Story copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin
The smell of sour pickles, stale cotton candy, and hot dogs sizzling over a grill freely intermingle under the rainbow of neon lights. I should find this all enchanting. Instead, I find it’s giving me a headache. It’s also too loud. The sounds of the carnival games with balls slamming against glass and of crying children are giving me a migraine.
It all feels hopeless. Happiness can’t pass through the thick wall of depression that has been gradually built around me by society. Sure. Blame me if you must. It’s what everyone does. Never mind that I blame myself for my business failures, or that I blame myself for the recent divorce of my wife. And even though I’m in debt for my bad decisions, does it mean that I should have to face life alone? My family and my friends have abandoned me. Oh sure, they say that they’re there for me, but that’s nothing more than a feel-good lie. None are able to take me in after I fall. And willing to help pay my debt? Not a chance!
Do I sound spoiled? I’m entitled to be. I’ve always been there in a jiffy for my friends and family, loaning them money when they were short. I stayed at the hospital, through all hours of the night, with one friend after she was in a car accident. I let another crash at my house when he was having marital problems; heck maybe this helped cause my own marital problems! I have taken so much time for them because I was under the false impression that they would do the same for me. But life isn’t fair. Maybe this is why my business and my marriage suffered. I didn’t take enough time for myself. But thinking so is only a cheap cop-out. It’s more than just not just giving myself enough me time. I just wasn’t a good businessman to begin with. Yes, I can program like no other, being able to do everything from designing my own websites, to programming code and my own games, and to being a top-notch hacker – not that I hacked, at least not very often – but when it came to business, I was inept. I have always been a notoriously poor salesman. It was stupid to think that I could run my business without hiring a consultant.
Too late to give myself a pity-party now. I try to get lost in my surroundings. But I kick myself in the butt for even thinking that wasting a little bit of my money on this sideshow of cheap stuffed animals, overly-priced garbage food, and expensive low-quality rides was a good idea. Everyone here is a walking reminder, molded from my memory into physical form, that people care about themselves first. Each of them carries their own cross, drinking the dregs from their own bitter cups. Some are just better at hiding it than others. The only ones who seem truly at ease, well, except for the occasional whining and pouting ones, are the children. But hey, at least the ones throwing a tantrum are still being honest that not all is well in their little world.
I pass by game stalls. Throw the rings on a bottle or shoot however many figurines and win a cheap prize. No. I take it back. The cheap figurines and the bottles are probably worth more than the cheap prize. It would be less expensive to buy one of those stuffed animals from a store than blow all my money on tickets here. I almost break down, knowing that my ex-wife loved stuffed animals. I would good-naturedly tease her about it, telling her that she was too old for them. Now I would gladly pay in blood to give her as many of them as she wanted.
No use beating myself up. Society is already making me pay for my mistakes, and they won’t be satisfied until I’m finished paying out the nose.
I think of riding the Ferris wheel. It looks like a large golden circle lighting up the night sky. But what’s the point? I certainly won’t enjoy the view of flashy lights. Who knows? I might even throw myself off when I’m right at the top, in order to forget my problems. The Ferris wheel is a sick reminder that life takes us up, only to take us down again, and then, when the ride is over, we are down instead of up. Just like life, death is a downer. So scratch that. In fact, none of the rides look appealing. This only reiterates that coming here was a waste of time and money.
Then my eyes fall onto something. It’s a tent glowing a pale green, and there is a sign on it which reads Madame Antoaneta: Wish Granter.
Should I step in? Why not! It’s not like I have anything else going on.
Inside there are strings of lanterns hanging down with what looks like a green fire burning in them; a nice special effect that gives off the pale green! Woven tapestries of stars, the moon, and the sun are hung around the walls of the tent, and below my feet is a rug with the designs of leafy trees on it. A table is in the center, and behind it sits an old woman. She is wearing the traditional garb of a bandana around the head, golden circlets around her arms, a sari-like skirt with a piece of bright yellow fabric tied around the waist, and a white blouse.
“I have been expecting you,” she says.
“So, are you going to grant me my wish,” I phrase it more in a sarcastic manner than I do a question.
“If you wish me to do so, Robert Donavan.”
“What did you say?” I can’t believe she knows my name.
“Robert Donavan, age forty-three,” she speaks as if she were casually talking about the weather. “Your software business is failing, like your marriage.”
“Get out of town!” I nearly choke. “There’s no way you could know about all that.”
“There is,” she insists. “Your energy is written like a book, and those who train themselves can learn how to read it.”
This is unbelievable. If you had of asked me years ago – heck what am I saying – if you had of asked me just this afternoon, I would have said that fortune tellers were frauds. Then again, as far as I know, she could still be a fraud. There’s always such a thing as a lucky guess. Still, I play along. The woman’s relentless. To prove her point that she’s the real deal, she tells me the exact date of when I started my company and the name of it. I tell myself that she could have easily looked at my website. This makes perfect sense. I have my picture on there, as well as the date I started my software company, and, of course, my name is on there as the founder. As for trouble with my marriage, that’s just a lucky guess on her part. I mean, what entrepreneur or dreamer doesn’t have problems in their relationships? The list of divorces among the brilliant is endless.
