The Shoebox by Jon Stubbington
They found the genie in a shoebox, not a lamp.
This disappointed Georgie more than she cared to say. She liked the romanticism of the lamp, the imagery of it. A shoebox was just so... mundane. Carl pointed out that - all things considered - the very presence of the genie was, when you thought about it, fairly remarkable. The method by which it chose to convey itself was hardly anything to quibble over.
Georgie remained unconvinced, but she quietly conceded that Carl had a point. A genie was a genie, after all.
For his part, the genie remarked that - were it in his gift to do so - he would not have chosen a shoebox. But needs must, and you could only do the best job possible with the tools available.
“To whom should I grant the three wishes?” he enquired.
The existence of a choice surprised them.
“It is an age-old problem,” the genie explained. “The ownership of the vessel does not necessarily confer ownership over the wishes.” Many a grudge and argument had been born in the first few moments after his emergence. Wars started; enemies made; fuel poured on the fire of grievances long-held. The genie found it most tiresome.
Carl said that the wishes should be Georgie’s. Georgie said that she agreed. Carl said that perhaps he had been a little hasty. Georgie said - no - she was pretty sure that he had been right the first time.
It fell to Carl to remind Georgie that, actually and in fact, he - Carl - had been the one to find the shoebox. And possession is nine tenths, and all that.
Georgie felt the need to nudge Carl’s memory over the fact that he had - had he not? - handed her the shoebox to open. Whereupon the genie had emerged, etcetera and, so you see, etcetera.
What Georgie had failed to consider - so it was incumbent upon Carl to point out - was that the shoebox had been left in his attic. If you were going to get geographical about it, then that led rather neatly to the conclusion that the shoebox had, in fact, been his all along.
But what about the rest of the rubbish? Georgie wondered aloud about the tatty old armchair, the piles of papers, and the filled-to-the-brim boxes that littered the attic. Could these be Carl’s too? Because - and perhaps she was remembering it wrong - she was pretty sure that he had said that it was all going to go. The whole lot. He didn’t want it. It wasn’t his. Wasn’t that why she was here, to help? To unload the debris and detritus from Carl’s life; to help make a space into which she could step.
There was, Carl accepted, some truth to what she said. This was a new start. Their lives had been, until now, two converging but separate threads. This could be the point at which those threads finally joined together, twisting around to form a tightly-wound cord. A cord that stretched and turned, but never tore or broke.
“Could?” Georgie hadn’t banked on “could”. She hadn’t hustled over here in the biting cold - to clamber up ladders, to fight spiders, to heave boxes, to clean chairs, or to sort photos - for “could”. Maybe Georgie had been wrong to think that this had been a step forward. Maybe Georgie had only been the hired help, an extra pair of hands, an idiot with a spare Saturday to waste.
Carl said that he didn’t want to argue, and Georgie said that they weren’t. Carl was compelled to disagree, as this felt, unless he was very much mistaken, quite like an argument.
Georgie explained that Carl wouldn’t know an argument if it punched him in the face.
Carl wondered, aloud, about the practicalities of an argument attacking him; being, as it was, more of a concept than an actual physical presence. Not to mention the question of why, were this most unlikely of scenarios to happen, he would not emerge triumphant.
While not conceding that Carl had a point, Georgie wished him well in his fight and graciously allowed for the possibility that - yes - in a fight with a non-corporeal set of reasoning, he might just emerge victorious. Were it to be an actual, honest-to-God, person on the other hand...
Carl was sure that he was mistaken, but it did sound just a little bit like Georgie was questioning his manliness. Laughing at him.
No. Not at all. Far from it, she reassured him. She had seen his manliness. And it was no laughing matter.
The genie interjected. “It seems, if I may be so bold, that there are some tensions here that need to be resolved. Perhaps my gifts could help. Are there things that you would wish away? Or ask to be added to your lives? I am not a magician, nor would I want to be associated with those loathsome individuals, those charlatans, those hacks; however, I have oftentimes been able to help when things have seemed at their bleakest. The very act of wishing for a change can be the catalyst to make that change. Make today the day you make that change.”
Carl looked at Georgie. Georgie looked at Carl. Could this guy be, Georgie wondered, any more of a new-worldy-mumbo-jumbo-spouting hippy if he tried? Carl agreed. He was pretty sure he had seen that self-same sentence on Instagram only the other day. Georgie added that it would look perfect in print in front of a photo of the sun cresting over a mountain. And someone doing yoga in silhouette, they both shouted as one.
“I was only asking,” the genie huffed. Grudgingly, he continued: “It is not necessary, of course, for only one of you to use the gift. Your first wish could be to share the remaining two between you.”
This they pondered. It had merit, they agreed. There could be an accord, an agreement, and a coming together.
“It takes trust,” the genie cautioned. “For once the recipient has been chosen, then it cannot be undone. If they should then choose to keep the wishes for themselves...” He shrugged.
It fell to Carl to step aside first. They could do it, he declared; they could find that trust again. It wasn’t here, amongst the stuff and spiderwebs of the attic. It wasn’t in the shoebox, or the genie’s wishes. But it was in this house. Their threads had been circling this house for five years now, pulling tighter, and drawing them in. Somehow they had become tangled and knotted. They were caught in a cat’s cradle when, really, they should be coming together to make a... a...
Georgie suggested a scarf. Or a bobble hat. Or a Christmas jumper. But these are all things that come out only when it’s winter. When the sun is shining, it isn’t necessary to sit inside, wrapped up in warm things, even when those are the things that you made together. When it’s warmer, thoughts wander outside. What else wanders with them?
But Carl was quick to point out that it still gets cold in the evenings. Even in summer. You still need a woolly jumper to come home to.
Georgie had to say that she felt he was overdoing the thread analogy. It was going nowhere.
Carl asked whether that was their problem. Were they going anywhere anymore?
They weren’t; Georgie knew that. She knew where they had come from, but not how they had got from there to here. As for where they were going; that seemed an ever more mysterious destination. For what it was worth, she still loved him. It was - just - that she wasn’t sure that she actually liked him anymore.
Carl said that, while he appreciated the thought, she could - if it was all the same with her - shove the sentiment up her arse.
Georgie explained that she didn’t want to leave like this.
Carl suggested that she should have thought about that beforehand.
There was no beforehand, Georgie explained; only this. Only now.
Carl said that it shouldn’t have come to this. If only things had been different; if only he had been. He was sorry, for that. For a lot of things.
Georgie said that they should have tried harder. Both of them. If, but if only.
They agreed that they could have been stronger. Could have been better. They agreed that they shouldn’t have let life lead them here. Or, at least, it should have brought them here happier, and closer together, and still able to trust each other.
They said that they both wished they could start over again. Then they would be better; kinder; nicer.
The genie grumbled that they said that every time. “A drop of originality never hurt anyone,” he muttered and rolled his eyes. “I guess that’s one wish each, and we’ll donate the third to charity then.”
He watched as their wishes wrapped them and held them and spun them away, to begin their dance anew. Around, and around, and around once again.
“Try to be good to each other this time,” the genie thought, as he settled back down in his shoebox. “I’ll be seeing you.”
© Jon Stubbington, 2016
Jon Stubbington writes stories on the edge of a moor in Devon, in the United Kingdom. Sadly, this is not nearly as poetic as it sounds. After all, it rains a lot in England. His stories have been performed by the Liars' League London, published in Devolution Z magazine, and will be broadcast on radio in Ireland in 2016. You can find more of his writing at recycledwords.co.uk or find him on twitter @recycled_words.
The Shoebox was read by Matthew Alford on 6th April 2016 for Mistakes & Missteps