Beggars Would Ride by Elizabeth Fletcher
The lead crystal decanter, a wedding present, reminds the girl of a genie’s bottle. Wide at the base with a slender neck, it glints, throwing rainbows when the sunlight catches it. Six dainty sherry glasses circle the decanter on an etched silver tray her mother polishes whenever shadows begin to creep over the shine. For a spell, the girl daydreamed about being granted three wishes: a pony, a treehouse, a baby sister. She’s since learned the amber genie is harmless only as long as it stays contained. Her father slides a bowl of instant oatmeal toward the girl before he heads to the mill. Let your mother sleep it off. The girl works off the stopper when he leaves, the spirit of bitter almonds making her eyes water. She pretends to pour a drink for herself and her doll. Under brown bangs jagged from an unsupervised trim, the doll’s glittery eyes stare through her. Like her mother’s eyes after a few. The girl taps the crystal goblets hard to make them sing, unaware she’s chipped one of the rims. Chin chin.
The room spins, tilting further than the earth on its axis. The teen downs another shot of Seagram’s, chases it with the Orange Crush on hand. Maybe this one will blunt the raucous laughter of these people she now calls friends, the ones who don’t judge her mother’s failed liver, who don’t seem to care at all. A man she’s never seen before lays his clammy hand over the hole in her jeans, squeezes her leg. The booze stripping her of the will to push him off. All she remembers is his yellowed smile, his chipped front tooth. Her head throbs with a pulsing club beat when she wakes near dawn. Still tipsy, she stumbles home, past the tray clouded over with tarnish, three unbroken sherry glasses standing sentinel around the decanter. She’d siphoned off its contents in the weeks after her mother’s funeral, her father too knackered to notice.
Light streams through the picture window, attempting to break through the house’s heaviness. The woman slips the plastic lid off the HandiMart cup, blowing ripples on the dark surface. She takes a slow sip—burnt. And then she takes another, having developed a tolerance for the crummy coffee that comes with church basement meetings. She places the silver tray in the cardboard box marked “keep,” certain she can buff off the darkness. Sherry glasses long gone, she picks up what remains. The decanter is empty but for sediment. She intends it for the box lined with her father’s button-down shirts, the one destined for the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. It winks in the light, beckoning her, still weighty after all these years. She unstoppers it. An astringent whisper escapes, the genie weakened but freed. She considers the bargain. Knows there’s always a catch. “If wishes were horses…,” the sentence suspended, unfinished. She pitches the keepsake in the box marked “dump.”
Elizabeth Fletcher is a writer and yoga therapist from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her fiction has appeared in The Nonconformist, Gone Lawn, Flash Frog, Lost Balloon and elsewhere. You can find her online at www.esfletcher.com and on Twitter @esfletcher.