At some point in life, everyone makes a wish. Some people wish for money, or fame, or fortune. Others simply wish for more, or to change the past, or to be beautiful.
As for me…
In my early twenties, I wished for adventure.
In my early thirties, I wished for love.
And later still, I wished for a family.
But all these wishes seemed to be made with the monkey’s paw*, as if the Universe despises any kind of shortcut to happiness.
Once upon a time…
…there was a house upon the beach.
“Hurry!” they said, as they raced to the shoreline in a laughing tangle of tan legs and arms and inebriation.
But the lake was cold, the morning sky glowering and grey, and the whole party came to a crashing halt at the first contact of bare skin with icy water. Shrieks of amazement and the whisper of new plans floated out with the fog in rippling eddies.
She trailed behind, reluctantly, taking only tiny sips out of the red cup sloshing with whiskey and a splash of coke.
When Christine had invited her to stay at her grandfather’s old cabin for the November holiday, she had envisioned cozy mornings bundled up in quilted blankets, drinking hot chocolate and discussing books.
Christine never went to any of their sorority parties and seemed to live inside layers of layers of sweaters.
Christine, who was now jumping up and down in her cotton bra and underwear, howling as one boy or the other cupped his hand in the scummy brown water off the dock and doused her in goosebumps.
“Hey, that’s cold!” she screamed with that flirty inflection that invited him to do it again.
So he did.
Neither of them had known the two boys who had strolled down the dirt path from the private road, who had knocked on the door and casually asked if they could come in.
And here they were.
And here they had been, for the past forty-eight hours.
And the drinking never really stopped, although Christine had weakly protested that her grandfather would be angry, when the boys had nabbed his best Scotch out of the pantry. And then the bourbon.
She turned to trudge back up to the house, feeling dizzy and a little sick, pouring out a trail of whiskey as she went.
Enough was enough.
“Hey, wait up,” she heard Christine calling behind her. Half-turning, she saw one of the boys (Jared? Jason? They seemed interchangeable.) grab her friend around the waist, pulling her into the lake. Squeals of fetch-me, come-catch-me, followed, and she turned away again, hurrying now to reach the quiet sanctuary of the house.
The three didn’t come back for a long, long while, longer than she had thought they could stand being out in the cold with hardly any clothes on.
When they did, banging through the slack back door and slurring orders for, “More drinks!” she hurtled into the small guest room and turned the lock on the door. Then stood there, shivering.
An eerie, creaking silence followed.
She hoped that they had fallen asleep or, better, that they had left. In her heart she wasn’t sure if she didn’t include Christine in that list. After all, she had let them in, invited them to stay, joined in their cheating game of strip poker and played along.
When the banging on the bedroom door started, from either Jared or Jason, she ignored it.
When Christine, sounding annoyed and irritable, told her to come out and play with them, she ignored it.
“She won’t come out,” sighed Christine, sounding not unhappy.
“Well then, I guess you’ll have to do for both of us,” said one of the boys.
Wide-eyed, she leaped off of her safe little bunk, her hand on the doorknob, ready to run out, to save her friend, when she heard her say,
“Fine, but only one at a time this round. Really. And make it quick.”
She crept back to the nest of soft blankets and stayed there, squeezing her eyes against all the grunting noises that followed.
In the morning, both boys were gone.
And none of them ever spoke about it, or even to each other, ever again.
… there was a dive bar, in the heart of a bustling city.
He had said he was single, when she agreed to meet him for a drink.
“One drink,” she told herself firmly, holding her expensive jacket and purse close as she eased through the dank hallway full of graffiti.
This was definitely not the auspicious beginning she had envisioned when she answered his message on OKCupid.
“Whiskey, neat,” she replied to the bartender, and in return he set down a weak amber brew in a glass already smudged with lipstick prints that weren’t even hers.
Suppressing a sneer of disgust, she shoved the glass away with one finger.
“Another?” asked the bartender laconically.
She didn’t bother to answer, getting up from the counter and looking around, gathering herself to leave.
No date was worth suffering for in this hepatitis-filled hell-hole.
As she reached the exit, a moderately handsome man stepped aside to hold the door for her.
“Are you–?” he asked, his tone flatteringly incredulous as she swept past in a wave of Chanel No. 5.
She didn’t want to look back.
She wanted to leave, to change out of the sexy black heels that were killing her tired feet and the tight-fitting dress she had spent two hours selecting for the perfect combination of cleavage and demure allure.
But she did look back, caught by the glimmer of his red hair curling up under the edges of his battered baseball cap.
And so began the most uselessly wasted two years of her life.
…there was a widowed man with five daughters.
He lived in an evergreen house that was ever in a state of tumultuous chaos. On the outside, his home boasted a neat front yard and an inviting open porch. On the inside, there were a legion of hairbrushes fuzzily wrapped with the long remnants of split ends, hollowed out sandwiches with only the uneaten crusts left upon plates piled in a dirty sink full of once-used glasses, and everywhere, everywhere, were clothes and shoes discarded in hallways and half-hanging out of bedrooms and closets and strewn upon the living room floor.
“We are playing dress-up,” Betty or Bitsy would say.
“They wanted to play dress up,” Becca or Barb might add.
“None of it is my fault,” pronounced the eldest, Bianca.
And with a whoosh they would scatter and disappear, leaving behind all the mess of their riotous childhood.
The man, a good man, shook his head and sat down gingerly on the edge of the sofa, running his hands through his hair, hopelessly outnumbered as I eased out the door, down the neat path to the driveway, and then down the road far, far away from these strangers in their strange land.
If I have learned any lesson in this life, it is certainly to be careful what you wish for, as you may receive it.
I simply don’t make wishes, anymore. Ever.
“The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs. http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/mnkyspaw.htm