a banshee, they said. A wild banshee girl with long, dirty blonde hair and eyes that were dark blue haunted the house, except nobody knew her eyes were blue because nobody besides her father had ever been that close to her. The banshee girl screamed sometimes, randomly howling through the small, open-air marketplace, and she always needed to touch everything as she walked by. She usually left a trampled path of things knocked over in her chaotic wake and cart owners scrambled to fix their jarred trinkets.
Mr. and Mrs. Xe watched with curiosity as her fingers, as expected, brushed their ivory elephant that stood guard over their cart of finely carved statuettes and protective amulets and cringed, fearing as usual that she would knock it over. Ordinarily, she had unusual good luck and she certainly hadn’t toppled it yet after the millionth time of it almost tipping off the edge. Ordinarily, she stopped and apologized profusely, then shifted the elephant back to its normal guard position. Today her behavior, normally so predictable, changed. She breezed on by in her dirty old boots, her hair swinging mockingly at the Xe family in its messy ponytail, and continued on her hurried way.
Mr. and Mrs. Xe looked in wonderment at one another and shook their heads. The strange girl was always in a hurry, but it seemed like today she had somewhere especially important to go. “I hope she found a fine, young gentleman,” Mrs. Xe said, “She always seems so lonely and she’s such a homely, poor creature. An orphan, I’d bet. Maybe she’ll get out of this place.” Mr. Xe shook his head and said nothing as he readjusted the ivory statue.
Her destination wasn’t exactly what many would call important, but to her, a fine connoisseur of textures and memories, it was imperative. A new merchant market had opened a few alleyways down: there lay the enticing opportunity for new feelings under her caressing fingers after the same old, tired, worn fabrics and objects under her hand for so long. Even brushing against the spectacular, hard smoothness of the ivory statue had failed to give her a thrill today, and here was a whole brave new world for her to live vicariously through other peoples’ textures and scents.
Though the place was new, it still smelled old and of mustiness from the antique and used wares being peddled. She zeroed in on the very first booth. It was filled with odd glass bottles from some faraway isle, as the man claimed, and other glassware odds and ends he picked up on his travels, he told her proudly. She loved the feel of glass, and the faceted, multicolored prism of glassware glinted at her from all angles. The bright flash of colors invited her hands to touch the cool surfaces. She was especially careful here: she was well aware that her gangly awkwardness could spell disaster here, and she had no gold to pay for the items. The old merchant, his skin as brown and gnarled as an old tree branch, had hung careful hand-lettered signs warning about the high price the unwary would pay for breakage.
The girl’s eyes were wide and faraway with longing as she caressed the silky-smooth texture of a strange, smoky-colored flask wonderingly and noted it’s distinct milky feeling under her stroking fingers. She dreamed of the waves crashing on the distant shore where this lovely bottle had been made. A thin wisp of smoke wafted out of the small opening. A genie?
She gave a sharp, harsh laugh that sounded like a bark, or perhaps a croak; it had earned her the merciless teasing of her peers before her father had taken her with him to the city in the hopes of a better life. It was so funny to her: a genie. How common and quaint! Every day some poor, bedraggled peasant girl goes to a market and finds a pretty bottle that houses a genie. Perfectly natural, she thought. It was a joke to her at first, but became quickly undeniable that something was coming out of the bottle’s thin opening.
If it was a genie, which of course it was, she surmised, because what else would come floating out of a bottle in a smoky cloud after she rubbed it, it didn’t much look like one. No turban, no fancy outfit, no golden cuffs around its wrist. Once, long ago, she had found a cart with old books. The woman selling them, a lovely vision with jangling gold bangles about her wrist, had read some of the fantastic tales to the girl. The girl-child didn’t know how to read, and thus the gold spent on a book would be a waste, but how she longed for that book’s vibrant stories of genies and dragons now. Perhaps it would help her identify this thing; it was a light green hue and almost blurry. She couldn’t quite focus her eyes on it and it slid around her vision. The banshee girl squinted her dark blue eyes but the genie only danced around her line of sight, like a drunken child in a bad masque costume, or a rippling, fetid pond of alkali water.
The genie’s voice sounded like smoke, too: she couldn’t pin it down, or quite feel sure that the voice was coming from the direction of the fumes that formed a body, but she heard it, quiet and whispery, nonetheless. It was very obviously a genie: he asked her in a voice like the southern winds kicking up sand for her wish. She stilled her infinitely moving body, the questing fingers rising briefly to her lips, and she contemplated for only a few seconds.
“I wish that he would die,” she said authoritatively, utterly sure of herself. The genie trembled and his smoky body seemed to waver, then he sighed. “I can’t do that. I’m only allowed to do certain things and murder exceeds the boundaries of certain set laws of nature. There are some limitations, my lady. Wish again.”
She screwed her face up in thought and a split second later wished again, hopefully, “I wish that he would catch a terrible plague so that you aren’t killing him directly, but he would die anyway.” The genie shook his amorphous head, never bothering to ask whom “him” referred to; it was old and wise and knew quite well whom her intended victim was, but he still could not grant the wish. “It’s the same thing, almost. Wish again, my lady.”
She sighed and whispered very, very quietly so that no one around would hear and almost laughed because if anyone had been around they certainly would have noticed a genie hovering in midair. “I wish he would stop coming in my room at night and touching me. I’m not my mother. She died of the fever ten years ago, and when he brought me to the city for a better life, I never thought it would be a life as terrible as this.” The genie, whom had seen a millennia of greedy wishes, swayed slowly, sadly. “I can’t, see. It takes a lot of power to force someone to stop doing something that they want to do and have been doing for a very long time. If I could have my own wish, I would wish that I could make it all better, but it won’t work, and it won’t do any good for you to wish for me to have the power to do it, either. Most people ask for love, and there are plenty of sad young ladies eager to fall in love to be ushered their way. The rest ask for gold, and that’s easy too. Can’t you please wish again, my lady?”
She always looked rushed but collected, and now her face was splotchy and she was holding in tears. What was the point of actually being lucky for once in her life and finding a real genie if he couldn’t do anything to help her?
There was only one wish left in her heart, so she wished it fiercely.
“I wish to sleep an enchanted sleep forever, or until he can’t hurt me anymore. To sleep, and dream forever of all the lovely things in this world I’ve never been to see.”
The genie nodded slowly. He could grant this wish; she was willing.
She closed her eyes, and smiled. Mr. and Mrs. Xe would have gasped at the sight of her: in all their years working down the street from her rickety old house, they had never seen the banshee girl smile.