Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Woman in the Lamp

by David W. Landrum



I found the oil lamp at an antique shop. Brass, battered, looking like it could use a good polishing -- it could have been a teapot except for the blackened stub of a wick protruding from the spout and the faint smell of some kind of oil. I thought it would add a little variety to my bookshelf or that I might paint it in a still life with some other antique objects

I made an offer on it -- on the low side, of course -- and the manager of the antique store countered with a price higher than what he probably expected. We dickered until we reached what I thought was a reasonable price.

I took the lamp home and started to polish it, hoping to bring out some nice warm highlights that would look good in oil on canvas. Just as you probably imagined, and true to the script, the thing started to shake, its metal base clattering on the top of my kitchen table. Purple smoke poured out of the spout and, in a flash of silver sparks, the djinn materialized.

A woman. She was dressed almost identically to the way Barbara Eden dressed in I Dream of Jeannie except that her outfit was purple, not pink or blue: pillbox hat with a veil, sleeveless top, bare midriff, bikini bottom, sheer pantaloons, gold slippers that turned up in peaks at the toes.

I might have thought I was dreaming of the old TV program, but, unlike Barbara Eden, this woman had brown skin and dark eyes and hair. I was on my feet by then. The lamp had fallen to the floor.

I stared, my mouth hanging open in amazement. With a look in her eyes suggesting she had seen such reactions before, she spoke.

"I am Nadria, slave of the lamp," she said, folding her hands together and bowing slightly at the waist.

After a few moments, I was able to speak.

"Slave of the lamp? Does that mean I have three wishes?" I asked, rather stupidly.

"You may have as many wishes as you desire, my Master -- not merely three. I am your slave. My magic is at your disposal for as long as you shall wish."

"This can't be happening," I said, not to her. I sat down again.

Nixie, my cat, came over and eyed the woman curiously.

"Have I displeased you, my Lord?" she asked. She looked genuinely worried.

"No, not at all. I'm just surprised."

"Shall I return to the lamp? If my presence disturbs you, I will withdraw. You may summon me when you wish simply by rubbing the exterior of the lamp."

"Maybe you should. I need time to think about this."

She bowed and disappeared into a cloud of purple smoke. The cloud went into the spout of the lamp as if sucked down into it.

I sat there, staring at it, doubting my sanity. All the stories about djinns flooded in my mind. My fourth grade teacher read us Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and I remembered seeing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. As a kid I always watched I Dream of Jeannie and I remembered cartoons, commercials, an old episode of The Twilight Zone that had djinni in the story.

Being thoroughly modern, I did not believe in the supernatural. Dreams and visions such as Christian saints, Muslim dervishes, mystics and ecstatics of any sort experienced I put down to hallucination or psychosis. I did not believe in the existence of ghosts, angels, werewolves, vampires, or genii. Now it seemed I had had a mystical vision of my own and had stood face to face with a supernatural creature.

I looked down at the lamp, which my cat was nosing curiously. It lay there, half-polished, looking harmless. I bent forward and touched it with my fingertips. The lamp shook and then the cloud appeared and, once again, the girl.

She stood with her arms at her sides. I had to make sense of this. It could not be a prank. And I knew I had not flipped out. Everything was too familiar and my reactions were normal, measured, rational, and calculating. By now I felt a stupid because I kept gaping and sputtering. I stood up to face the woman.

"You said your name is Nadria?"

"Yes, and your ever-humble servant, my Master."

I sat down. "Please sit, Nadria."

"I am not allowed to sit in the presence of my Master."

"But I want you to sit."

"If I disobey any of the commandments to which a djinn is subject, I will perish in Gehenna. Please, my Lord, do not send me to eternal suffering."

I blinked at her anxious expression, realizing that if I insisted she sit, she would do so out of her obligation of obedience to me. Seeing fear in her eyes made the situation with her seem more real.

"Don't sit, then, please." I squinted at her. She did not look like a phantom or a ghost. It struck me as odd that she had told me her name. In most of the stories I had read, djinns did not have names. "What are you doing here?" I asked.

"You own the lamp. I am slave to whoever owns the lamp. When you rubbed it, you summoned me."

"Just like in the stories. And you will grant me wishes?"

