Walking through the woods on a mountainside high in the backcountry of the Smokey Mountains, I was deep in the peace of alpine nature, but something deep within churned and longed for release. I knew what it was and I also knew there was no hope for it. I lost the ability long ago to satisfy this craving. The best I could do was TRY to ignore it and cover it with drinking in the wonders of natural beauty. It was not enough but it would have to serve.
I sat on a rock and opened my pack to eat lunch. As I leaned over to fish my sandwich out a glint of reflected sunlight caught my eye through the dead leaves. It was glass. I brushed away the leaves and gradually uncovered a rusted kerosene oil lantern. It looked pretty old. The rust testified to that. I dug a trench around it and pulled it out. A worm slithered into the hole.
Knocking loose dirt and leaves off it, I turned it around to examine it. It was crusted with hard earth and white weed roots were entangled in it’s handle. It was a piece of crap but vaguely interesting nonetheless. I held it up and lightly shook it to see if there I could hear any oil in the well. Nope. Of course not.
The cap of the oil canister had some engraving on it that was nearly obscured by rust. I took my knife out and began to ship at the rust around the ridges of the engraving. Small chunks and flakes fell off. I pulled my bandana out of my pocket and landed a big gob of spit on the cap and started to rub and polish. The lantern might not be worth anything but the emerging design on the oil cap looked promising.
“You might have more luck with that if you took it to a jeweler,” a voice said directly behind me.
I dropped the lantern and spun around. “WHOA MAN!” I said, “you scared the crap out of me!” It was a dark skinned man in a baby blue jogging suit. He was standing behind me where I seated on the rock, looking over my shoulder. He was holding a half eaten banana.
“Or at least try something on it besides spit. I don’t know what, but I bet a jeweler would, don’t you?”
“Where the hell did you come from?” I managed. “You snuck up on me.”
“From inside the lantern.” He took another bite of the banana.
I thought he was still talking about the cap.
“No, I mean you. Where did you come from? I didn’t know anyone else was up here. You sure move quiet.” I looked at his feet. He was barefoot, which was highly weird being that we were 5 miles from civilization on a wooded mountainside.
“I told you, from inside the lantern. Pay attention.” He finished the banana and tossed the peel away.
I figured I had a nut on my hands; probably a fugitive from a nearby mental hospital. He might be dangerous and he might not. There was no sense risking it, It was best to humor him.
“Oh yeah. I musta misheard you. . . . from inside the lamp. So that would make you . . . what? a Genie?”
“Yep. You got it.” He smiled and tipped his head slightly to the side. Was he teasing me?
“Well, what are you doing way up here? And why are you wearing running togs?”
“A little nosey aren’t we? Where should I be? Riding a camel on the sands of Araby? What’s wrong with my threads? I’m comfortable. What’s YOUR story?? Sheesh!” He pulled another banana from his pocket.
“I just LOVE bananas. Want one?”
“Well look, this has been real and this has been great, but it hasn’t been real great. If you don’t mind, I’m going back into the lantern.”
“What if I do mind?”
“Actually you don’t have a say. I’m popping back in whether you mind or not. The only reason I came out was because you jostled me and I thought it might be interesting to have someone to talk to.”
He peeled the banana and took a bite.
“I was bored and thought this might be a pleasant change of pace. I was wrong. It happens. I’m still bored. Don’t take it personally.”
He disappeared. The scene went from “surreal” to “unreal.” “Hallucinatory” was waiting in the wings.
“HEY!” I said. “Come back!”
The lantern was still laying between my feet where I dropped it. I put my foot on top of it and rolled it back and forth.
“Come back! How did you do that? Am I going crazy?” I looked up through the tree tops. “Oh God! Am I going crazy??”
Suddenly he was standing there again, this time in front of me. He was still holding the banana — half eaten. He took and bite and swallowed.
“You’re going from a bore to a pain, you know? What do you want anyway?”
“I want to know I’m not crazy!”
“You’re not crazy. You’re a little dim witted but not apparently crazy. Anything else?”
“Prove what? That you’re not crazy? How do you suggest I do that? You’re asking what you are guessing is an insane fabrication of your diseased mind to prove that it is not an insane fabrication of your diseased mind? If I am what you think I might be then asking me to disprove myself is as insane as you think you might be. So it can’t be done.
