Just one left

Saving treats for a rainy day allows me to savor the possibilities.

Long before grey hair and grandchildren, I inherited an ornate brass thing. I say ‘thing’ because it’s not an urn, a teapot, or bottle, but something between. It’s spout giraffes from the pregnant bulbous orb, before squishing into a tulip-shaped lip. Four tiny lizard feet support the orb. An overly thin handle discourages use. Bigger than a teapot, smaller than my kettle, this thing hides comfortably under dust. Closer inspection reveals pharaohs and fires, lions and temples, etched amongst mysterious lettering and ornate graffiti. ‘Thing’ doesn’t exactly befit it’s grandeur; in my usual highly unimaginative way, I named it Aladdin. As a child I remember being told he was magic.

A handwritten note taped on the underside of Aladdin says ‘ just one left.’

One what? A wish? There’s always three, so what were the others used for, when, and who by?

Friends jokingly threaten to give Aladdin a rub; he’s the only dusty object in my otherwise acceptably-clean retirement unit. They tease my superstition, as though I should have left such ideas behind ‘at my age.’

Aladdin sits like an unchecked lotto ticket, daring me to fantasise about giving him a rub. The truth would be out, just like a genie from a bottle!

Going back a few decades, as a young family we were always broke, really broke. I’d eye up Aladdin, conjuring images of riches enough to get us through. One morning, utterly desperate, I picked him up, intent on rubbing him clean, but just as I lifted the dusting cloth, a coughing fit reminded me health is a fragile thing; what’s money compared to health? Aladdin was best kept, reserved in case family ever needed a health miracle.

Over the years, each severe stress sent our way was somehow tempered by the resilience provided through having Plan B – Aladdin – sitting on the shelf, collecting even more dust.

Of course, we had all the usual headaches of raising a family in an ever-changing world, but each time I considered succumbing toAladdin’s invitation, larger societal needs provoked shame. My need for new knickers didn’t quite cut the elastic compared with world unrest, poverty, climate change, and racial prejudice. I could have demolished that wish many times over, but still I resisted, and we got through.

So here I am, gazing at Aladdin, wondering for the umpteenth time if he matches the hype. Have I been foolish? What if, for half a century, I’ve had the power to bring about world peace, halt plagues, pestilence, and pandemics? Is keeping Aladdin to myself selfish wish-hugging, or merely indulging the fantasies of an illogical mind? At least with lotto there are regular winners.

I feel Aladdin’s weight. His orb nestles pleasantly in my left palm. A rag ripped from an old towel anticipates disclosing Aladdin’s truth. My right hand hovers, inches closer. Aladdin seems to be asking ‘do you really want to do this?’ I pause, breath deeply, admonish myself for stupidity, and resolve to get on with it. Dust doesn’t belong in my respectably-shiny home.

Just then, the computer buzzes; a video call from my daughter. She is surprised to see Aladdin in my hand, then becomes agitated when she realises what I was about to do.

She admits fantasising about Aladdin’s superpower whenever life threatens to overwhelm. I had not realised. How close I had come to destroying the magic for not just myself, but her too.

But my daughter is practical. She doesn’t condone dust. We compromise; I agree to leave the dust until Professor Google has revealed Aladdin’s provenance.

Later, internet images and facts scroll by, but none exactly match Aladdin. Some sites offer free evaluations, but I cannot bear the thought of sending him away in a dark cardboard box to strangers who would undoubtedly rub the dust off him, thus ensuring he returned as just another old piece of brass-wear. Resolution without magic is no resolution at all.

Disheartened, I seek fresh air. My home nestles in a retirement complex adorned with beautiful flower gardens; embracing trees crown sweeping lawns. I meander to my letterbox, distracted by roses presenting bright faces to lure the unwary nearer their prickles. The letterbox is in on the conspiracy, revealing an oversized bill. With ironic timing, a card from my sister contains a lotto ticket. The numbers are carefully chosen, from special dates like birthdays, weddings and loved ones passings. Why a death date should bring luck beats me. The unchecked ticket hints of riches galore. A big win could mean travel, a new knee, and helicoptering friends to afternoon tea on any mountain peak they choose. But then there’s the other side: Foodbank, Housing for humanity, Shoes in schools, homeless shelters, charity medical ships; which charities and how much? I’d need tax advice, accountancy consults, and a new haircut. Such riches would swallow reading time, eat my day, and ravage my peace.

I hold the ticket in two fingers, feeling it’s yellow monstrosity. I drop it behind Aladdin, where it joins an unchecked sibling. Tentacles of guilt urge me to at least check the old ticket.

Mylotto is brightly cheerful, like the nurse just as she gives you a jab. I mark the numbers carefully….4… 7… 15… 22…. 23…oh gosh! Could it be? Yes! I have all six numbers! Shame they’re all on different lines. Oh well, better than not having them at all.

This ticket, just like all it’s predecessors, doesn’t matter; since there’s a nice new ticket tucked away behind Aladdin’s belly; it will be a winner, for sure.

Maybe I really should dust Aladdin? If he does have a genie, I could build an inverse pyramid with that wish; assuming there really is one left? Is it possible to wish for three wishes? I could use two, and save the third wish for making three more wishes, Imagine that! Is there an expiry date, like with lotto? Six months should be plenty of time to get everything sorted, even world peace. Once the genies out, can I send him back, saving him (or her) for another day? Perhaps not. The proverb about genies suggests some kind of permanency. Folk say you should never let the genie out of the bottle, implying it’s a bad thing, though that’s usually to do with telling secrets, like revealing who’s up who, and who’s not paying (or is paying, if you get my drift.)

So Aladdin; his dustiness really is a bit embarrassing. Maybe he’s like the dentist; you know you have to go, the outcome is good in the long run, but there’s still that dread. What’s the worst that can happen? If there’s no genie, never mind; I’ve still got that lotto ticket.

If there is a genie… but maybe my daughter is right. Even the grandchildren consider Aladdin the family’s Plan B; who am I to take that away from them?

With a mixture of relief and reluctance, I carefully put Aladdin back in his place. As I turn away, my foot slips on the rag I’d dropped earlier. I tumble towards the floor. My hands futilely grab for anything; this is going to hurt. A crack sound explodes from my femur; jolting pain scrambles my brain. As I come to a brutal stop, Aladdin topples from his shelf, striking me on his way past, leaving a dusty smear down my blouse, before finally rolling away.

In my fuddle I hear a voice call out ‘Hello…That was a rough ride; what do you need?’

Looking up, I see an elfin-like man, with pointed nose and beady eyes. Hysterical laughter rises from my belly. I know it’s rude, but can you blame me? I was expecting a bejewelled sultan in a puff of smoke, weighed down by loose golden fabrics and a bright green turban; not the elderly elf from next door who has the memory of a gnat.

My neighbour picks Aladdin up from the floor, carefully stepping over me to replace him on the shelf, then says, in a reassuring voice, ‘Job done’… and leaves! No thought of getting me some help, as though seeing me laying around on the floor is perfectly normal.

Despite being painfully aware of at least one broken bone, I can’t help but take a moment to glance at Aladdin, safely restored, still with ‘just one left.’

My neighbour is right; yes, indeed, the job is done.

I just hope that lotto ticket is worth waiting for.

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