"Yes, my Lord."

I decided to start small with an experiment.

"I'd like a pizza."

Instantly a pizza appeared on the coffee table in front of the couch. It was exactly what I would have ordered: Pizza Hut Meat Lover's, thin crust. I had not told her this. I looked up.

"Thank you," I said, feeling stupid for saying so.

"I live to do your bidding, my Master."

Her calling me by that title was a disturbing. Something about "Master" and "slave" did not sit right with me. Slavery is understood as a great American evil -- and not just an evil from our country's past. It still exists throughout the world in numerous sordid forms. Nadria's servitude did not fit the paradigm of slavery exactly, since it magic was the factor that had brought about her servitude. Yet it was still servitude -- involuntary servitude, I assumed. I did not purchase the girl and did not mean to subjugate her, but the vocabulary she used was unsettling.

I pondered, the reality of it sinking into my mind. Anything I wanted. And not just three wishes.

Once I decided that Nadria was real and I was not drugged in some asylum somewhere, I spent a little more time deciding that most people maybe do. Like everyone in the world, I wanted financial security, but I told Nadria I wished to acquire wealth in a way that was inconspicuous. I worked as an illustrator for a magazine consortium and liked my work. I wanted to keep my job and not call attention to myself by suddenly assuming a vast sum of wealth -- at least not yet. Sure to my wish, in the next couple of weeks some friends asked me if I would be interested in some high-risk but, if they paid, high-yield investments. I bought in, emptying my savings to buy the stocks they recommend. Within four months was a millionaire. I stashed the money away quietly and kept working at my job, which I enjoyed. I did not change my lifestyle a whole lot. I liked the security, though.

As an illustrator, I drew for magazine layouts and advertisement. On my own, I painted what I considered my real and serious art. Every artist wants to be great and make a name like Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso made. Contemplating this was when I first realized that having an all-powerful genie who could grant my every wish was more complicated than what I had first imagined.

My serious non-commercial work sat in a back studio. I hoped to do an exhibit one day. I hoped my art would resonate with those who saw it -- not merely with buyers but with critics too. I wanted recognition. I wanted my art to influence other artists, to find its way into those big, glossy books libraries purchase, and be exhibited in the leading museums of the world.

Would a wish help the process along? At first it seemed simple and a foregone conclusion. I could wish my exhibit would be successful, that the right art critics and buyers would attend, that it would get high-profile publicity and prestigious museums like the MOMA or the National Gallery would buy my work. After I had placed paintings in the better museums of the world, my reputation would be established and my career made.

But did I want success as an artist if it was brought about by magic?

I contemplated this for long hours. If my works did not attract attention and sell as a result of my talent and that alone, the triumph would be hollow. One of my paintings might hang on the wall of the Chicago Art Institute, the Louvre, or the Tate, but if I knew it was there only because a djinn had granted my wish for it to be there, it would be an empty accomplishment. It would be more than hollow. It would be a humiliation and an admission that I had no real talent.

After a long contemplation, I decided against it. I summoned Nadria the next day.

My girlfriend, Alicia, was coming over. She worked at a wine bar. I wanted to impress and instructed my cooperative djinn to conjure a bottle of rare, expensive wine for me.

She came out of the lamp. She wore her djinn outfit. For some reason, it struck me as contrived and silly.

"Do you always dress like that?" I asked.

"Yes, my Lord. Does it displease you?"

"Not exactly. But I would like to see how you look in contemporary dress."

In a flash, without any transition, she changed her outfit from the I Dream of Jeannie look to modern casual, suddenly standing before me in a denim miniskirt, sandals, and a turquoise blouse. Her hair hung loose at her shoulders. I smiled. This is exactly how I had wanted her to dress. She could sense such things.

"Much better. You look nice."

"Thank you, my Master."

Her always calling me "Master" bothered me but I decided not to bring it up just yet. I told her I wanted a bottle of fine wine. In an instant, it was on the table and she had gone back in the lamp.

Alicia arrived. She had had a long day of rehearsal and was grouchy. I had had Nadria get the vintage wine to impress her and put her in a good mood, but it had the opposite effect of what I was shooting for. She recognized the vintage and kept asking me where I got it. This became annoying, we spoke sharply, and our snipping escalated into a quarrel and into her stomping out the door of my apartment and screeching her tires as she drove off into the night.