“I know you’re having financial difficulties,” she continues, and I wish that she’d shut up. “However, I can grant you one wish. Any wish you like.”
What the heck! I’ll play along. It’s not like anything’s going to happen. “Sure,” I say, trying not to sound condescending.
“Are you sure?” Madame Ant – whatever her name is – is looking at me intently.
“Why wouldn’t I be? Is there some sort of voodoo curse attached?”
“I’m not a practitioner of the dark arts,” the gypsy flares at me.
“Right, right, right!” I try to calm her down. Some people have no sense of humor. “Anyway, what is this string attached?”
“Your wish will only last for one day,” she holds up a finger to drive the point across as though I’m deaf.
“Fine. I wish for a pepperoni” –
I’m surprised when I feel her hand slap me hard against my face. Boy! She hits hard for an old lady. I rub my face, knowing full well it won’t make the sting go away.
“Don’t mock!” she says. “I know the troubles you face, but mocking will not ease the pain. Nor can you hide from it. You must face it. But before doing so, I’m giving you the opportunity to have one day of happiness. But don’t treat this lightly. Think about it and then make a decision.”
Taking my hand in hers, she closes my fingers around something that feels wooden and polished. I open my hand to find some sort of pendant carved like a box. There are strange symbols of some sort of language inked on all sides of it.
“When you are serious, then make your wish.” Her voice isn’t mellow and she’s aggressively poking me in the chest. “Remember. Your wish can only last for one day. So make that one day special.”
“Should I wish for money?” I ask.
“Do you find that wise?”
“How should I know?” I almost shout.
She’s looking at me sadly and I hate it. I’m not asking for her pity. I try to give her a look back, indicating to her that I’m in no more mood for this nonsense, but she doesn’t get the picture.
“What good would money do?” she asks. “You would only have that money for one day, and anything you buy with it will all vanish by the next day.”
“Then what’s the point?” By now I’m exasperated. This is worse than only the three wishes rule.
She’s undeterred by my anger. “The point is to make that wish count. To make you appreciate that one day for a lifetime. Can you really appreciate being rich for one day?”
“Maybe if that one day is spent getting drunk off fine wine or spending it with blond bombshells, then yeah.”
“Those are superficial reasons. Can you not think of anything more pure, more rewarding?”
“I have no idea,” I shrug.
“Exactly!” she agrees. “But after you give it much thought, you’ll know what you need.”
“You don’t know what I need!” The nerve of this woman, thinking she knows what’s best for me.
If I think I can bring her to my level, I’m sadly made to look like a fool. She remains calm as she tells me, “You’re right, I don’t. But if you look in your heart, even if you have to do some deep searching, you will find what you’re looking for.” She sighs. “Now please, go think it over.”
And just like that, I can’t get a word in edgewise as this old lady, – the crone is stronger than she looks – is pushing me out of her tent, while trying to act polite about it.
Back home I think about what Madame Antoanet said about having a wish for one day. Don’t get me wrong. I know that it’s impossible. But what can I say? I’m desperate! This lovely house, complete with a garden out back and three bedrooms, I’m about to lose for an apartment. It’s bad enough that I lost my wife, but why do I have to lose my house! It’s safe to say that I’m in a philosophical mood, thinking about what my wish would be if it could come true.
What would be a good one day wish? As she said before, money wouldn’t work. Or wouldn’t it? I guess I could use the money for one day like no other. I could rent a limo, go to a fancy restaurant, and spend the night in a five-star hotel. No. It’s all so superficial. Experiencing a different culture could be rewarding. Say I wish to be over in France, Japan, or Germany, or wherever. But I would only have one day there, and that’s not enough time to learn the language or really immerse myself in the sights. I could wish to spend a day romantically with a beautiful woman, but once that wish wears off I’ll fall into deep depression, having loved and lost.
There must be something more meaningful. But what? Because life seems so pointless. But why does it have to be? Why can’t I enjoy the simple things in life? This gets me to thinking about kids. All of them so carefree. Was I any different as a child? Life was magical back then.
It all comes back to me. The feel of water crystals gushing out from the sprinklers, cooling me off on a hot summer day, or of when I quenched my thirst by drinking out of the garden hose, leaving me with a sweet, rubbery taste, finer than any wine. The wonder of seeing a ladybug resting on a leaf, or of seeing butterflies, like rainbows of vibrant colors, fluttering around. I recall laying on the soft grass while marveling at the clouds that look like islands in the sky with their own kingdoms. Then, there is the awe of seeing rainbows after storms while trying to unravel the mysteries of what sort of treasures were at the end. The taste of a hot dog or a cheeseburger, fresh from the grill with a hint of that savory charcoal flavor, floods my mouth. Or how about how out of this world hot chocolate crammed with marshmallows tasted after sledding on a winter day. It was like drinking warm heaven. I think back to when I could create my own worlds by using just blankets and cardboard boxes. It was these simple things in life that I enjoyed, including the mundane of getting high on sugar cereal while gluing my eyes to the T.V. to watch Saturday morning cartoons.