“I already have appeared twice out of thin air and disappeared once. What does that tell you? If I were to do ‘magic’ wouldn’t that make it even worse? Buy a vowel.
“I can’t prove I don’t exist, because I obviously do, to me anyway. That doesn’t mean that I am not an insane hallucination of your head, just that it is stupid to ask me to disprove it. See? This is what I meant by ‘dim witted.’
“”But keep it up.” He took a bite of the banana. “This is less boring. I sometimes find half-wits amusing.”
“Do you have a name?”
“Of course I do . . . more stupid questions . . .”
“What is it?”
“I ain’t tellin'” He finished the banana and tossed the peel over beside the other one.
“You’re not telling?”
“to be difficult.”
long pause . . .
“Well, look,” I began, “if you’re a genie then don’t have to grant me some wishes. I mean isn’t that the whole point of this fantasy?”
“Now we’re getting to it. I have to say, you took longer than most people to get to it. I’m minimally impressed.
“Yeah, granting wishes is one of my many duties.” He pulled another banana from his pocket and began to peel it.
“Where are you getting all those bananas?”
“Guatemala, numb nuts. Is that what you really want to ask?”
“No,” I said standing up and brushing off the seat of my pants. “Let’s get right to it.”
“I wish I had a job where I can provide service to people in poverty, people with mental and substance abuse issues, people with domestic violence problems, and the elderly in need of companionship and visitation. I wish I had a job where I can bring people of all class levels, races, religions, and regardless of gender a message of a loving spirit that loves them in spite of whether they love themselves or not. I want to give a message of hope to the hopeless.
“I wish I had a place and the resources to be able to write and study to my heart’s content.
“I wish that that I could find one woman to whom I could give all my love without qualification and have that love returned in kind.
“I am not asking for riches or fame, but it would be nice if my service or writing were compensated enough to give me a comfortable and warm place to live and sleep that I could call my own—even if it’s a rental property.
“Now the way I see it, that’s three wishes; four if you count wanting to be paid for my work. How many do I get? Do I get them all?
Finished, I stopped in front of the genie and stuck my hands deep in my pockets.
“Wow, Joe,” he began. “That’s the most . . .”
“Don’t call me Joe,” I interrupted. “My name is . . .”
“Whoa, let’s not get personal ok? I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine. It’s a lot less complicated this way.”
“All right. What’s your answer. Do I get all my wishes?”
“Joe,” he continued. “That was the most altruistic set of wishes I’ve ever heard. I’ve been in this business over 4,000 years and of the five or six people I have listened to make their wishes . . .”
“Five or six??”
“Stop interrupting. Yeah, five or six. Yours was the best: heartwarming even. You wouldn’t believe the greed me and my buddies run into. I am truly impressed.”
“So? How many do I get?”
“Why the hell not?? Did I say it wrong? Did I ask for too many and that violated some rule?”
“Nope. You said it just right. I told you. Better than right. You got it perfectly.”
He pulled yet another banana from his apparently bottomless pocket.
“Because I’m on a break: off-duty. You have to wait until I go back on the clock.”
“And just when the fuck is that!?”
“What is that some kind of European or military time? I’m supposed to check back at 5 before 9 p.m.?”
“Nope, September 18th 2055. 10:00 a.m. to be exact.”
“You have got to be freakin’ kidding me! I’ll be 98 years old. Hardly optimum for the fulfillment of my wishes.”
“Sorry, I get a 60 year break every 300 years. Union rules. This break started in 1995. I have 43 years left.” Amazingly, he pulled a pocket watch out and checked it.
I sat back down hard on the rock. “43 years is an eternity! How the hell do you get 60 year breaks?”
“Try living 5,000 years and come back and tell me how long 60 is, ‘kay? Look this has been a blast, but I’m going to take off. Really, this has been great. I had my doubts at first, but you proved me wrong. You proved that there are truly good humans running around. Take it easy.”
He finished the rest of the banana in one gulp, threw the peel over with the others, and disappeared again.
I sat without moving for an hour, then I found a decent size rock and smashed the lantern until it was nothing more than glass splinters and flattened metal.