I paced around the apartment, kicking things and swearing. Besides being angry with Alicia, I knew she had planned to stay the weekend with me. I had not had it in a while and had anticipated sleeping with her. Alicia is pretty and wild between the sheets. Now I would get nothing. As I paced and swore I began to transfer my anger to Nadria. It then occurred to me that I did not need to go without this weekend. My anger and the wine I had drunk had something to do with it, I'm sure. Still, I can't deny that this was a moment in my life when I flagrantly disregarded another person's dignity.

I summoned her. She came out of the lamp dressed in her modern clothing. I looked at her. She bowed her head to indicate she understood my desire. Her clothing disappeared.

She had a trim, strong body, though the lines of her shape were soft and rounded. I took her to bed and satisfied my lust. She slept with me. In the morning I had her again.

After we finished, she asked if she could make me breakfast. I looked over at her. Her long black hair spilled over the pillow. Her mocha-colored breasts with darker nipples glowed against the sheets. I nodded. She got up and went into the kitchen.

A flood of feelings washed through my heart -- a flood with conflicting currents and eddies. I felt ashamed. I had exploited her. I had forced her through my authority as her master. The word made me shudder, calling to mind the sexual exploitation inherent in slavery. I tried to tell myself this was not slavery. I had not asked this woman into my house. I had not purchased her. I had not forced her. She was the slave of the lamp, not my slave. Yet for all my reasoning, I felt like Chuck Conners sexually bullying Leslie Uggams in Roots. I sighed and listened as she got pans out and began to cook. She would know exactly what I liked best and would cook it perfectly suited to my tastes. I got up, washed and dressed, and came into the kitchen.

She had cooked eggs, bacon, and made toast. There was orange juice and coffee. I sat down, my guilt maximum. She had on her modern outfit.

"Is there anything else you desire, Master?"

"Will you sit and eat with me?"

"I am not allowed to sit in your presence."

"Right. You told me that already. You can't do so even if I command you?"

She looked uneasy. "If you command me to, I will ... but I will perish in hell if I disobey."

"If you disobey the rule against sitting in my presence?"

"If I disobey that command or any other -- or if I disobey you."

"You will perish?"

"I will be sent to hell."

I looked at her. Fear shone in her eyes.

"All right. I just wanted to speak with you. I wanted sit and converse with you -- to tell you you are a very beautiful woman."

"Thank you, Master. It is kind of you to say so."

"Have you always been a slave?"

"I have not."

"No?"

"No, sir."

"When did you become a slave to the lamp?"

"When I had lived eleven of your centuries. I was born in the Dusht-e-Kavir, the Great Salt Desert of Persia. I lived as a free wind spirit until I was taken in a slave raid. Kasra, a sorcerer, caught me in a magical web and through his power enslaved me to the lamp. In Christian reckoning, this occurred in 1051."

"You have been slave to the lamp ever since then? A thousand years?"

"Yes."

"I don't see how anyone who owned such a thing as the lamp would let it slip from their control."

She did not reply.

"How does something like that happen? If I owned a magic lamp, I would be careful. I would not let it out of my sight. Tell me how it might be lost by one person and found by another."

"Magic," she said, her tone hesitant, "is dangerous. People do not use it wisely and it ends up destroying them."

"Destroying them? How?"

"I am not permitted to speak of other who were owners of the lamp."

"Another rule?"

"Yes."

"You have lots of rules to follow, it seems."

"A slave must obey or suffer the consequences. My own will does not determine the things I do."

I sat silent a moment and then asked, "Are you often ordered to do what I told you to do last night."

"Very often."

I blushed. Waves of shame passed over me.

"It was my duty as a slave."

I dismissed her and she went back into the lamp. I finished eating. Saturday was cold and gloomy. The phone rang. Alicia called me. Blubbering and apologizing, and invited me over for lunch. She felt bad about the quarrel over the wine said she would make it up to me. I decided to go see her. I needed to get my mind off how badly I felt over what I had done to Nadria.

