Fiction from Josh Denslow

Photo: Rock’n Roll Monkey

Gravy Boat

When Melanie’s grandma died, we got every last bit of her crockery and cutlery and an entire village of creepy figurines made of porcelain. I assumed it would go to the storage space along with the remaining vestiges of my old life, but suddenly we were incorporating these garish atrocities into our household while my workout bench and collection of wind-up tin robots languished in a room with motion sensor lights and climate-controlled air in the next town over.

The moment Melanie’s spoils arrived, I had to spend the afternoon washing her family history while Melanie unpacked it from decaying cardboard boxes.

“Be careful with that one!” Melanie cried as I pulled a gold bulbous thing from the soapy water by the handle. “That was my grandma’s favorite.”

“I didn’t know it was possible to have a favorite one of these,” I said.

“It’s a gravy boat.”

“I don’t think those two words go together.”

“Just don’t break it.”

I grabbed a towel and rubbed the side and an enormous plume of dust shot out like I’d opened a crypt. I dropped the gravy boat into the water with a splash as the dust swirled away from the sink and hovered in front of our ailing refrigerator.

Melanie turned from the table where she’d been pulling newspaper off of individually wrapped silver spoons and stared with her mouth open. The pink of her tongue gave me a little thrill, like ripping paper in a silent library. I took a step toward her and we were closer than we’d been in weeks. I could smell her lavender shampoo and was shocked to find that I’d missed it.

“You smell good,” I said.

“It’s moving or pulsing or something,” she said.

“Your hair?”

“No. Look. This is exactly what I’m talking about. You never pay attention. There’s a floating ball of smoke.”

“Yeah, I know. It came out of the gravy boat.” I thought for a second. “That can’t be what it’s actually called.”

A burly man in a flowing purple robe stepped from the smoke and took up most of our kitchen. Melanie pulled me in front of her and buried her face into my shoulder blade. I felt invincible.

“Who has summoned me?” the man bellowed as his long mustache flopped on the sides of his chin.

“It’s a genie,” Melanie whispered in awe.

“Actually, it’s djinni, with a D,” he said. “I can tell you’re saying it with a G, and that drives me crazy. But other than that, I’m ready to fulfill your three wishes.”

“Wait a minute,” I said to Melanie. “Your grandma had a genie and she still lived in that shitty senior complex?”

Melanie grunted. “Well obviously none of us knew.”

“Quick reminder. It’s djinni,” the genie said. “The D and the J just roll together. Would it help if we said it in unison a couple of times?”

At that moment, it finally hit me that I had three wishes. I could wish for a returned closeness between Melanie and me. An end to our financial woes. Maybe sneak in one about blowjobs every once in a while.

“I summoned you, deegenie,” I said with my chest inflated.

“Close enough,” the genie said.

“What?” Melanie said. “Who summoned him?”

“It was me,” I said. “I did.” But she was using that tone of voice that made me feel less certain, and I knew what I said came out more like a question.

“He belongs to my grandma. It’s part of my inheritance.”

“I rubbed the side,” I said. “You’ve had years to do it and never thought of it.”

“You wouldn’t have done it either if I hadn’t made you wash all this stuff.”

The genie folded his massive arms and visibly pouted his puffy lips. “You’re talking about me as if I’m not here.”

“Give us a second,” Melanie said as she stepped out from behind me. “The wishes are mine.”

“What if we split them?” I said and looked up at the genie for support. He just shrugged his shoulders.

Melanie shook her head. “You can’t split three evenly.”

“If I might interject,” the genie said. “You could come up with some mutual wishes. Things that would affect both of you in a positive way.”

“When was the last time we agreed on anything?” Melanie said.

She had me there. We’d been ordering dinner from two separate places each night. One time the delivery drivers ran into each other at our door and I’m pretty sure they had a love connection.

The genie waved his massive hands in front of him. “Well there you go. You could wish for more compatibility of ideas.”

“Nobody gets a genie and wishes for compatibility of ideas.”

“We could,” I said, suddenly overwhelmed with possibility. I put my hands on her shoulders and turned her to face me. The freckles on her nose and cheeks were a galaxy that I hadn’t explored to its fullest. I needed more time. “Maybe the reason we’ve grown distant is because we aren’t trying like we used to. Maybe this is the time to break down the walls. Who cares what other people have wished in the past? This is our chance to show how much we mean to each other. That we’re willing to use these wishes to make us stronger.”

“I cheated on you,” she said.

“Didn’t see that coming,” the genie said in his booming voice.

My face grew cold and light flickered at the edges of my vision. The genie put his warm hand on my back to steady me before I passed out.

“You guys have some serious problems,” he said. “Too bad you don’t have a djinni standing in your kitchen offering you three wishes.”

“Do you love him?” I said quietly to Melanie.

“Of course not. You think I’d still be here if I did?”

The genie gave me a push so that I was standing upright on my own. He leaned toward us, his face almost double the size of mine. “I have a great idea,” he said. “Why not wish that it never happened? A fresh start without all the emotional baggage.”

Even though I wished that wouldn’t work for me, I knew in my core that it would.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t,” Melanie said and she sounded a little sad about it. “Basically, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years. I don’t want to forget that.”

Suddenly everything in my life felt fake. I’d given up everything to live in her world. My old friends, my stuff, and with all of this new information, apparently my dignity as well.

“Maybe let’s go back to this splitting idea,” I said. Even one wish could get me on my way to a new life, I was sure of it.

The genie nodded vigorously. “We could make this totally fair. You each get a wish. Then for the third one, you could wish to release me from the eternal damnation of living inside this lamp.”

“I told you there was no such thing as a gravy boat,” I said.

“Things are what you make of them. If my grandma wanted to put gravy in it, that made it a gravy boat.” Melanie rolled her eyes. “This is why we aren’t compatible.”

There was no going back from that. We were through. And this genie had witnessed the whole thing. He looked a bit uncomfortable.

“So, what’s it going to be?” he said.

“Let’s do the split,” Melanie said and she gave me a small smile. “But I’ll go first.”

“Works for me,” I said. She squeezed my shoulder and stepped toward the genie. I watched her knowing that after this moment, everything was going to change. I drank her in. Her long legs. Her wide shoulders. I tried to hold on to that last touch, tried to memorize it. How her skin felt on mine.

Melanie got up on tiptoes and the genie squatted down to her. She whispered in his ear.

The genie nodded and then looked at me. The hair on my arms all stood up at once. He shook his head sadly and smoothed his purple robe. Then he snapped his fingers and I was plunged into the most perfect darkness I’d ever experienced.

“Melanie?” I said. But there was no sound.

I reached forward, hoping to find something in the abyss, and three overhead lights snapped and popped into life. Motion sensor lights.

I sat down on my workout bench and started counting how many boxes of wind-up tin robots I owned. I’d figure out how to get out of here later.
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Josh Denslow wrote all of the stories in the collection Not Everyone Is Special (7.13 Books). In addition to wearing matching shirts with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.

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