Money wasn’t an issue when I was a kid. It didn’t become so until my teenage years warped me. I was eager to be an adult, and now I’ve found with adulthood comes credit card debt and stress with juggling finances. But it’s not just money that’s the issue. I have a keen awareness of how messed up the world really is. And it’s not in shambles because of evil. I wish it was just good versus evil, like something out of my Saturday morning cartoons. I mean, let’s be honest, that would make life so much simpler. But it’s a matter of varying degrees of grey, of conflicting opinions about what’s moral and not moral, and how these questions, rather than making people better, just seem to bring out the worst in everyone. And that’s what sucks. It’s normally not good people fighting against bad people, but good people fighting amongst each other because of varying opinions.
My head’s not so high up in the clouds to think that children are free of hardships. But for a child in a good home with loving parents, the troubles don’t amount, as Humphrey Bogart would say, to a hill of beans. I don’t mean that kids don’t feel scared. I had to put up with bullies growing up. And I always had a fear of a monster under the bed, just waiting to reach out a scaly hand to drag me under the covers for dinner. But none of that could squeeze the joy out of my life with the magic I felt over everyday things and the joy I derived from simple pleasures. Add that to the fact that I’ve found adult bullies to be far worse than little kid or even teenage bullies. Adults have more effective ways of hurting you that don’t involve physical pain. As for the monsters, my belief in them has never gone away. But as an adult it has been displaced with something more sinister. Think about it. A monster isn’t some one-eyed, three-headed creature lined with many claws and gnashing teeth, or even those creatures from those creepy-pastas you read about online. Monsters are those politicians receiving bribes to look the other way when the environment is being destroyed, those who make money off of wars, dictators wiping out their citizens, or psychopaths who kill for the heck of it.
Why was I ever eager to grow up?
That’s it! That’s my wish! I wish to be a child again for one day. Six years old will do nicely. But wait! Not a child at this time period, alone and confused, but a child living back with his parents in the 1980s. But would wishing to be a child in the 1980s living with my parents count as more than one wish? I can’t even believe I’m even considering making a wish in the first place. Madame Antoanet is a fraud. I’m sure of it. And yet, as I mentioned earlier, I’m tired of life.
I’m smart enough to know that the pendant won’t count my rambling as one wish, or count my wish at all, but sometimes the thought of escaping from reality is nice.
I hold the wooden pendant tightly in my hands as I say the words loudly, “I wish to be six years old in the 1980s, living with my parents on a no-school day.”
Of course nothing happens! Why am I not surprised! It’s a no-brainer that I’ll have to declare bankruptcy tomorrow, and that I’ll have to deal another day without my wife. Then it’s only a matter of time before I have to sell my home to move into a cheap apartment, probably with some beer guzzling weirdo.
With these thoughts heavy in my mind, I make my way to my bedroom, slowly crawling under the heavy blankets on my bed. I’m tired. It’s been such a long day. One wouldn’t think a day at the carnival would be tedious, but it gave me a lot to think about. About life, about what’s important. It’s the simple things that are important. With this thought, I slowly fall asleep.
“Robert!” I hear the young voice of my mother calling me from the kitchen. “Breakfast is ready.”
It’s a Saturday morning at the start of spring. The sun’s shining on me, illuminating the rocket ship and outer-space blankets on my bed. My mom didn’t need to call me for breakfast. I have been up for the last hour watching Saturday morning cartoons on my small T.V.
During a commercial break, I quickly run out to get some freshly baked pan-cakes, delightfully soaked in syrup and melted butter. I plead with my mom to let me have breakfast in my room. She agrees as long as I’m careful. Back in my room, I watch brightly animated characters come to life as I bite into soggy pancakes, causing an explosion of sweet flavors in my mouth. I rinse it down with a glass of equally sweet orange juice, an elixir of life if there ever was one. Life doesn’t get any better than this.
But my favorite cartoons don’t last all day. Pretty soon I’m playing in the sandbox in the backyard. I’m a king, building my own castle, its turrets, and its walls. Being a king is boring, so I turn into a god, creating mountains, caves, and canyons around the castle. I finish it off by taking a hose and filling the canyons with water. Now there are rivers for the people to swim in.
Tired of playing in the sandbox, my parent’s garden catches my eye. The tomato plants, the rhubarb, the grape vines, and the raspberry bushes make up more than just a garden. It’s a jungle full of wild beasts, and I am the explorer bravely trudging through it. I’m glad my headquarters is still where I remember it. My parents let me place a little tent in there that I can sleep in if I promised to be careful. In this tent, I find shelter as I write down my observations of the jungle around me. I have everything I need; my binoculars, my flask full of fruit juice, my net for catching bugs, my notebook, and a little bed to sleep in. What will I see in the jungle? A tiger lurking about? Maybe some monkeys swinging from vines!
So much to do today. Later on, my friends will want to have a water gun fight, or to go down and catch frogs by the creek. Maybe we’ll even make up some new game to play.
I have one day to enjoy being a child again. One day to appreciate the simpler things in life. I plan to live it to the fullest. Because this is a gift that is more precious than any other.
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