Alicia is carving out a career for herself slowly but surely. She has done stage and appeared in episodes of House, Mad Men and Revenge. In summer, she would have an important part in a movie. For all her success, she had not dumped me for some movie star or media maven. This was a source of puzzlement to me.

I took a taxi over to her place.

She gushed, apologized, kissed me and clung to me. We sat down to a meal she had cooked (she was a good cook) and spent a pleasant two hours eating and talking. She told me about the filming.

"The big-shit star has already come on to me. So has the director and half the production crew. Just like all the vintners used to do at my old job. Everybody wants to screw the pretty girl."

"Do you blame them?"

"No -- when you put it like that."

This was a signal. I leaned over the table and kissed her we spent the afternoon in bed. That night we went to a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In the morning we went to church. I usually don't go, but Alicia is Orthodox and attending Sunday service is so much a part of her life that she goes out of habit. She did not go up for communion but did get some of the blessed (not consecrated) bread for us to eat. That afternoon we drank wine and talked.

Alicia is everything I have looked for in a woman, but as we drank and talked I thought about Nadria. I wondered if she was lonely in the lamp she had inhabited for a millennium.

Alicia asked me if I wanted to stay the night. I told her no because I had to work in the morning. We parted amicably, our quarrel mended, the hurts healed and forgotten. I walked home, about two miles, and it was cold but I like cold and like winter, especially how quiet it gets when snow covers the ground. I got back, warmed up, made coffee, and went to bed. I decided I would not disturb Nadria.

Money continued to accumulate in my accounts. I told her to hold off on the magic and she did. I had enough to last the rest of my life. I moved the lamp into my bedroom, setting it on the table next to my bed.

Life went on. I worked and went out with Alicia. We did things with friends. She was getting enough notice as an actress that a couple of magazines did stories on the budding young woman who had stuck with her old boyfriend. I painted, yet it occurred to me that having a lot of money (from Nadria's magic) was affecting how I did art.

Art arises out of life. It is an expression of personhood filtered through the discipline of craft. Now that my life had been altered by forces that were . . I guess it would be right to say otherworldly, my art did not seem genuine. Could what I painted reflect a vision of life as I had known the concept and as most people understood it? Could I produce art that was true if my life was out of alignment with the reality in which most people live?

The artificiality of it came home strongly to me one night when I was going out with friends to a concert.

I like classical guitar music. I and a group of friends from work attended a concert by Sigourney Chantrelle, a rising star in the world of guitar performance. I had all her tapes and had a crush on her. Beautiful, blonde, with piercing blues eyes, she had become an icon to me. I had a poster of her on my studio wall because I saw her as a paragon of female beauty. As I got dressed for the concert, a thought came into my mind. I summoned Nadria.

"What is your desire, my Master?" she asked, hands clasped together in a stereotypical djinn posture. I did not want to say, but I knew she could read my mind. She bowed her head. "It will be done for you."

Sigourney played masterfully and beautifully. I wondered if one of the stage managers would invite me back to meet her and things would start then, but no such thing happened. We went to a bar afterwards, talked and drank until late. Four or five of the crowd I went out with headed home. I was there with Jason and Gabriella when Sigourney Chantrelle, alone, walked into the bar.

"Isn't that Sigourney Chantrelle?" Gabriella exclaimed.

It certainly was. I remembered my wish.

"She's all by herself," she whispered. "Want me to invite her over?"

Before Jason or I could answer, Gabriella, who is naturally friendly, was talking to Sigourney. She smiled, nodded, and the two of them came over to our table.

Sigourney wore a burgundy minidress. Her hair, which she had worn loose on stage, was braided. She wore an onyx necklace and matching bracelet. I noticed her wedding ring. She had been married, I knew, about two years.

The ring made me feel a twinge of guilt, but I was drunk and she looked good and I had often fantasized about making love to her. Introductions went round. Gabriella asked her what she was doing in your average, ordinary bar at this time of night (it was past midnight).

"I couldn't sleep. I travel with a couple of people when I tour, but they were asleep. I just felt like I wanted to get out and be alone -- and have a drink."

She ordered a black martini. I looked up and met her eyes. She gave me a smile.

