What does a kid wish for when he finds a Genie in a bottle?
Pop bottles rattled in the Red Flyer wagon that was browner with rust than red, as Adam Preston diligently drug it along behind him. He had been out all morning, after he gobbled down his breakfast of cereal and freshly-squeezed orange juice, searching for pop bottles. Now the sun was coming to its zenith, marking the noon hour, and he was hot and sweaty, but he was content with his haul for the day.
Pop bottle hunting was a great summer pastime for kids of the fifties. Not only did it keep them occupied and out of trouble, but the reward of cashing them in was worth it. Then a kid had the choice of spending the pocketful of change immediately or saving it up for the weekend and the movies. Adam couldn’t think of a better place to spend a summer day than in the coolness of a movie theater, watching the cartoon fest and a Disney double feature. Even better was the company of Wanda Kinghill.
He would share his popcorn with her and buy her a cola. They would sit side by side, occasionally hold hands, or Wanda would hide her eyes on his shoulder when the wicked step-mother changed into a witch in Snow White. Those days were the best for Adam.
Adam liked Wanda from the first time he laid eyes on her in their third grade classroom. The class was seated in alphabetical order, and Wanda ended up directly across from him on his right. She was so pretty wearing a blue pinafore over a crisp, white blouse accented with a blue ribbon to keep her shiny, brown hair away from her delicate face. Her deep brown eyes reminded Adam of Bambi, one of his favorite Disney cartoon characters.
The one thing Adam had to do before he could cash in his bottles was to wash them. Mr. Patterson at the Piggly-Wiggly store was a stickler and refused to take any dirty bottles. Ten-year-old Adam dutifully drug his wagon into the ESSO gas station, making sure to pull it over the black pneumatic hose that would "ding" the bell inside the garage. His dad popped his head out from under the hood of the car he was working on and waved to Adam. Adam waved back and headed around to the side of the station where the air and water hoses were located. He sat on the curb, used the stunted, green water hose to clean each bottle, and made a mental tally of how much money he would get for them. The tenth bottle caught his attention.
Adam almost missed it while combing the edge of the road for bottles tossed from passing cars. Indeed, the roadside was a Mecca for pop bottles if you got there before anyone else. It was the glint of green glass in the early morning sun that caught his eye. He figured by the color it was either a 7-Up or Canada Dry bottle as he pulled away over-grown weeds and bits of Papier-Mache-like newspaper clinging to the glass. He was thrilled when the size proved to be a quart bottle worth a nickel. When he finally freed it, only the neck of the bottle was free of dried mud. He placed it in the wagon with the others.
Adam now turned the bottle in his small hands and noticed that it was heavy for an empty bottle. He gave it a little shake, heard a small thud from within, but another noise distracted him. The youngster could have sworn it was a voice. He looked around and saw no one. Thinking it was his dad playing a joke on him, he said, “Okay, Dad, that’s a good joke! C‘mon out!”
When his dad didn’t pop around the corner laughing, Adam looked closely at the bottle. Using the hose, he rinsed off the caked-on mud, slowly revealing the actual bottle. There was no 7-Up or Canada Dry logo on the glass. In fact, the only thing on it was a small crescent moon and a star in faded gold gilt. On closer inspection of the mouth of the bottle, what he had thought was mud packed in it was actually a cork tamped in pretty deep.
Adam set the bottle down on the curb and looked for something to pry out the cork. He lucked out when he found a small piece of a wire coat hanger. As carefully as he could, with the large bottle braced between his legs, Adam twisted the wire into the center of the cork like he had seen his dad do on New Year's to open a bottle of champagne. He wiggled the wire back and forth as he slowly pulled. The cork gradually loosened and popped out of its own accord, accompanied by a dense cloud of black smoke. Adam coughed and waved his arms in an attempt to clear away the smoke.
A deep, resonating voice spoke from somewhere just in front of him, “Ahhh! Free at last!”
Adam blinked his burning, tearing eyes and managed to focus on a pair of black and white shoes with long, pointy toes. His eyes moved up to a pair of baggy, green, pinstriped pants. Just above a pair of knees was a matching long coat that led up to a bright-yellow shirt sporting a pair of green suspenders. A thin, green tie was tied around a thick neck that led up to a burly, goateed face. A strange, wide-brimmed, floppy-looking hat covered the man’s obviously bald head. A yellow feather stuck jauntily from a green hatband. The guy looked frightening and ridiculous all at the same time.
Adam had seen a similar suit in his mom’s photo album. It was a black and white picture of Uncle Percy. He believed Mom called it a zoo suit or something like that. Why anyone would want to wear an outfit like that to the zoo was beyond him.
“Who are you?” Adam asked in a timid voice.
Pulling himself up to his full height and crossing his arms in front of his
chest, the man replied, “Why, I am the genie of the bottle! You have freed me, little master. To reward you, I will grant you one wish.”
Adam screwed his face up, stood on the curb to give himself a little more
height, and said, “You don’t look like a genie. And don’t you mean three
“You’ve been reading too many Ali Baba stories, kid. We wear whatever is the style when we come out of our prisons. And we only grant one wish these days. Keeps problems to a minimum for the wisher,” the genie replied matter-of-factly. “So, what will it be? All the chocolate in the world? Riches beyond imagining? World peace?" The genie, wearing a churlish smile on his broad face, stared down at the small boy.
Adam flashed his own know-it-all smile. “You’ve kind of missed the current style by thirty years or so,” he quipped.
The genie scowled, “Never mind. Make your wish! I have a lovely lady waiting for me in Constantinople!”
The boy didn’t have a clue where Khan-stands-in-opal was -- Nebraska, maybe -- but he really did want to get out from under the glare of the genie. He thought for a moment as the genie impatiently tapped his two-tone wing-tip.
“Okay,” Adam finally said, “I want Wanda Kinghill to fall in love with me when we're old enough . . . maybe sixteen.”
The genie tipped his head to scrutinize the boy. “You sure that is what you
Adam nodded his head. “Yup! That’s all I want!”
“Okay, kid.” The large man waved his hand with a flourish. “You have your wish!” With another wave of his hand, a flying carpet popped out of nowhere. The genie stepped on and was immediately swept into the sky, leaving Adam standing gape-mouthed.
Once the carpet was above the clouds and out of sight, the genie wondered, "Why would a boy want an alien from the planet Oohay to fall in love with him?" He shuddered violently, remembering how ugly an Oohayian became when they turned sixteen and shed their human disguise. The six tentacles, wombat face, and purple skin were very unattractive. Not to mention the smell! “Oh well," the genie said with a shrug, "Constantinople, here I come!”