We talked about music. I told her I had all her CDs. "I love the way you do 'Danza Pomposa' by Alexandre Tansman. That's one of my favorite pieces of guitar music." We got to talking classical guitar. Jason and Gabriella, drunk and not able to follow the intricacies of our discussion, bowed out and went home. Sigourney and I talked until the bar closed at 2 a.m. She reached over and took my hand.

"If you want to come up to my place," she said, "we can continue the conversation there."

No need for the details. We made love. Her friends did not wake up. I got out before her husband flew in to see her. After a hard day's work, I wandered around the awakening city and reflected back on the sleaziest thing I had done in my life. I had used magic to fulfill an adolescent dream, a silly, self-serving male fantasy. I had slept with a woman I did not know, who did not love me and would not have given me a second look but for the intervention of magic. She had a husband she cherished; I had a woman I loved. We both were guilty of betrayal. I had been the source of it.

More came out of that sordid episode. Sigourney Chantelle's marriage broke up within a year. Though I don't know the details, I imagine she could not conceal her inexplicable adultery with a man she had never seen before and this led to the destruction of a relationship with a man she truly loved. After that, she drifted out of a successful career. In performance of any kind (in sports as well as music, as a certain golfer recently discovered), one draws on the resources of the soul. If the soul is polluted by shame, remorse, or pain, the operation of the hands, arms, fingers are not the same. The last I heard she is teaching guitar at a small university in New York City and no longer performs or records. Gabriella mentioned that she had left Sigourney and me together, which made Alicia suspicious. I lied and smoothed things over. I hated that I had to lie to her.

I also thought about Nadria. I had sexually exploited her as well. Again, I wondered if she were lonely. She had been free once. Someone made her a slave. I wondered if there was a way she could be free again. A few days later I brought her out of the lamp and asked her about it.

"It is a thing I cannot tell you," she answered.

"But there is a way."

"There is. You must discover it yourself."

I wondered how I could find out. Nothing suggested itself until I was participating in one of those groups my workplace occasionally wants us to join for "professional development" this one was going through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. We had done a chapter asking what our favorite movies were. I had been ready to say The Shawshank Redemption but remembered a film I had liked better than the Stephen King prison drama -- one I had seen in a tiny, run-down theater at age eight or nine and never forgot -- a grade-B fantasy film made in 1957.

"My all-time favorite was The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad."

When I went home that night I knew what to do. In The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, a princess is shrunk down to tiny size. She slides into a genie's lamp and tells him it is a pleasant place to live. He replies that it is still a prison to him and that he is a slave there. On the wall is prophecy about how he can be freed and, by following it, he is freed at the end of the film.

It was only a film, I thought, and a low-budget one at that. Still, the producers probably hired someone to do research on Middle Eastern legends about djinn. Maybe someone who at least knew something from an ancient source related to genii and magic had come up with this part of the script. Maybe there was something to it. I summoned Nadria once more.

"Can you take me into your lamp?"

She blinked in astonishment.

"Can you make me small enough to go into the place where you dwell and spend your days?"

"Of course," she answered. And in an instant, I was inside the lamp.

It looked a lot like the scene in the movie. The floor and walls were brass and I could see the curved sides and the spout. Fog drifted about in it, though it was white, not pink like in the Sinbad movie. The interior, barren and empty, glowed with a bright copper glow. I looked around.

"Interesting," I said. "You live here?"

"Yes, Master."

"I expected you would have a bed or something like that -- at least a place to sit down."

"I never sit. It is forbidden for me to do so. But remember that I am a spirit. I only take on flesh so you may see me. At all other times I exist without a body."

"You have been confined in this place a thousand years?"

"I have." She hesitated and then added, "I do not experience time the same way you experience it. It is simply presence and being for me. It is only when I take corporeal form that I experience time as a sequence of passing moments. Perhaps I have not made myself clear, but this is the only way I know to express it."

"Do you like living here?"

"No one likes imprisonment. No one wants to be a slave."

"Is there writing anywhere in the lamp?"

"There is."

"What does it say?"

"I don't know, my Lord. I cannot read."

I let this pass by and asked, "What was your life like when you were a free djinn?"

I saw a very faint smile on her lips as she spoke. Decorum dictated that she maintain a high level of formality when speaking to me, but the more she spoke in answer to my question, the more her eyes sparkled with joy, pain, and longing.

"I lived in desert. We all had a certain place we ruled as spirits. Mine was a place that had an oasis in it. Those who came there would often worship me, which was a delight. I was free and flew in the air. I could raise dust storms. I felt the heat of sand and rock and the cool of water. I felt the green of plants, the constant motion of the sun, moon, and sky. It was a wonderful life."

"Were there other djinns near you?"

"There were. I had deep friends among the female djinn. I had lovers among the male spirits. I bore two children."

"You had children?"

"It is different for us, but similar in many respect to how humans bear offspring. It begins in pleasure. The bearing is painful. The joy to see a child born is unutterable bliss."

"If you were free, could you return to your children?"

"I don't know. It is knowledge withheld from me."

"Do you think you would like to be free?"

"Everyone wishes to be free."

I had a moment of realization. It stunned me so much I did not speak for a long moment. Finally, my tongue felt free again.

"All the others who owned the lamp and thus owned you perished. To use the magic of the lamp is to become a slave to it, just as you have become a slave. Is this true?"

"Yes. You are wiser than all my other Masters and Mistresses. They destroyed themselves. Their desires became larger and larger. Their enemies killed them or they died from profligacy or excess. You are wise. You restrain yourself."

I had shown restraint for the present time -- but not very well. Who knew what the future might hold?

"I'm not so sure of that. Show me the writing."

"It is here. Just look down at your feet."

I looked down. A square of writing glowed. It looked like Arabic. I had a moleskin and pen in my pocket. I carefully copied the script.

She watched me.

"I can't read this either," I said to her, "but I'll find someone who can."

I took it to Taboob, an Arab friend, who told me it was not Arabic.

"Looks like Persian," he said.

I found Daryoosh, a drinking buddy from Iran who was majoring in English literature at Cornell. He said the script was indeed Farsi but archaic and he could not read it. He said he knew someone who could. A week later, he was back with me.

"It's a poem," he said. Doesn't make any sense to me, but it might to you. I had a friend who is studying medieval Persian poetry at Columbia translate it. He even tried to turn it into English verse. Here it is:

O Northern Sea

receive this light.

The spirit, free,

will take its flight.

"Not the best poem ever translated, I would say, but he tried. Do you know what it means?"

I told him I did.

As I was pondering what to do, I got a call from Alicia. A shrill, vehement torrent of speech assailed me. She talked so fast and with such intensity that I had persuade her to slow down and tell me what was wrong (this took a while). Finally, she articulated the source of her anger.

"You slept with Sigourney Chantelle, didn't you? Damn it, Curtis, don't lie to me! Tell me the truth!"

I had lied so much of late I did not want to do it again, even if telling the truth destroyed my relationship with Alicia.

"Yes," I answered. "It was late and we were drunk; it was on her invitation." A silence came. It seemed deeper, longer, and more profound after Alicia's rant. I finally broke it by saying, "I'm sorry."

Again, a long silence.

"At least you told the truth."

We talked. Her anger had ebbed into sorrow. She said she wanted to scratch my eyes out and dump me into the bay with concrete overshoes for what I had done, but she did not hang up.

I responded as best I could.

"Give me two days," she said. "I'll call you back and let you know what I've decided."

After she had finished I put up the phone. I walked outside, not bothering to put on a coat. The snow came down in small, fine flakes that sparkled in the lamplight. I could see ships moving down the river to the bay and on out to sea. I walked around until I was too cold to stay out any longer. Back inside, warming up, I drank coffee. My place seemed big and silent. I ran my eyes over the art on my walls. I thought about my paintings. I thought of the despite I had done to my art, to Nadria, to Alicia, to Sigourney Chantelle ... to myself. I went into the bedroom, got the lamp out, and rubbed it to summon the djinn.

She appeared. She wore her genie get-up, not her modern outfit. I guess she sensed I wanted her to look the traditional part.

"I'm going to set you free," I said.

She looked at me, her dark eyes wide.

"Master?"

"I was able to read the inscription. It tells how to free you. You can return to your place in desert. You can see your children and be among your people once again."

I could see the emotion on her face in her eyes. Centuries of practicing the decorum ancient society had required of her made her blunt the effect, though she could not disguise it entirely.

"Thank you, my Master."

I felt a small spot of comfort. Soon she would not have to call anyone Master -- ever again.

"I'm booking a flight north -- the details aren't important. You'll be free within a week. I also want to say, I'm sorry, Nadria for what I ordered you to do a few months back. I exploited you. I disregarded your dignity as ... a being."

"You must not think ill of yourself for this," she said. "It is a thing most of my owners have required of me."

"That doesn't make it right. I ask your forgiveness."

She looked down. "I grant it freely." She raised her eyes to meet mine. "You are very kind."

I tried to talk with her, but she always seemed uncomfortable talking to me. Conditioned by a thousand years of master/slave relationships, small talk and chitchat with the man she deemed her owner made her nervous. I sent her back into the lamp and called to arrange for a flight north. Alicia called me. I asked if she wanted to go along with me. She said she wanted to.

####

I took some vacation days. Alicia had a break in filming. We flew to Newfoundland and got a room at a resort hotel by the sea. She had decided our relationship could be salvaged, though, she said, it would take work and time. I did not consider magic in this matter. If we mended our relationship, the repair would be real and would come out of our souls and wills, not from supernatural intervention -- not from a magic lamp.

After supper, Alicia went to take a bath. I said I was going for a walk. I took the lamp and headed for a dock in front of the hotel. I would throw the lamp into the water from there.

The northern lights blazed red and green above the quiet sea and the calm sky. I thought to summon her once more and say good-bye but decided no. That would be awkward. I walked out to the end of the dock.

The place was deserted. The waves coming in with hardly any noise and the occasional cry of a seabird broke the stillness. I looked down at the dark, deep water and wondered if I had interpreted the inscription correctly. Then I realized that Nadria would not be harmed if this were not the way to free her. She would remain there or be washed up on shore. Someone would find her and she would be exploited and used once again. Even if she stayed at the bottom of the bay, time did not exist for her. I wanted her to be free. I held the heavy metal lamp in one hand for a moment and then tossed it into the cold, blue water.

Concentric circles rose as it sank. I was about to turn and go when the waters churned, bubbled, whirled. With a loud whooshing sound, a column of brilliant blue-white light shot up from the place I had thrown the lamp in. It swirled, its brilliance almost blinding me and then enveloped me its gold effulgence. I felt sweetness, warmth, and love. Her spirit, free and joyous, communicated with me for one blissful moment and then streaked like a reverse meteorite up into the sky, momentarily illuminating the bay and the hotel before it disappeared into the distance, moving, I could tell, toward the south and the east.

####

After I recovered from the pleasure of Nadria's final embrace, I smiled. By now she was probably already back to her home in the Iranian desert. I turned and walked back to the hotel.

Alicia had finished bathing. She sat in a chair by the window to the hotel. She wore a t-shirt and a pair of lavender panties. She scurried up to me.

"Wow, did you see that meteorite? It lit up the whole sky. It must have hit somewhere really close."

I smiled and went over to her. She sat on my lap and put her head on my shoulder. I had hurt her but we would mend. Her willingness to forgive would bring healing. Magic would not have opened that door but would have artificially closed it. The pain, the shame, everything I felt, would cauterize the wound. Alicia's suffering would teach me to be humble and respectful. Maybe this was the real meaning of magic.

The only thing left to deal with was the money. We love money. I thought of keeping some of it. Sitting in the chair, feeling the warmth of Alicia's embrace, I knew every cent of it would have to go. I would give all of it, and the interest I had earned on it, to deserving charities. I would cleanse the last vestige of magic from my life. We would live off our salaries. I would be able to paint again. I would be able to love Alicia once more and she -- if she could forgive me -- would love me as well.

We sat by the window and watched the northern lights shoot their wild light into the skies above the waters of the bay.

THE END


© 2012 David W. Landrum

Bio: David W. Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His speculative fiction, poetry, and academic writing has appeared in a wide range of journals and anthologies. Most recently, he has published speculative fiction in Separate Worlds, The Horror Zine, and the anthologies Deadly Encounters, Night Hunters, and At First Bite.

E-mail: David W. Landrum

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